I’m currently having great fun editing the wartime diaries of Stanley Christopherson. Stanley had an extraordinary war. A young lawyer with the Inns of Court TA regiment, he joined the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry at the outbreak of war. At the time, the SRY were a very old-fashioned local Nottinghamshire yeomanry outfit, where hunting and cricket and country pastimes were very much the order of the day. By the end of the war, then had become the single unit in the British Army with the most battle honours – an astonishing achievement.
Stanley himself joined as a junior subaltern and slowly rose up the ranks. They were posted to Palestine with their horses and were involved in the British Army’s last sabres-drawn cavalry charge. Later, after an embarrassing stampede, they were promised the chance to become mechanised but with the British Army having to rapidly grow and with vast amounts of materiel left behind at Dunkirk, this did not happen in a hurry. In the meantime, they became artillery, the squadrons becoming batteries and divided between Crete and Tobruk. Stanley spent six months at the latter.
Once finally mechanised, they took part in the Battle of Alam Halfa, the Battle of Alamein and then all across North Africa and into Tunisia. After that campaign was over in May 1943, they were sent home, and landed in France on D-Day. Three days later, Stanley became officer commanding, a post he held until the end of the war. As part of the unattached 8th Armoured Brigade, they were seen as trouble-shooters and frequently found themselves at the vanguard of any attack. They fought through Normandy, Belgium, Holland, served with the US 82nd Airborne in Operation Market Garden, and then on into Germany. By the end of the war, they weren’t just the most battle-honoured regiments in the Army, they were one of the best and most experienced.
Stanley was one of the very few to fight all the way through the war – and survive. His diaries are wonderful – full of charm, humour, and incredibly perceptive observation. He and the regiment are far more interested in training and honing tactics than has often been given credit to the British Army during the war – this is another fascinating aspect of the diaries. I’ve also been interviewing the survivors of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry: John Semken, Stan Cox, Bert Jenkins and David Render, some of whose interviews I’ve already posted. All agree that Stanely was the most remarkable man – unfailingly cheerful, optimistic and charming, despite the long toll of war and the increasing burdens and responsibilities on his shoulders.
The diaries are fabulous. I have to finish editing them by the end of this month with Bantam Press publishing them in February next year.
How about this for a little gem from his time in Tobruk in the fist half of 1941:
‘We had a service in the gun pit in the morning. The padre is rather good at these short services. He gave us a short sermon, his text was ‘endurance’ and ‘the ability to carry on.’ Just as he had completed his talk with the words, ‘you must always carry on,’ the AA opened up and he turned to Peter and said, ‘Shall I carry on?’ After taking cover for a short time he completed his service by saying a special prayer for our families, wives and sweethearts. I was standing next to Peter and when he paused for us all to say a silent prayer for our sweethearts I kept on wondering which of his many sweethearts Peter was praying for. He couldn’t decently have prayed for more than one at a time.’