This is a rough summary of my travels since I left England in November '43
My Army career started on April 1st 1943, when I left home early morning for Brecon, South Wales. I arrived there, after travelling almost all day, at 8 o'clock in the evening. Kit was issued to us, and also a meal, and god knows the number of forms we had to complete the same night.
My stay at Dering Lines, S. Wales was a fairly pleasant one, except of course, I felt very homesick. We worked pretty hard for the period of six weeks whilst stationed there, and I made some very good friends. A fellow named Griffiths from Llandudno I knew very well and spent some pleasant evenings with him. I have not seen him since then.
I left S. Wales in May '43 for Saltburn on Sea, when I was posted to the Corps, R.A.O.C. and where I studied Ordnance procedure for a period of four weeks, and after we finished the course I was due for seven days leave at home, and I was looking forward to it very much.
I had a very bad time in Saltburn while I was stationed there; whilst doing some coastal defence work one evening a raid was in progress in Middlesboro and district and we had some very narrow escapes from bombs and shrapnel. It was during one of these raids that I caught some illness, probably influenza, but it really played havoc with me. Saltburn was a very pleasant place to be at, but I did not enjoy my stay there owing to my not feeling too good. We left Saltburn at the beginning on June '43 for seven days leave at home, and what a relief it was, but during my leave I felt rotten, although I tried to keep cheerful for my wife's sake.
The leave came to an end, and I was told to return to Chilwell; two days spent at Chilwell, and then another move to Nottingham. I was stationed at a College near Sherwood Forest, still studying of course, but this time it was Chilwell procedure, and M.T. driving, etc. I liked Nottingham very much and, in fact, I was sorry to leave the place. After three weeks or a month at Nottingham, I was told that I would be returning to a place called Kegworth near Derby. Anyhow I eventually arrived at this place, and was attached to 13 A.F.V. – only a small unit and fairly comfortable. It was from this place that I was eventually posted for overseas service. We received 12 days embarkation leave and, up to the last moment, I was sincerely hoping that I would not have to leave England, and so was my wife, however, as you will see later, I was not successful.
I travelled to Donnington, in Shropshire. I was at this town for one week getting kitted up with overseas kit, and I was really browned off thinking about it. I visited Wellington and whiled away the time while I was here.
We left early in the morning by train for the docks; no one really knew where we were going from, but we eventually arrived in Liverpool on the morning of November 12th, and from the train straight on to the boat, which was the 'Franconia'. We sailed the same day at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and stayed on the Clyde until the following day. I remember seeing the Welsh Coast and I had a good look just in case it was a last chance.
We left the Clyde late evening on the 14th November for the long crossing, and we had no idea as to where we were bound for however. I had many experiences, but you can well imagine what it must have been like for 15 days in a crowded troopship. We had some raids, and one or two burials at sea. One or two things got me down, and that was Prayer meeting by the Padre, and the other boat drill. Ha. Ha.
We passed through Gibralter, the Coast of Spain, Spanish Morocco, Tangiers, and of course, Casablanca, where Churchill met Roosevelt for their meeting. Spain looked very beautiful at night, the country all lit up, and believe me it was quite an experience after coming from England where everything was blacked out.
We disembarked at Algiers, North Africa, and that night in the harbour we had a raid, and it was really terrifying. Also that particular night, I believe I experienced the worst thunderstorm or electric storm I ever saw in my whole life; it was a glorious sight. We travelled to a place called Hussein Dey and I stayed there for four days, during which time I did some guard duties at a depot (No 5 S.O.D.) and had the unpleasant duty of shooting an Arab who was pilfering; I felt very sad. Everything seemed so very strange here, walking the streets surrounded by Arabs. There were very few French in this town.
On the third day at Hussein Dey, we were interviewed by a Colonel who stated that he was looking for 20 men to be posted to A.F.H.Q. and I was one of the chosen men. We left Hussein Dey for a place called Maison Carree. This place was certainly an improvement on the first, but my stay was very short, in fact a matter of one night here, and I, together with three more, was sent down to Algiers - the St George Hotel.
My stay in Algiers was a very pleasant one, and it was glorious weather; in fact it rained only once during my stay there (8 or 9 months). We visited practically all the beaches, we did some swimming, and perhaps I ought to mention here that to get down to the water one had to wear sandals as the sand was too hot to walk on. We had a Rest Camp at a small place along the coast called La Figuare, camped on the beach and it was wonderful leave we had. The Arabs used to call upon us every day with eggs which we used to exchange for a tin of bully or spam, and we were fortunate to get two French girls to do the cooking for us. They used to be on the beach daily with their Mother; it appears that they got away to Algiers from Paris during the early days of the war.
During my stay at Algiers, we had what you might call a locusts storm; they simply came over in clouds, millions upon millions, and they very soon cleared all the gardens of fruit and leaves. The Arab boys used to catch them and eat them like chips after they were fried. I could not decide what they were when I first saw them, and took great care to try and avoid them not knowing what they were. The swarms came over for 10 days without a stop and the poor old Arabs kept going round the fields beating tins to try and keep them away from the grapes, etc. While I am talking about fruit, perhaps I ought to mention that I have never seen anything like it; you could travel for miles upon miles and still be within view of grapes. It was a glorious sight.
We were billetted under canvas at a place called Beau de Bologne, and we were very happy indeed. We played tennis in the evenings, and took long walks in the surrounding district; a place called El Biar, Redout, and the Hydro were always an attraction.
We visited a place called Chrea, and on the way there we passed several camels, monkeys, etc., and we also visited a place called Constantine, and in my mind this town was the most beautiful I have ever seen. In fact, I paid several visits there because I liked it so much.
I once had a trip to Sicily by road, and it took us exactly six days, so you can well imagine what we felt like when we returned, having slept and eaten on the roads for a whole week. Ha. Ha. I also visited the Sahara desert, a matter of 150 miles from Algiers; it was a Sunday night, and we had a radio in the car and listened to Tommy Handley's programme. It did feel so strange, and made me really homesick.
I also had a trip to Cairo by air, but had to return in two days; it did not really give me time to look around very much, but from what I did see, Cairo was very beautiful.
In the native part of Algiers, a place called the Casbah, one would really never believe it unless they saw the place; the streets there were about 6 ft wide, and the houses were almost leaning on each other, and the conditions under which the natives lived there was really disgusting, but they all seemed quite happy. We were not allowed to visit the place unless we were accompanied by a guard, and went on a Cook's tour, because the natives were not too friendly.
I visited a Mosque, and several Arab houses; it was very strange to see the old man on the ground floor, and all his wives on the first floor peeping through the curtains at the visitors; they were not allowed downstairs. When the Arab took a walk at the weekends, and they always did, the wives were not allowed to walk with him – they just lined up behind him, together with the children, like dogs. I also once saw a boy walking on his all fours just like an animal, and I used to visit him and give him chocolate. I felt so very sorry for him; probably his father and mother had some disease and would affect the family for generations. It was a pitiful sight.
When I was at a place called Blida with the lads, something strange struck me, in fact, I must have lost consciousness for several hours because I did not remember a thing, and when I woke up I was in hospital. They could not fathom it out, unless, they thought perhaps I had been drugged, but that was impossible seeing that all the lads were with me, and in fact, we were together all day. Anyhow I pulled through that alright, and was happy once again. You will remember that Blida was a scene of fierce fighting between the French and the Arabs after we had left Algiers; several hundreds were killed there.
I saw the spot where Admiral Darlan was killed, and I also saw two Frenchmen executed, or at least shot, one early morning at Hussein Dey.
President Roosevelt, Churchill, Giraud, and de Gaulle were always visiting us at the George; I also saw several Russian Generals there. Alexander and Montgomery, of course and Cunningham were living there, and I saw them almost daily, also Eisenhower and Marshall.
I also used to visit the French shows in Algiers; they nearly always had an English scene, and they were quite good.
My time was almost coming to an end at Algiers and we were told that we were moving over to Italy; we were very sorry, and made the best of it for the last few weeks, playing tennis, swimming, etc., and had an enjoyable time. At last the time came, we packed up the first party, and we followed them a week later.
The last week in Algiers we made the best of it, we had time off practically every day; a day at Palm Beach, and we also went to Notre Dame, and we had a good time playing tennis.
The day came so we had to part. We left Algiers on the Ville D'Oran, a French ship, and we arrived in Naples harbour, 36 hours later, passing the Isle of Capri, and a glorious view of Vesuvius. I personally was disappointed in Naples after coming from Algiers and it not look half as pretty.
We were met at the docks by a party of Ordnance men and brought up to Caserta, and after a good meal went round the Palace to see the new offices. The Palace itself, and of course the grounds, are very beautiful; it is considered the largest palace in the world, having about 1,500 rooms and passages extending to about 10 miles. Well it took us some time to settle down, as most of our records were still on the seas, so we again had time off sight-seeing, etc.
Italy is as warm, if not warmer, than North Africa, but I found it far more depressing, and one always feels tired and sleepy. Naples of course was the centre of attraction after hearing so much about the place, but I really was disappointed; the very famous Via Roma is just another street, and I have seen far better roads.
Vesuvius and Pompeii being other attractions, I visited them both. As regards Pompeii I should think that nothing better could have happened to the place, after reading the history of such wicked people who lived there. There was certainly a very beautiful church there, and I should imagine that several thousands of liras had been spent in decorating; the Madonna's headwear all set out in diamonds with silver and gold placques stuck up on the walls and ceiling, all gifts from the R.C.s. I never wish to discuss religion with anyone, it's a thing to be avoided, but really after visiting Italy one can't help discussing it; it is really amazing what a grip the Roman Catholic Church have on the people. If they earn ten shillings half of it always goes to the Church, no matter what poverty there is in the country.
I visited the Isle of Capri, a matter of crossing from Sorrento by boat in one hour 20 mins, and I must say that Capri is marvellous; we went up from the beach on the Funicular, and visited all places of interest. Gracie Field's bungalow we called at and had a drink there; at the time American officers were occupying it as a holiday home. There is nothing attractive about the bungalow, but it's very nicely situated on the water-front.
Sooner or later I must mention Rome, a very beautiful city, and a very wealthy one, one of the most impressive buildings being St Peter's R.C. Church, the largest in the world, and indeed I shall not try and describe the wealth it consists of. A very marvellous building, and of course several hundreds of old paintings worth millions of pounds. I also visited the Vatican, which is a town of its own, all walled in, and again there must be millions of pounds worth in this place; we spoke and shook hands with the Pope, he spoke to us in three languages. We also visited Mussolini's house, just an ordinary house, nothing spectacular as one would expect; perhaps I ought to mention here that Mussolini had another house on Capri which I visited; this one was reserved for him and his mistress.
Being stationed in Southern Italy for so long, we had very little opportunity of visiting Northern Italy. However when I did visit, I found it by far a better part of the country. I visited Rimini, Bologna, Florence, and of course Milan; I saw the famous Milan Opera House, and the site where Mussolini was killed and hung up. We visited Lake Como and I need hardly stress on the beauty of the lake and the surrounding district. I also visited Venice and I was so thrilled with the place I arranged [planned] to have another visit, but up to the time (two months) of going home, I have not succeeded. We travelled around the town in gondolas as it seemed so strange.
I also visited (by air) Yugoslavia and Greece, the latter place I stayed only a few hours on business, and from what I could see of Athens it seemed very beautiful (fighting was in progress while I was there, and I was sorry not being able to visit the town of Athens). I was not keen on the former country, and the natives did not seem at all friendly towards us.
We travelled home early part of Dec '45, via Medloc (Mediterranean lines of communication) and although very tiring, it was a thrill knowing we were on our way home for leave. We travelled through Switzerland and France, a matter of 2,000 miles by train, the longest train journey that I have ever had, and I might say that I don't want another train journey as long as that.
I don't intend delving on smaller matters.Back to Introduction