Dit is het oorlogsdagboek van Jack Oakley. Je kunt het hier dag voor dag volgen. Precies 70 jaar nadat het is geschreven.
Jack was een jongen soldaat. 19 jaar oud, toen hij op D-day+6 in Normandië van boord stapte. Vanaf september 1944 houdt hij bij de opmars van Frankrijk en België naar Nederland door Brabant en Gelderland een dagboek bij en schrijft hij vrijwel dagelijks over de zaken die hem bezig houden.
Enkele plaatsen waar Jack met de 49ste Britse (West Riding) Infanterie divisie verblijft zijn: Maasbree, Blerick, Roosendaal, Fijnaart, Willemstadt, Nijmegen, Bemmel, Valburg, Elst, Zetten, Heteren, Wageningen, Arnhem, Ede, Utrecht, Loenen, Amsterdam en Doorn.
1 november 1944
Spent a lot of time fixing paper blackouts to the windows of the hotel and received a lecture from Major Cannon about looting. It seems that some people have been indulging in wholesale looting and we had a strong warning that this practice must cease.
31 oktober 1944
The morning was spent in carrying out maintenance tasks on the carriers and we moved off at 2 o'clock to Roosendaal. On the way we passed through a country which had seen very heavy fighting. Similar to the Fontenay area of Normandy. The shell holes in the fields were more concentrated than I had seen before. The villages were badly knocked about and I saw 3 or 4 derelict Panther tanks also a Honey Tank. A small pine wood had hardly a single tree standing.
There was also a carrier which had been smashed and burned and I was disturbed to find that painted on the front was the Polar Bear divisional sign and the figures '64'. That meant it was one of our own carriers from 'B' Coy.
On reaching Roosendaal we parked the carriers in front of a battered railway station and we then crossed the road to our billet which was the Hotel Central. It was dry but draughty as all the windows had been broken by the former bombardment. Spent the night on the floor of the main bar, cold and draughty but dry. Weather is cold and misty.
30 oktober 1944
'Bob Force' disbanded this morning and we move back to Company area to rejoin 146 brigade. Moved off in the afternoon and suddenly we were in Holland. We arrived at the town Breda which was captured on Saturday.
29 oktober 1944
The nearest town or village to here is Hoogstraten. We are prepared to move off to a new location but with the approach of evening it now seems very unlikely that any move will be made today.
28 oktober 1944
Hung about at Bn.H.Q. waiting for transport back to Company and a truck finally arrived about 2 o'clock. It was the post wagon and a long detour was made while post was delivered to all the companies. Finally reached 'A' Coy., and it seemed to be about 30 miles away from Bn. HQ. On the journey I saw my first V1 rocket. It was just a black dot in the sky and then I saw it fall but too far away to see just where. Arriving back with the platoon I found my kit had been well looked after and I was grateful that it was dry and in good order.
27 oktober 1944
Discharge today - and about time too. Any further time spent in this place will send me 'Bomb Happy' Leave at about 2 o'clock and the F.D.S wagon after 5 attempts to find the location finally arrived at rear Div. From there I was transferred to a 15 ton truck which took several others to their respective locations but as time progressed I was dumped at Main Div. H.Q. Om making enquiries I found out that our battalion H.Q. was but 10 minutes walk away so T made my own way there expecting a transfer to Company H.Q.
It was pouring down with rain and the M.O. said that I had better stay put for the night.
26 oktober 1944
Expectations of a discharge all wrong! Hot fomentation to be reintroduced as some infection still to be cleared up. Transferred to a ground floor ward. I am getting fed up with this place.
25 oktober 1944
Allowed to get up. Dressings are now only dry and I expect to discharged tomorrow.
24 oktober 1944
Still confined to bed and not allowed up. Hot fomentations cease and
acriflavine dressings substituted. That's a good sign so I expect to be returned to the unit tomorrow or the day after. Newspapers are full of reports of the Canadian attack on the Antwerp/Roosendaal Road, some seven or eight miles covered in 36 hours. A reporter had also commented on the abundance of Ice cream and other goodies available in Antwerp. I expect that 2nd. Kensingtons will by now have moved up from their location at Rijkevorsel.
23 oktober 1944
Had to change to a different ward (Classroom) due to large numbers of tonsillitis coming in and these were to be isolated.
22 oktober 1944
A nice day of rest.
M.O. came round in the afternoon and ordered hot
fomentations every two hours.
Not allowed to get up.
21 oktober 1944
Field Dressing station
Cyst on back of neck now turned septic so reported sick. The M.O. sent me to the 161th. Field Dressing station which is in a school at St.Antonius. I was promptly put to bed on a stretcher with 3 blankets and a pillow together with a suit of pyjamas. In the afternoon a medical officer made an incision which relieved the pressure and a dressing was put on. I think I will only be
here for a day or so.
20 oktober 1944
First thing we go out on a harassing shoot. Canadian armor putting
in a big attack with 49th Div., occupying the ground they cover.
'Bob Force' to remain where it is for the moment. A break allowed to go into
Turnhout which was a washout. Cinema was closed and the Polar Bear Club also.
Was treated to a plate of 'bubble & squeak' at a Belgian Resistance H.Q.
19 oktober 1944
Have discovered an inflamed cyst on the back of my neck.
Put on a dressing. I will report sick tomorrow if no better.
18 oktober 1944
Rotten weather - rain and wind all day. Guard duty.
17 oktober 1944
Day Off - Liberty to Antwerp.
A wonderful town with many people going about their business, shops, trams and traffic and a a Zoo. A very welcome break from fox holes and slit trenches. I am amazed at the availability of luxuries in the shops and an abundance of fruit, sweets and Ice cream. I made a pig of myself with all these and reluctantly had to board the truck for the return journey .
Dull uninteresting day. Did nothing.
15 oktober 1944
Cyril did get me a pen. A cheap arrangement but not too bad. Of the 5 people who are allowed walking out leave for the day, two of them are allowed into Antwerp. Have just found out that the village down the road is named Rijkevorsel or something like that. One section did a shoot last night and one did another this morning. Only short harassing affairs. Padre came round in the afternoon and held a short service. After that there was a practice 'Stand To' for some unknown reason. To bed early, nothing else to do.
14 oktober 1944
Heard a big force of heavy bombers going over in the morning. This whole front is completely static and Tilburg is still. in German hands. I rather think that a terrific punch is going to go in somewhere very soon as an endeavor to finish off the war this year. The reports from those chaps who have had a day out in Turnhout are pretty good. One can get sweets of all things. I have given Cyril a couple of hundred francs and he is going to try a get me a fountain pen there. That is if he remembers. On guard during the night 3th hrs.
13 oktober 1944
Pay - 250 francs. Possibly I will get a day off tomorrow when I hope to be able to spend some of it. Doing odd jobs throughout the day. Will not get a day off - perhaps the next day, or Monday.
12 oktober 1944
Dull uneventful day. Not in the mood to write letters or anything else. On Guard duty for 3 3/4, hrs. during the night.
11 oktober 1944
Started the day by sewing up the many splits and tears in my trousers and then wrote several. letters. Cyril went to find water at company H.Q. and I went with him but we couldn't find HQ so came back again. To my surprise we passed the spot where George was killed. What a place this was, there are now graves everywhere, Germans included. Have good cause to remember this damned bridgehead.
10 oktober 1944
Moved quite a good distance and where we now found ourselves was within a half mile of where George Cox was killed. Things are quieter now
than they were then. The guns are up in a barn with the barrels poking out of upper windows and the idea seems to be to fire at opportunity targets. Other platoons were firing during the night. (This may have been company H.Q. having an exuberant and fortunately bloodless battle with 5 platoon)
9 oktober 1944
Apparently we are to stay in this place for about 10 days and 24 hour passes are going to be issued.
I spent the day in writing letters but late in the evening we had orders to move again.
Our Brigade, No. 146 is going out for 'a rest but we are going into line again in 'Bob Force' whatever that is. Perhaps we bob up here and there. Anyway, there is no infantry, only ourselves R.A's.and anti tank guns and Bofors as Heavy machine guns. (The role of Bob force was to hold the right flank of the division on a very wide front with no depth whatever. but the enemy sector was inactive and thin on the ground)
8 oktober 1944
News came through that Les Flenley was killed yesterday. Went into Turnhout this morning and was supposed to go to the pictures but it was the same film as day before yesterday so had a mooch round the town with Sam Weaver. Watched a big open air Church Service in the centre of the town. Mostly all Youth organizations. Returned to area for a kit inspection but. fortunately this was cancelled. We are to move off again.
Moved forward a little way and took up residence in a house evacuated by the civilians and spent a comfortable night here. Our role is to protect the right flank, whatever that is. The Belgian army of resistance is with us and they are well organized, uniforms and everything. Judging by the terrific screaming heard, a story went around that one of them had been run over by a carrier.
I didn't hear any more about this.
7 oktober 1944
Quite a memorable morning. Jerry put in another counter attack about 4 o'clock and from then on it was all Hell let loose. More so for the Lincolns than for us, but we had our fair share.
It lasted until about 10 or 11 o'clock nothing but bangs, crashes and whistles of shells and for the first time I experienced the swish, swish, swish of bullets going over our heads. A spandau machine gun was firing very close to us and I think he had seen Cyril and I dive into a slit trench. It had been dug for one occupant but both of us managed to get into it and as the bullets continued to come, we got lower and lower into this hole, just how I don't know. About mid-day we got the order to retire and were to be relieved by the K.O.Y.L.I The attack had been checked but was still raging a little more distant this time but were glad of the relief. Have not felt so shagged since Cagny.
The Lincons chaps came through our position and they looked absolutely exhausted. We then retired to a harbor in Poppel and waited there for an hour or so before moving again to Weelde where we are to have a rest. Major Cannon came up and altered this location and we moved to ComPany H.Q. area.
6 oktober 1944
The Brigadier or General was pleased with yesterday's results and ordered a day of rest for us. We started off well by going back to Turnhout for a long awaited bath and did I enjoy it. After the baths to the town and to the pictures. Saw a film 'Above suspicion' with Joan Crawford and Fred McMurray. A good film in a proper cinema and was also able to buy a lovely bunch of black grapes. When we got back to the Holland border we found that Jerry was counter attacking. A 'Stand to' was ordered for everyone and the whole night was spent on the alert in a slit trench. The R.As. 25 pounders laid down a terrific barrage on Jerry 1.640 shells in 35 minutes - some say it is a record. However the guns did not stop all night long and reports say that the attack was held and that Jerry had suffered severe losses. But, the Lincolns casualties were also high.
5 oktober 1944
Move off in the morning and stopped on the road towards Poppel and the Dutch border. The Lincolns were advancing slowly in front of us and all the time the road was being shelled and we had an uncomfortable time wondering whether the next one would hit us. At dusk we moved forward and through the village of Poppel and over the border for a short distance. Buildings were on fire and blazing all around us. We got ourselves settled in a ditch with a battery of 25 pounders in the next field who were firing continually. 25 pounders make an ear splitting crack when fired. We were just nicely settled down for the night when an order came through to pack up and retire at once. We did this with great pleasure and moved back to the frontier. Slept in a Garage. I learned later that the battle had not gone so well on the Lincolns front and their leading company had been overrun and the battalion forced to withdraw.
4 oktober 1944
Tomorrow in Holland
Move forward again and into an orchard where I spent the best part of the day hanging about and reading while waiting for the next move. The pack up and move again in the evening to what seems to be a sticky position. We will probably be in Holland tomorrow or the day after.
3 oktober 1944
Move forward again and entered the town or rather village of Ravels. First troops in the town together, with the Lincolns. There is a story going around ghat when we got to the brick kiln area last night, we made so much noise that Jerry got the impression that we were a stronger force than we really were and cleared out. In the late afternoon some Belgian patriots had three girls who they wished to hang or shoot. Quite a 'to do' but they were handed over to the military authorities. Slept in a Barn.
2 oktober 1944
Move off again. The bridgehead has widened considerably and we went along the canal bank for a couple of miles. I think the canal is the Turnhout Canal. Evidently this part of the country is a brick making area for we arrive at another brick kiln. We watched the Polish Tanks machine gunning a wood in front of us. We followed them when they moved off and harbored for the night. This time. in a stable. Could have slept in a brick kiln but it had been bombed to blazes and there was no suitable place to rest.
1 oktober 1944
Letter from Rene
A church parade in the morning with the Lincolns. Received a smashing letter from Rene also letters from Mum and Dad. Hung about awaiting orders to move all the afternoon and finally moved off in the evening, about 3 miles to another brick kiln.
30 september 1944
Received birthday cards from Rene & Mum. Was to go for a bath but we could riot get through as the road was congested with a Polish Armored Division moving forward. We did not get our baths but did get a clean towel, shaving brush and one or two other odds and ends.
I still want certain bits and pieces to make up the deficiencies lost in the fire. Had a visit from the M.O. who advised that there is every chance for Jess Willard He got past the A.D.S OK and that's something. Polish Arm'd div. moving up past us a1l day long. The bridgehead has been widened according to reports and has grown considerably.
I am thoroughly browned off and in a very dispirited frame of mind realizing how much I am missing all at home. Do not seem to be able to concentrate on writing letters to Rene. Kent & Dix returned this evening but Kent had lost my fountain pen so it seems that I have definitely had it.
29 september 1944
What a birthday! Spent the whole day in a trench, wet, cold and miserable with shelling going on all day. The Hallams attack seems to be going well but it does not stop the shelling. At times like these I notice how much I miss Rene arid everything I love. How I wish this rotten stupid war would end.
In the evening we. move again and get ourselves stationed in a brick kiln. A pretty safe sort of place with walls about 5 feet thick. Spent a very comfortable and restful night. We are now in support of the Lincolns who will be attacking towards Poppel close to the Dutch border and the town of Tilburg.
28 september 1944
Spent the morning and the best part of the afternoon in the trench as shells continued to plaster the area. The soil here was sandy and every time a shell landed so the sides of the trench used to spill sand usually over my face and neck. In the evening we had to move and go forward a short way to another position and once again dig in. We made a decent sort of grave for George before leaving. At the new position and dug in, we had not had anything to eat that day and Taffy set up his cooking gear in a ditch and had a good Benghazi fire going.
A Benghazi fire was a square petrol can cut in half and filled with earth. The earth was saturated in petrol and then ignited. The cooking pots were put on top. The outsides of the pots became black and took a lot of cleaning when cooking was over.
I have not mentioned the following in the diary but is the subject of what I can recall of this location. Having got ourselves dug in and Taffy started his fires to cook a meal. There was some slight sniper activity which interfered with Taf's cooking. He kept dodging down into shelter but got so fed up with it that the next time it happened, he just stood and glared at the direction of the shot. We all swore that it was Taffy's look that frightened the sniper away, for nothing more was heard from him. While at this location, shelling continued all day long and I recorded that I was getting very jumpy.
27 september 1944
The death of George
Off we go again towards a forward position. Came to a halt on the road near Turnhout and many shells were falling uncomfortably close. Move forward again and cross a canal.. What it was I don't know but we then harbored in a small wood at the roadside. We commenced to dig ourselves in as shells were falling very close and all around us. Apparently we are in a bridgehead across this canal and Jerry is on three sides of us. Digging was proceeding at a pace for the shelling was getting worse. I think we must have been under observation. There is plenty of small arms fire up ahead of us and in short this is a very sticky position.
In the afternoon a shell came down close by and Eric Dix got a small piece of shrapnel in the leg. Once again - no warning - just an almighty bang and it was a miracle that I escaped any injury. Eric and I dashed across to another shelter when Chink Sherwood came running across to get me. Someone was yelling 'Stretcher Bearer' and my heart sank. I left Eric with a couple of other, chaps and went across to where the shell had landed and inside a trench were two chaps - George Cox and Jess Willard. George Isaacs came up and looked into the trench and said 'George has had it' and promptly ran off again.
One look at George Cox told me that he was beyond any help and the back of his head had been smashed in. Jess Willard said that the back of his head hurt and I found he had a hole there. It seemed as though the shell had burst on impact with the trees just above where they were digging. Jess was very dazed and I put a field dressing on his wound and fortunately Major Cannon had his Jeep close by and we got Jess on a stretcher on the top of it to be evacuated to the RAP. Eric Dix also went with the Jeep also Kent who had also got shrapnel in the leg. With Kent went my fountain pen for in the confusion someone had picked it up and given it to Kent thinking it belonged to Jess Willard. I think I have now said goodbye to the pen. A Padre from the Hallams came up and a short service was held for George Cox. We partly covered him over for he was not a pleasant sight. Then to cap it all it began to rain and the rest of the day was spent in the slit trenches also all the night and not moving unless absolutely necessary. Considerably shaken and browned off. George's death was a shock for everyone. Well known and well liked by all.
26 september 1944
Looks like being a decent sort of day. Had to go for a run this morning, part of a training program while we are in reserve. We are under a moments notice to move but there is a parade this afternoon to watch a football match with the local football team. We lost 6 - 3. At half time some patriots marched three Gestapo agents around the field. They were Belgian collaborators and were made to sing the national anthem as they marched round and to clap at the end of it. The village's name is VORSELAAR. Went out in the evening more or less on a pub crawl. Did not have too bad a time but it was a drunken orgy for many.
25 september 1944
First liberators in the village
Move off again and crossed over the Albert Canal and entered a village where they had not seen any troops before.
Our welcome in this village was astounding, perhaps not so surprising for it seemed that they had been waiting for the arrival of troops after Jerry had cleared out. Once again we have an abundance of apples and tomatoes.
We are billeted in a part of a convent school in the centre of the village and we are to move off again and perhaps suddenly. When settled in the billet we took a walk and found a pub where for the price of 20 cigarettes we got 4 pints of beer for the 4 of us. 4 pints each that is. Very good beer to. Went out in the evening but the only amusement in the village was a sort of dance in a small room packed with people. Not so much a dance as a general push around which I did not like and departed.
24 september 1944
Walked into the next village and found a pub of sorts where the proprietor accepted French cash, so we had a proper Sunday morning at the boozer. Smashing beer too. In the afternoon we got some eggs and cooked up fried eggs, chips and tomatoes. Foul weather, went to bed early.
23 september 1944
Raining again, miserable day. In the afternoon saw many gliders towed by Stirling bombers. An airborne invasion for someone, somewhere It was a terrific sight and the planes were coming over in waves for a couple of hours. Would very much like to know where they went. [He saw the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment that was reinforcing the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen. This flight had been scheduled for September 19 but was postponed due to bad weather.]
Strolled out in the evening to find a cafe and to get some beer. The beer here is very good. We asked a civvy and he told us that there was a place some 2 kilometers away but he invited us inside his house to partake of Melk voor drincken – so we had some milk to drink instead of beer, I don't get this Flemish Lingo, it sounds very funny and I think difficult to learn.
22 september 1944
The Belgians are cleaner
Move off again early at 4 or 5 a.m. Driving all day. Passed through Lille. The first decent big town I have seen in France. The usual crowds lined the roads, cheering and throwing flowers and fruit at us. It made us all feel quite important and we all cheered and waved back.
Suddenly we came to a barrier in the road and on passing through it, we entered Belgium. Almost instantaneously we noticed a difference. The Flemish way of speaking and writing also one very noticeable feature – The Belgians are, or appear to be a lot cleaner in every respect and their welcome and hospitality was better. There as no scrounging for fags, biscuits or chocolate.
Some time after passing into Belgium we came to a halt. A Rest and a breather as it were, for the drive had been long. Cyril and I were presented with a glass of beer from civilians and later on at another halt we had another one and very good stuff it was.
As we rode through various villages we were showered with apples, pears, grapes, and tomatoes. I have eaten so many tomatoes that I shall shortly look like one.
There were notices in shop windows and painted on walls bearing messages for our benefit such as “To all Allied soldiers, THANK YOU for liberating our dearest Belgium” and another read “Heartiest gratitude for our deliverance”.
I thoroughly enjoyed this ride and formed the opinion that the Belgians are definitely cleaner and more solid. They are not as demonstrative as the French and are more like us in their general bearing. It was funny to hear them saying “Good morning” instead of Bon jour.
When we arrived at our destination – 'God knows where', Johnny and I went out to see if we could get some butter or 'bolter' as it is here called and we got a half pound for 10 fags.
It seems we are somewhere near Malines and the only significant Belgian town that I passed through as 'Oudenaarde'. It was here in 1940 that George Freeman won his M.M. When going through Lille yesterday I saw the signposts pointing to famous Great War places such as Ypres, Cambrai, Roubaik, Etables and others.
We are not so far from the front now so we shall be here for a day or so.
21 september 1944
Crosses at the Somme
Move off in the small hours and a very long journey took us through the Great War areas. Crossed the river Somme and I tried to think back to what it must have been like in the last war. It was a bit misty and it seemed to be a pretty bleak sort of place. The journey took us towards Arras but we did not go through it. Then onwards again through St. Pol and towards Bethune and Lens where I caught a glimpse of a World War One, military cemetery. A beautiful place surrounded by a wall and all in neat order with an imposing entrance over which was inscribed the name “DUD CORNER”. I would have liked to have the opportunity to look around but it was impossible of course. I experienced a peculiar feeling going through these places for I could visualize very clearly the war of 1914/18 and wondered if Dad was ever here. We expect to be in Belgium tomorrow.
20 september 1944
The 'round up' party went out at Dawn to discover 3 Italians, not Germans. There was apparently a fair old row which resulted in nothing. Went with Cyril to a nearby village to wash down the carriers. Had some beer in a French cafe. The first French beer I have had and certainly not as good as English. We are to move off at 4.a.m. tomorrow morning.
19 september 1944
Stiff arm due to inoculation. Dull day and spent time hanging about doing nothing except writing letters. A Liberty truck is being provided for a trip to Dieppe but I did not fancy going out. Probably due to the arm being stiff. Someone reported that there are four Bosche (Germans) in a house up the road and a party will be going out tomorrow early, to get them.
18 september 1944
Rainy Day. Went for a walk in the morning to see if we could get some eggs and managed to get three after a lot of walking. Saw Harry yesterday who has now returned to his platoon. There must be something wrong up top for he is definitely a changed man. His punishment for absence was 3 months pay stopped. Prior to the shelling incident he would not say 'boo' to a goose, but now he does not seem to care for anything or anyone, just doesn't care a damn.
Had Tetanus and Typhoid inoculations today. Went to bed early because there was nothing else to do. Rumor has it we shall be here for 48 hours and we can go out providing we are back by 9.30 p.m. but we are miles from anywhere and there is nowhere to go, and no transport will be provided.
17 september 1944
Moved off at 10.30a.m. And passed back through St. Romain and had a glimpse of Andre, both of them and Michelle and Mimi. They were running beside the carrier as we went along slowly. We could see that they were very sorry to see us leave, for it was written all over their faces. We were driving all day long not knowing where we were going and finished up in an orchard. There were a few farm buildings about but that 's about all. We are stuck in the wilds and the nearest village is a place called Puisneval, some miles east of Dieppe.
16 september 1944
In the morning I went out for a bit of driving instruction on the carrier for the purpose of being the relief driver should it prove necessary when we move which will probably be tomorrow. Visited the Polar Bear Club again and saw Andre in the afternoon and had some more photographs taken. We took a bottle of Whisky and some chocolate to them in the evening and told them that we would most likely be off again tomorrow.
15 september 1944
The name of the village we are close to is Graimbouville and it is north of St. Romain. Went to the Medical Officer in the morning to get my final treatment of B.B. And from there to the Polar Bear Club in St. Romain where tea and cakes are free. It is a pleasant place and previously used by Jerry as a canteen of sorts. To Andre's in the afternoon and tried to take one of his friends into Le Havre but it was impossible. Spent a excellent evening there and they had provided a dinner for us. Rum as an aperitif, then soup, bacon & egg pie, steak and chips (? horse) apple tart and lettuce. And with that we had a very fine white wine and finished up with some champagne. We managed to get a bar or two of Cadbury's mik chocolate from the NAAFI pack which we gave to them. They had not seen Chocolat au Lait for years and were quite excited about it. Had a parcel from Rene containing some books and writing paper.
14 september 1944
A visit to the Medical Officer confirmed my suspicion that I had contracted 'Scabies'. I am to see him again tonight to get treatment. There was another chap there also suffering from the bugs and the treatment was to be coated from head to foot with a preparation called Benzyl-Benzoate. This was applied by an orderly with a shaving brush and it resembled paper hangers paste. It was quite painless except when reaching a certain portion ones anatomy and then it stung like blazes. We are to get another dose tomorrow. I hope that will see me free of scabies. Did not go out in the evening. Very dull day.
13 september 1944
1st troops in Le Havre
Moved out of Gainville this morning to battalion area. Received some handkerchiefs and razor blades from Mum in response to my appeal. Also letters from Mum and Dad.
Heard on the radio that the 49th Division were the first troops into Le Havre and received special mention. Moved to a place east of St. Romain about 6 or 7 kilometers away. We went tot the house at St. Romain again in the evening and spent a nice time there. Received an invitation for supper there on Friday. I hope we are able to make it.
12 september 1944
Le Havre has fallen
Quiet night after all. Le Havre surrendered at 10.30 a.m. And shortly there were columns of prisoners coming down the road. Hundreds of them all day long. A motley disheveled crew and dirty looking. What price the German Army? The dirty looking tykes. If these are the representatives of the 'Master Race' then thank God I am English.
We were prepared to go out for the evening when an order came through, canceling walking out lieve for a possible move. The move was cancelled later on and Cyril, Johnny and I hitch hiked back to St. Romain to see the dentist again. This is possibly the last time we shall see them so addresses were exchanged. Some photographs where taken. I wonder if I shall ever see them.
11 september 1944
Tea with milk
Awoke this morning to find a squadron of tanks in front of us firing their guns and machine guns, also another great force of bombers were over the town. Everywhere one looked there were bombers in the sky and then more and still more. It looks as though it will be a nice day today. Had a parcel from Rene, with Ink, shaving soap, soap and tooth paste, also two letters.
About midday some 46 Jerry prisoners came through our position, that's what I like to see. They were a dirty scruffy looking lot.
Cyril and I were standing at the side of the road when a solitary prisoner came along escorted by one squaddie. They both looked hot and sweaty for it was now very hot and the sun was shining brilliantly. We were drinking tea and Cyril offered his mug to the squaddie and then to the Jerry. Jerry took some and, I thought gratefully, handing it back saying “Tea, with Milk?”. They then went on their way. Later on another 50 or so came by and then we had orders to retire. We were not required further and the attack had gone extremely well and street fighting was now in progress in the tonw. We went back to our company area at Gainville and settled down in an orchard and in a big barn where there was an abondance of hay ensuring comfort for the night, except that there is a battery of 25 pounders next to us which threaten a noisy night.
10 september 1944
We move off again after dinner in support of the Hallams. They are attacking towards Montivilliers and we dug in preparatory for a shoot at 5.30.
A terrific air raid started then on the Foret de Montgeon and we watched with awe at the many Lancaster bombers dropping hundreds of incendiaries and through our binoculars could see the bombs falling. It was terrific. Then another wave came over and bombed the town and great clouds of smoke came up. All this time the artillery was bashing away and our guns were firing too. No. 5 platoon joined us so we had eight guns firing, continuously until 09.30p.m. We started firing again and so did everyone else it seems at half past midnight and the town was illuminated by searchlights while the infantry attacked. The noise was incredible but what a terrific show.
9 september 1944
Bath parade this morning and a change of underclothing at Epouville.
It seems that we are just going to sit around LeHavre while the RAF and artillery knock the hell out of it. On the way to the baths and back, saw streams of refugees coming out of the town. Bikes, Prams, carts and some lorries and many just walking with their bundles. Raining all day again. In the evening with Pte. Kent, walked back to St. Romain and had a very pleasant evening and an interesting chat. They have had no coal for four years and there was a general agreement that the shaving of heads of women collaborators was a good thing. The Daily Mirror has published a protest at this barbaric outrage, but the French say it is impossible for us or anyone else who has not lived under the Bosche to understand the hatred they have for him and for anyone who was friendly with him and the head shaving is but a small let out for this pent up hatred.
8 september 1944
Waiting for orders
Rain at odd intervals and a bit of sunshine. Hung about awaiting orders. It seems that there is to be a third battalion attack on the town. Just exactly when and with whom we don't know. We may be part of it and maybe not. Stayed in camp in the evening – still raining.
7 september 1944
Awoke to a very wet morning and it has evidently been pouring all night. Banyard is ill and is going to the hospital. Everyone is secretly pleased. Rain continued until late afternoon. Rain at odd intervals in the afternoon thoroughly miserable day. Heard yesterday that Harry has gone missing and later found wandering around the countryside with some loss of memory and speech. Nothing further heard about it. Could have gone out in the evening but still raining so did not go out.
6 september 1944
Received a general ticking off from Banyard for last night's affair. He let us off but stopped the whole platoon from any privileges. We decided to go on 'orders' to counteract this. Het did not wat us to do this for we think he has had a bit of 'stick' from higher up for constant trouble with the platoon.
But we are now waiting to before the C.O. to receive our punishment - probably a stoppage of payment or something. If Banyard isn't careful someone is going to be out for his blood. Yesterday there was a big bombing raid by the RAF on LeHavre and a great pall of smoke drifted over our positions. Tonight the same thing is happening. Banyard decided that the outcome of lat nights misdemeanor is that we are not to go on C.O's orders but that the platoon will not have any privileges cancelled and are allowed for walking out but we are not. Oh, Happy days! Went to bed early.
5 september 1944
Dull morning. Spent most of the day writing letters home to various people. NAAFI pack came, but no beer with this issue.
In the evening walking out leave was granted so four of us walked back to St. Romain de Colbosc to visit the Dentist again who had welcomed us before. We returned late to Gainneville and found we had all been put on a charge by the Pltn. Officer.
4 september 1944
Some light shelling in the morning also some mortars, but the weather has improved. Had a letter from my former employer to look out for one of his old Home Guard Corporals. I found him this morning in D Company. We exchanged a few pleasantries but being in different companies there was not much time to do much else. The news is that Finland and Russia have a ceased fire. Brussels has also fallen.
Waiting all the afternoon for a relief by the Gloucesters. They took over about 6 p.m. but we had a lot of shelling while waiting for them. Three of the Hallams and a civilian were injured. When the relief was completed we moved back to our former position at Gainville.
3 september 1944
We have moved forward to an orchard just on the outskirts of Le Havre. Fighting is still in progress in the town an reports coming back indicate that the Lincolnshire Regt. are doing well. We are with the Hallamshire Bn. of the York & Lancaster Regt., and are in reserve. I hope it stays that way but we may move later on. We move to 56 brigade area in convoy and moving very slowly as forward units report the area clear. On the way we found a chap who had fallen of a tank and either injured his back or pelvis Sent word back for M.O. (medical officer) to attend to him and left him in the care of some civvies. Shrapnel shells were bursting in the air all round. We entered the village of Fontenay, north of LeHavre and were the first troops to enter this place. Billets were found for us and we slept the night in a barn. Weather is very cold.
2 september 1944
Rouen was crowded with the civilians lining our route and genuinely pleased to see us. All clapping and cheering and waving flags, Union Jack's, Stars & Stripes and of course the tricolour of France. There was no stopping however and we passed several German vehicles abandoned by the side of the roads, also equipment scattered about and more foul smells of dead animals and bodies. We were surprised to see many horse drawn vehicles of the German Army, plus the dead horses. The crowds were shouting 'Vive la Angleterre' and throwing flowers and apples at us. We tried the apples but they were bitter cider apples so we threw them at each other and everyone was in a jubilant mood.
Apparently we are heading for LeHavre, which is still held by Jerry. We reached a cross roads where it was necessary to make a left hand turn. I was with George Isaacs this time and on reaching this corner he must have swung the wheel over a bit hard for the carrier skidded across the road, hit the kerb, and one track came off. The convoy continued on it's way passing by until George and I were alone, with the broken down carrier. It was a relative easy job to refix the track, something like putting back a bicycle chain, although a bit more complicated. In no time at all, while we were refixing the track we found ourselves surrounded by French people and children. One old chap spoke good English and I had quite a chat with him. All confirmed a hatred for the Bosche but he said that they were not all bad. Just as we got the track back on a man came with a bottle and invited us to his house to have a meal with him. The time was rapidly passing and it was beginning to get quite dark and they were quite prepared for us to spend the night there. However Sgt. Teddy Brooker appeared on the scene to find out what had happened to us. He was a bit wild. "It doesn't take that long to replace a track" he said "so what exactly are you up to?" So we had to depart to join the platoon further up the road. They were situated in a field by the village of Gainville.
1 september 1944
Crossing the river
Before reaching the river we spent a wet and uncomfortable night at the roadside just outside the outskirts of the town. We parked our vehicles in the pitch dark and when we awoke next morning we found that we had parked just a few feet from the edge of a deep raving. It would not have taken much for us all to have ended at the bottom, so luck was with us that night.
Off we went again to cross the river. Crossing the broken down bridge was a heart in mouth operation. Descending one half to river level, making sure that the vehicle did not foul the 'shoes' of the rail lines which were sticking up at regular intervals, and then, gratefully climbing up the second half of the bridge towards the comparative safety of dry land.