31 Those That Died

Royal Engineer   I lost mates.  But a lot of it was not when we were going into attacks.  The first six, half dozen was three weeks after D Day.  We dug into this field by the side of the river, by Bénouville Bridge.  They was laying out there sunbathing, which they shouldn’t have done really.  I’d been on guard the night beforehand – I was off.  I was laying in my hole.  I’d dug a hole in the ditch and put a door over the top.

They was laying out there sunbathing and they slung about a dozen 88 shells – which was his favourite gun, that 88 gun.  You could hear it for miles.  You’d hear it go: “Pop-pop” and “Wizzz” and “Crack!” – Big loud “Crack!”  I heard them all hollering and I jumped up and run out.

The driver of my section, he had his leg blown off, back of his head smashed in and he was hollering and shouting.  I run over and covered him up with a blanket.  You couldn’t do nothing else.  There was —- —–, our Corporal.  He never had no shirt on, he was sunbathing and he got up and run to save a little kid that came out a farmhouse.  A lump of shrapnel hit him in the back, and came out his chest.  He was laying there, squealing.  And there was a Sergeant, Sergeant ——-.  He had a big old jack-knife in his belt.  A bit of shrapnel had hit that and pushed it into his back.

We loaded them on the three ton lorry.  We went down the first aid post, which was a big hole dug in the ground with a canvas over it. They took them in there, and they all died in there.

Company Sergeant Major  We was in Abyssinia and a chap came from England.  He was a Sergeant who’d been trained in defusing things.  Knew his job very, very well, as I thought.  We was in a sort of – I wouldn’t say a valley – a big hole, with rocks all round.  There was hundreds of these bloody baboons flying around.  Vicious they were.  We had a load of Italian prisoners, working for us with their big diesel lorries.

One of these lorries had picked up hand-grenades and shells  and rifles, because they were still on the run, the Italians.  This place was the first place where we’d had proper roofs over our heads for ages, because normally we was out in the open all night.  This Sergeant had got this little room all his own.  It was painted white, as they are out there.  I went over and had a word with him about this stuff in the corner.  Anything like that frightened the life out of me, because you only had to touch it, and up it goes.

With this stuff being Italian made, he was experimenting.  I’d left the office and gone over to take the Orderly to his room.  While I was there, there was a terrific explosion.  I jumped in the C.O’s car and went flying over there – it was about 300 yards away – and all I could see was this smoke coming out of this room.  A Sergeant and myself, we dived in there.  Apparently this other Sergeant had tried to defuse an Italian hand-grenade.  He was in a terrible state.  He’d got his head blown off.  A Kenya boy, a white boy, who’d been with him, had taken part of the blast, right in his face.  We grabbed the Sergeant and put him in the car.  He was dying.  It was a beautiful car – it was a Chevrolet, with the column change, when they first came out.  We rushed him down to the hospital, with the old siren going.   I was in the operation theatre when they cut his clothes off.  All his veins were pumping out… – like sprays of blood coming out.  I went outside and I was as sick as a dog.  The Matron came over and said to me “Would you like a bowl of soup?”  And that done it.  I passed out.  The young Kenyan chappie, he was blinded for life.

West Country Girl    I remember the first woman who had her husband killed in the village.  I thought about that a bit.  The ………. Bank was opposite where I worked, and he was a bank clerk there.  She used to come to work with him every morning.  They used to stand in the doorway, hugging and kissing good-bye.  She had two little children when he went.  He was about the first one to get killed in the village, and I thought that was awful, because they had been so in love.  You could see it.

Liverpool Mother   One very, very bad night during the Blitz we hadn’t gone to the shelter.   We had stairs in the kitchen, and there was a cupboard affair under the stairs and in there I used to put a mattress down.  I’d put our two little ones in the cot, with one of the old-fashioned tabletops, that you could lift off the table, over the top.  We didn’t have a bathroom.  I had our John sitting on the table, washing him down, and a bomb came down and all the windows came in on top of him.  I consoled him, and there was a hammering at the door.  I took him with me, with the towel thrown over him, and it was the chap opposite with a boy over his shoulder.   He’d been caught in the blast and brought him in.  I didn’t think anything.  We had a parlour and a kitchen.  He bought him into the parlour and when he put the boy down on the settee – he’s got no head.  Our John seen that and he went into a fit.  He was fairly shaken by that.

Army Driver  In Durban, South Africa, our troopship was parked next door to the battle-cruiser Repulse.  When we got up to Natal Street there was a big Naafi there, for all ranks, and we always used to be on leave with the sailors, and had a bloody good time with them.

On our way across the Indian Ocean it was just us and the Repulse, steaming along for a  few days.  We transferred three matelots from our ship onto the Repulse.  Both ships were stationary in the Indian Ocean.  The only worry was from surface ships, as U Boats didn’t have the range for that area.  Then we went our separate ways, the Repulse wishing us God speed, over the tannoy.

The balloon went up with the Japs on 7th December, 1941, with Pearl Harbour.  We were camped in Iraq when we heard that the Repulse had been sunk with all hands. (1)    And we’d been on leave with all those blokes.   You knew them as Jock or Charlie or Bill, that sort of thing, and when you got on your boat you shook hands – “Best of luck”.   You didn’t know the poor sods had got about a month to live.  That was nothing to the Powers That Be, but it was pretty rough to you, and the poor sods that copped it.  But you didn’t dwell on it.

RAF Ground Gunner   When the V2s were dropping I was still in the RAF Regiment.  We are pulled up at a place just the other side of Romford. (2)    It was a little aerodrome.  There was us and another squadron. we’d gone up there to get the guns all made up again, and to recoup.  One night there was a camp dance and I went to it.  I was dancing with this little Waaf out of the office, a little girl with glasses.   We had the dance on the Sunday.

On Tuesday, four o’ clock in the afternoon we had Bofors guns, and I was No.2.  We was in the hangar and the other squadron was in the other hangar.  Four o’clock it was my turn to do No.4 – that was the bloke who loaded the shells in.  I’d jumped onto the gun and I was just reaching down for a clip of shells and all of a sudden it was bedlam.

I was flat on my back and I was looking up, and there was all the corrugated sheeting falling down off the hangar.  There was blokes lying all over the place, and smoke everywhere.  We all rushed out to the aerodrome.  The other hangar was flat.  The rocket had gone straight into it.  The Squadron Leader, an old boy with glasses, he’s standing there with his arm up, twisted back – back round the back of his neck, and he’s crying “Oh my boys, oh my boys.”

We all rushed into this hangar.  Well, I rushed in and stopped, ‘cos the bloke who was my opposite number to me was sitting on the seat, and all he had was his chest down.  His head and shoulders is gone, and there was all steam coming out.  And there was a bloke’s leg sticking out from underneath the gun.  I got hold of the feet and I was pulling them, but that’s all I was pulling – the feet.  I started vomiting.  I run out, and as I run out I saw a Waaf lying on the floor.  Somebody was just putting a sheet over her, and it was this Waaf I’d been dancing with.  She was face down on the floor but her feet were pointing skywards.

They sent the Waafs on the switchboard home and me and a Corporal was put on the switchboard.  There was a Sergeant in ——– Hospital, he was dying and his wife kept phoning up.  Every time she phoned it was muggins who was taking the call.  I didn’t know what to say.  I kept saying to her “As far as I know you husband is in ——– Hospital, and we’re waiting for reports.”

This went on for about an hour, and then I went for a cup of tea, and this Corporal took over.  He was as thick as a bloody wall.  She came on, and he’d just heard that he’d died.  As she came on he said “Sergeant So and So?  Oh yes, it’s just come through.  He’s dead.”   Just like that.  I thought: you bastard.  I went back and said “What do you want to say that for?”  I could have smashed him.  They lost half the squadron.  A lot of our blokes went into ——– Hospital with shock.  It’s a wonder I didn’t go myself, the way I rushed into that hanger and stopped.  I can still see it now.  That bloke sitting there.

1. Three days after Pearl Harbour HMS Repulse, along with HMS Prince of Wales were torpedoed and bombed by Japanese aeroplanes on 10 October, 1941  and sunk off Kuanton on the Malayan coast.  835 sailors died.

2.  Romford, Essex.

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