Bob Hall served with the US 16th Infantry Regiment, in the 1st Infantry Division, in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy.
Bob Hall 10/9/2003 Tape 1
This was taken of you in Lyme Regis?
Uh huh. This was in Lyme Regis. That building there at the time was the message centre. Now, that has a story itself. I don’t know what… Now, what are you interested in knowing?
I’m interested in knowing the whole story really. What I was going to ask you first of all was a little bit about where you were born and brought up, how many brothers and sisters you had and what did your father do, growing up in America in the twenties and thirties.
Oh, yeah. I was born in Greenwich, New York. That’s forty miles north of Albany. There was just myself and my sister and I was born in the big city of Greenwich.
85 years today – 1922.
Yeah, 1922. No! 1918.
Yeah, that would be right, wouldn’t it. 1918. I got my maths wrong.
My sister was born in 1917. She was a year older than me and, oh, ice skating and winter sports was my thing. There was a cold – we had a river – and there was a cold backed up and we’d go skating as long as we wanted to, anywhere we wanted to.
It used to freeze over every winter, did it?
Yeah. We used to cut limbs off from trees that looked like a hockey stick and get a hockey puck and we’d play hockey hour after hour, ride down hills – never could get to ski. So, then, about 1930 I guess, my father, my mother’s father and mother lived with us and my father had been in the civil war, uh, in the Spanish-American war.
Oh, right. Your father?
My father, uh huh. He got poisoned. The other side poisoned the water hole as they called it, and he and other soldiers drank out of it and he got poisoned but he lived on through it into old age. But he said, â€œWhen your parents die, we’re heading for Florida. I want warm weather. Well, G – A – R, Grand Army of the Republic, they were the ones started [St Clouds] as a friendly soldier’s city.
Oh, right. That was after the Civil War?
Yeah, that was after the Civil War. Well, they called it the Spanish-American War.
The Spanish-American War, yeah. So that was about 1900, or something?
Yeah. It would have been about that part. So, my mother’s parents, they had a dairy, I mean, had a farm. And my father, as I understand it, couldn’t live with the step-mother and ran away from home and got a job with my mother’s folks. Of course, the romance took over. Anyway, they moved into Greenwich and he worked in the rail place with loading milk cans and things and then he got in with his cousin and he started rebuilding batteries. You didn’t buy a new one or nothing, he took the old ones out a put the new ones in and rebuilt that battery and put it there. Then he had a garage of his own that built a little bit for him so, nineteen… I don’t know what year my mother started corresponding with the G.A.R. but, when you come down into St Cloud, if you found a place you wanted, you could… well, they’d pay but it was a very low rate to the government. So, we got down into St Clouds and I remember we got down at noon and had to eat in the car and my father went down to the G.A.R. and they sent him to some real estate dealers. Boy, they were like flies! So, they took him out. Shacks! They didn’t have windows in â€˜em. He wanted something, you know, he could build. So he said, â€œNo. So we started to head out and this one salesman slipped into the back seat with my sister and I and he was talking about… and our father said, â€œGet out! Get out! And that’s how come we wound up in Kissimee. He found a house over there to fix up.
So, you were living in Kissimmee to start off with?
Yes, in Kissimee, uh huh. Now, you know what about Kissimee? It’s â€˜Kissimee’ in the daytime and â€˜Kissing Me’ at night.
Ah! Very good. I haven’t heard that one.
That’s the story. That’s the way the story… â€˜Kissimee’ in the daytime, â€˜Kissing Me’ at night!
Were you sorry to leave New York?
Yeah. I was fifteen and I had buddies up there and winter time, summer time, too, we had a river, we jumped off the trestle. The railroad guys didn’t like it. They’d come along, they’d throw ice water! When we’d hear the train coming there wasn’t anyone on the trestle!
It’s a nice part of the country, upstate New York.
Oh, beautiful country up there. Of course, then you could get almost anywhere, up into Vermont… Never did get to Maine but my folks – my father’s folks lived up in Vermont. The Hall family, we’d go up there for family reunions. There was Petty’s and the Halls and, oh golly, there was picnics all over the place. In 1935, really, was when my father found the house and we started living there.
Sorry, I missed it, but what was it that actually prompted the move to St Cloud? I know there was this deal for veterans.
The government was giving soldiers – well, they called it â€˜homestead’ but you â€˜homesteaded’ but you still paid a very low price.
And it was just the offer of getting a house and a plot of land very cheaply?
Yes. Wherever they could find but, of course, the real estate men weren’t going to find a house for a government guy that he was only going to make fifty dollars on – the government were paying it – he wanted, he was showing, all of â€˜em were showing not liveable places. The reason for it; they didn’t want to show â€˜em the house that was valuable, that someone had the money to pay for it. So that’s the reason that my father said, at the end of the day that we couldn’t handle that. So we went back and forth and my father, he kept going and my sister, mother and I, we went, and my sister stayed and I went, we went by the old choo-choo train. Choo-choo, choo-choo. And we wouldn’t sleep or anything. We’d stay sitting in the middle of our seat and when we got up to where we get off, up in New York, we were covered with soot.
You had to take a bath to end this whole thing. And this old soot come choo-chooing right down the line. It is true. You get pretty black.
So that must have taken a pretty long time, didn’t it?
You had to take the sleeper cars and then finally we kind of got tired of it. And then my folks sold the house up north to a Mr [Cottrell]. He owned it for several years and now an artist bought it and now it’s a brick house, eighteen.. I don’t know. He painted that thing red. Boy, if my father had ever saw that he would have kicked his bucket again! Well, then, late a few years ago, an older couple bought it and took all the paint off of it and I understand you can see the original brick of it now.
How amazing. So it’s still standing.
I don’t think I’ll ever get up to see it but Middle Falls was the actual place that we lived. I played – I was in with music playing guitar, I wanted a banjo!
And my mother said, â€œWell, when we get down in the south, the coloured people play banjo! She said, â€œYou’ll be able to play.
And that’s your banjo there?
Yeah, that’s my main banjo there. Got down there, they didn’t know what a banjo looked like or what it was! That’s the pictures that you see of them playing the banjo as minstrels. But I did find a man over in St Clouds, [Steven Wheekes], I’ll never forget him. He started me out and then I was working towards stage work. I played with an orchestra and [Red Moyer], he was up in Orlando doing stage work so I was taking lessons from him. Seventy five cents an hour! You had to drive to Orlando but it was the only one worth a couple of hours working with me. Well then my friends and neighbours suggested to the President that I should be the one to help win the war so I got a personal letter from the President requesting that I join the services.
So, of course, we were in Kissimee at the time and â€˜selective service’, â€˜selective service’ at the time, we called it.
So your name would just be picked from a hat? How did that work, the selective service?
The same thing as a draft. It was a nice name. They selected you.
Was that a random, just going through names and you were picked out of a hat?
Yes. Yes. Of course, they sent the letter as if it were from the President. I don’t remember the wording but the idea was, you know, â€˜Your friends and neighbours,’ I’m sure that was in there. To a degree it was suggesting that you’d kind of come and help so, of course… I don’t know how many of us went. We had our picture taken in front of the Post Office there at Kissimee before we left.
When was that? Was that in 1940 or 1941?
Now let me see… My oldest granddaughter suggested that I should…
Oh, you found it.
…start writing my stuff. Well, I started and I got quite a way until all this health stuff hit and then the brain just didn’t work no more. Now, let’s see… 1942 was when I received a letter from the President saying I had been selected by my friends and neighbours to join the armed services. The first pay cheque that I got was the old-time 21 dollars and the old saying went, ’21 dollars a day, once a month.’ They had a song; ’21 dollars a day and once a month.’ Of course, that was in January 14th, 1942 and Camp [Blanding] was the induction centre up in Jacksonville and that’s where we went, up there.
Were you worried about joining up?
Well, not… For some reason I didn’t want to just volunteer because I had a back injury.
Where had you got that from?
Foolishness. I guess before I was even a teenager, myself and my buddy was looking for a diving board and a barn had burned but the floor was still good and this one plank, it looked like it was laying slightly crossways. So, I just reached down to pick it up because it was nailed and I kind of felt my back â€˜crunch’ a little. Well, kids, you know. If it was nailed down and you couldn’t get it. My job was to carry two hods of coal. We had a coal scuttle that my mother cooked on and so I was the one – my job was to have two hods of coal by the kitchen door so that when she needed some more coal she could get it. Well, one day I put it down and that’s when it hit me. Well, she was a nurse and she called the chiropractor and he just popped it back in place. So, then the old coal shed, that was my job and the snow. I shovelled the walks out from the house and my father had a big barn, had been a sheep barn, and he turned it into stalls. Because people, when they bought a car they didn’t leave it in the weather, they rented a stall to put it in. That was a valuable item. So, he had several stalls and I shovelled the snow away from stalls and we had a long driveway. And then all the snow shovelling and everything. Then there’s light snow that you can’t hardly get – you ever had anything to do with snow?
There’s some light snow that you can throw it and throw it and it’ll come back. And others: Wet snow. You can chop yourself a hunk and you can hardly throw it. And then there’s others that’s just right. You can do it just right. That was my job. Getting those two hods of coal. Then the back there, then I’d been had trouble all the time after that. When they did induct me, well, one time I couldn’t do the callisthenics, I couldn’t bend far enough and so the instructor sent me to some doctors. Well, they had me stripped down and they said my left leg was shorter than my right leg. They said if I had a quarter of an inch added to my heel I could keep on going. They wasn’t going to put me out.
You’d have thought they’d have said…
You’re going to go, Buddy! Don’t use that!
How old were you when you left school? Sixteen?
So, what were you doing between leaving school and..?
When we came down… No, no, no. Because when we were fifteen we came to Kissimee and I went to Kissimee school. I must have been over that. I must have been seventeen. Because I went to High School there in Kissimee for quite a few years. Yeah, I must have been up around seventeen, eighteen. I guess that was the time you could quit at that time. I don’t know why my mother let me but she did. Yeah, I was still going to school in Kissimee, the one they’re trying to save over there. Of course, when we got up there to Camp Blanding we stayed there for a while and went out on some hikes! When I went in there, the odd part was leggings! I thought, â€˜Gee, I hope we don’t get into anything…’ That was the fist thing they handed us, leggings. You had to learn to put â€˜em on. You had to blouse over.
Oh, yeah. They went up to about here didn’t they?
About there and then you had to blouse â€˜em. Well then the… I don’t remember if it was the Marines or the Navy. They had a dispute about how far we were blousing ours to their blousing. I don’t know what ever come of it but it went around for a while. I think, I don’t remember, I think we had a finger length or something that we were to blouse in. Well, I had to wear leggings. so then, from Camp Blanding we went up to Camp [Wheeler], just out of [Samaykin], Georgia. That’s where our training started. Well, I’d been a grease monkey at home. I’d worked at garages and gas stations,
Is that what you were doing after you left school?
Yes. That’s what I got into. Got into a garage and then the very first year that social security came out, I was working for a man named Bill Little. He owned half the town. He was one of these rich guys and he owned this grocery store and this gas station and everything. So I remember when social security came out, he came to me, he said, â€œThey’ve passed the law for social security, and he says, â€œBut I’m not going to join with it and I’m not going to pay in anything to it for you or anybody here. He said, â€œI’m not going to do it. Well, about two weeks later a government man came down and told him, â€œYou’re going to pay social security. So I was one of the first ones when social security came out was the reason that old Bill Little wasn’t going to spend his money but the government man agreed with him that he better pay social security. So that’s when that got started there in Middle Falls. I’m kind of skipping around here because one thing brings up another thing.
No, that’s alright.
Well, I’ve kind of been changing tyres and washing cars and I’ve done mechanic’s work. So then they gave you the choice to go to mechanic’s school.
Was this the Army?
Oh, this was the Army. But they’d give you a test. So, if you passed it then you could go to mechanic’s school. So, of course, I did pass the test. You know little things here and there. That got us out of a lot of field things and all this kind of stuff because we’d done the school work things there. Well, the odd part was the fact the a lot of them, myself and some older men that had been mechanics and done things, when it came to tests and things, the ones that had been typewriter people or this and that thing – they passed it with higher honours or higher grades! Now, you know why? Because the older fellows like me and all had our way of doing it. The Army had their way of doing it. Now, the guy that had been a typewriter or had pushed pencils, he had no idea except what the Army told him to do! So, when it came to the test, he did it the Army way. Course, nothing ever cam of it but it did get them out of a lot of hoofing. So, then that was over with, course, there’s a lot of things went on in there but that’s too many things to go into now. Lots of trick and things, [short-sheeting] and all kinds of things like that. The last day that we were there, the barracks Sergeant, they didn’t like him. So, he went out one night, the last night. He come back and his bunk was gone. Couldn’t find his bunk so he had to sleep there on the bare floor. When he woke up, there it had been pulled up against the ceiling. Nothing could be said. We were moving out! He wasn’t going to chew nobody out! But it was a laugh seeing him, â€˜there it is, up there.’ So we all boarded G.I. trucks. Went just outside of… Oh, I never can think of it now. Oh, yeah. You hear of a guy, â€˜Squeaky’. James [Allbrett]. He passed away. We was in Jacksonville there and you’d hear this high-pitched woman’s voice. Boy, you all went running out looking and here was this James Allbrett. He got the nick name of â€˜Squeaky’. What am I hunting for here?
So, you weren’t training all that long, really? Six months or so?
Oh, no, no, no. It wasn’t long. Because when we got down to Fort Benning… We went up to Fort Benning out in the field. We was out in the field in [hub] tents. So then… I got put in the 16th Infantry.
When was that? Was that after the mechanics course that you were assigned to? That was after you were assigned to your regiment?
That was when we were all done with. But I was listed as an Assistant Jeep Driver. I did get that privilege of being an â€˜assistant’. I didn’t ride in a jeep but they did give me the title of Assistant Jeep Driver. So then when we did get up outside of… Which one did I just say now? Fort Benning, Georgia, that was when all our new ones went into the 16th Infantry. And, Boy, got put into heavy-calibre machine guns! Carrying that great big water cooler and dig yourself down. â€˜Why in the world did I get into this?’ Carrying that big water cooler and all these shells around your shoulder. We was about a week into it when word went around that they was going to start an anti-tank platoon and was going to use all the new recruits. â€˜Oh, Boy! Hope that rumour’s true!’ And it was. They started an anti-tank platoon. So then I got transferred along with some of the other ones into the anti-tank. Well, that’s a thirty-seven millimetre.
Right. A bit lighter.
Well, it’s like trying to – the thirty-seven – was like trying to kill an elephant with a BB gun! But we didn’t mind! It got us riding! It got us out a whole bunch of stuff, there. Well, then, of course, from Fort Benning, when they got organised, they put us in the anti-tank platoon. Then, of course, there was four jeeps to a squad or whatever. We went from there, that’s where we wound up, into Camp or [Indian Town Gap] but we were listed in the anti-tank platoon but we weren’t in the real â€˜gun’ deal. But they took us out and they trained us to open up and to fire and do all that thing…
But, in fact, all you were doing was jeep driving?
Yeah. Well, I wasn’t a jeep driver yet then. Oh, there was a bunch of stuff that went on there that was too long to tell now, here. But the time that we spent in Indian Town Gap… Well, the big thing I got to tell here: The very last day that we were there – the next day we were due to ship out, we were using 0-3 rifles, that was with the gun sight, up and you flip it down. The old 0-3 R. That was just before the grenade come in, the M1, that hadn’t been invented yet. I got dirt under my sight. Well, the barracks Sergeant lived in Miami and Jack, he lived in Kissimee so he was going to ride down through, leave us at Kissimee, go to Miami, come back and pick us up at Kissimee and get back up to Indian Town Gap. Well, the time he was to pick us up came. Half an hour afterwards. An hour. Finally he came and he was real late getting us. So then we headed for Indian Town Gap and it was way past bed-check time when we got there. So then the guard gate, the guard gate… The agreement was that he was to slow up enough that Jack and I could jump out and head for our barracks. Well, the guys at the guard gate, â€œThat’s just a little too slow. He didn’t have to slow that much for a guard gate. Here comes the jeep! They’re hunting somebody. There was a bayonet field. You know what a bayonet field is? They’ve got sacks on â€˜em and you put your bayonet on your gun and you practise charging in.
Oh, okay. Yeah.
You bayonet the bag as a man. That was bayonet practise. Always a big field of bayonet practise. They started down with Jack and I. We mixed in with bayonet bag things there. Well, they went on there, passed us around so we got through the bayonet field. Just as we got down through the bayonet field, here they come down our Company’s street. Headlights right square. There was a big, deep ditch. I mean it was a deep’n. Man, we saw the headlights coming and down in that ditch we went! We lay down as close as we could and the jeep stopped and they looked around and turned and went down again and went up another street and, Boy, we headed for the dirt! It was about the third building in. Just got in and got the door shut and here they come down the street again. Never did get us! Now, the only thing that they would’ve done was giving us a detail of digging a hole or, you know, â€˜Now see what they got. Why don’t you do that?’ But they didn’t get us.
You got away with it.
That was how we done it. Then, of course, we shipped out from Indian Town Gap and loaded on the Queen Mary.
Were you apprehensive about being sent abroad?
Oh, no. No, no. Never.
I was just wondering what your attitude was? Whether you had a view about whether America had a right to be part of the war or not?
When we was still in Camp Blanding there was the Bass family lived over nearby. Well, their boy got called in and he went AWOL. He couldn’t handle it. Yeah, he went AWOL. Course, they got him back but he cried. He cried. I don’t remember just how long but I know they was hunting for him and he come back home. AWOL. They tracked him down but that’s the only one that I know of that was apprehensive.
Did you ever think, â€˜This isn’t our fight. Why are we involved?’ Or did you just accept what you were told to do?
Oh, no. No, no. That was no question.
You just did what you were told?
You had no questions about what you were going for. You were fighting for your country.
And that was that. And you were quite happy about that?
Hitler was the one that was going to take over the world. And, of course, Churchill was the main one that got Roosevelt, that got us into the fracas.
I just remember speaking, on the telephone I spoke to a former North Africa veteran and he said he though the whole time he was out in North Africa he thought, â€˜Why are we here? What’s this got to do with us?’ But you never had such feelings?
Oh, no. I never questioned it for one minute. I hadn’t wanted to join because of my back, really. But, of course, when I got the letter, I didn’t hesitate a minute or nothing.
And, presumably, you enjoyed the mechanical side of things and using your hands and things? And, presumably, the Army offered the opportunity to continue that?
Right. And the good thing was I passed the test! Getting into the schooling, before that we got out of a bunch of stuff.
And do you think the training was adequate?
Uh… Yes. For the situation at the time.
There was a lot to do in a very short time. Mobilising all those troops.
Oh, a lot to do. Course, you really learned out on the field. Even any training has a certain amount that’s… It’s just like you can go to a driver’s school and you can learn this and that and everything for a month but you never got behind the wheel! But when you get behind a wheel, all that schooling and bookwork, I mean, here’s the real thing! I got to do this and I got to do that. That was kind of what it was getting into the service.
Experience is everything, isn’t it?
Experience is everything. So, then we got on the Queen Mary, the whole 1st Division. Well, I’d broken my glasses. I had rimless and I don’t remember how in the world I broke â€˜em.
You’re managing without them by then.
Yeah. I didn’t have â€˜em there but they gave me old GI glasses. I didn’t care for them things! Horn-rimmed! When we got on the Queen Mary, well, the Cavalry had gone on over to prepare for us to come over. The whole Queen Mary was loaded with the 1st Division. Well, we were the last group, we had to stay on deck. Well, the plan was, the ones on the first deck and us on top deck, they were to sleep that night and then we were to go down sleep the next night and they were to come up on deck. You know how that worked!
Yeah. You got stuck on top.
Yeah! If you got stuck into a storm or anything, you didn’t get no bunk! You slept in the hallway, Buddy! There was no camaraderie about changing.
That must have been pretty miserable, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was breezy when a storm came up. And, course, I didn’t have my glasses and it was Squeaky was the one generally helped me down the stairs when we’d go eat in the dining room. Course, the Queen Mary, they had everything boarded up then, mirrors and staircases and fountains and everything was all boarded up on the ship. There wasn’t no luxuries for us. We didn’t care about that. Well, the point I’m getting at, when we went past the Statue of Liberty, I couldn’t see it because it was just too far away without glasses.
So, you had to have a friend help you down the stairs because you just couldn’t see anything?
Because it got dark! It’s amazing, you know, you’d be on deck but when you opened that door to go down the stairs to that dining room, Man, you was groping for things. But good old Squeaky. He’d take my hand and help me down through that dark stairs down to get into the dining room. Now, when you got to the dining room, even on your own, you could get on up.
Because your eyes adjusted?
Now, I don’t know how far out we were, all of a sudden, the Queen Mary, She just veered over to the right. I was standing up against the railing and â€˜Wham!’ Up against the cabin! All of us! Well, the guy in the crow’s nest or whatever had spotted a German submarine out and they had supposed to have fired a thing at the Queen Mary and that’s the reason they said it had keeled over and it went past. It didn’t get us. But it did throw us up against the bulkhead or cabin head or whatever it was, â€˜Whack!’ But old Queen Mary was beautiful. I mean the waves were going and it had one of those giro things, you know, kept it going good. I thought, â€˜A sailor’s life’s pretty good!’
No sea sickness?
No. The sailing was as easy as it could be! So then we landed in Liverpool. Well, of course, one man I was talking with was… There was a shipyard just below that was still mainly Liverpool. So, then, when we had our barrack bag, our full field pack and our barrack bag. Then there was a Scottish jazz band playing our American jazz music. Course, as we got off the ship and loaded on the English, well, you know what the English cars? You had the hallway and the little places here where you put your things, upstairs, up there, up over your head. If they’re still built that way, I don’t know. You come in, you come into a hallway and where you would be would be here and then there was a place up over where you sit to throw your barracks bag and things like that. And there, a little Scottish Dixieland band everywhere they went! We’d get off trucks or trains either down in England or wherever we were, there was this English, this Scottish band playing this music. They were playing our American music for us. Well, then, of course, we got on the train and headed out.
Was England how you imagined it to be?
Uh… I hadn’t even thought about it. Africa was the surprise to me. England wasn’t the… It was just the, â€œNow we could talk with the English, you get to a certain, â€œNow, hear what, now? Of course, the accent was a whole lot different than our slow American talk. So, when we got on the train, got boarded on the train, they gave us a sack of food. Sandwiches and a nice, big pie, and, I don’t know, several other things in the bag. So, as the train headed out to where we were going, reach in and get a sandwich and eat it. Got everything all done to a nice apple pie or a lemon pie or something like that. Ha! That was first experience with a meat pie! â€œBoy! That ain’t no apple pie! That’s a meat pie! But the idea in my head was that it was going to be an apple pie. But I ate it. It was good grub. But I’ll never forget the expression on my face when I dug in and it wasn’t apple. So, we headed on down and that’s when we got into [Tidworth] Barracks just out of Birmingham. And when we got into Tidworth Barracks we ate off the tables and we slept on the tables. That was every day. We didn’t do too much training there. We just hung around the barracks mostly.
Really? Because there’s Salisbury plain north of Tidworth which is supposed to be for training.
No, we didn’t do too much. We just hung around and, as I say, in the daytime we’d eat off the tables. Mutton! Mutton! That’s one thing I remember getting. Mutton for breakfast, mutton, mutton, mutton! Of course, the hard part was that the rice they had had maggots in. But that didn’t deter â€˜em from fixing it. In went everything. You was hungry. You didn’t question it. You didn’t question it.
And your two great friends were Squeaky and this guy Peter? Jack, rather.
Jack Tyner, he was a southern boy. Tyner. T – Y – N – E – R. Jack Tyner. He and his brother, Ernie Tyner – they called him â€˜Mushmouth’ – Jack and Mushmouth, they were born native and they were hunters. They’d go out at night hunting frogs, frog egging and go all over the place and everything else. So, Jack and I buddied up quite a bit. Squeaky once in a while but mostly me and Jack.
Jack and you were in the same platoon, were you?
And which company was that?
Well, at that time… I don’t know. I think it… Well, when we did end up in the anti-tank platoon, our address was 1st Infantry Division, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, Anti-Tank Platoon. That was our full address but I don’t remember when we got it. Course, I’d write letters back. [V-mail] started back then. V-mail and go back there. But when I was in Birmingham we could pretty much go, especially at night and at weekends, I went into Salisbury.
That’s my home town.
Yeah. There was Lady Godiva. What city was that? Coventry? Course, we could ride the trains anywhere. When we had our uniform, you just hop on.
Did you ever get up to London?
Oh, yes, yes. Many times we got up to London. Yeah, that was the big weekend, getting up to London. Well, then… I’m going back here. I’m going back to Tidworth Barracks because when we were at Tidworth Barracks it was, like I say, sleep on the tables. Well, then they put us out on ships. Like, there would be a British ship in for cleaning the barnacles or something, put so many of us on that English ship. Well, the English ships, they were [creaking noises]. I have to say, they were pretty rough! And that’s when you got your mutton. That’s when you got your mutton, when you was on an English ship. Well, when that got cleaned or anything and it had to go out of port, then we’d go down into ships and get transferred to another ship and while that was there we’d live there. The one good one we got on was from India. They’d come in there for their barnacles and they had the full crew. The sailors, the cooks and everything. On that one we slept in hammocks.
Where was this? It had come into Southampton or something, had it? Where would you join these?
I don’t know. I don’t know where they were. Southampton might sound right. I can’t have been paying attention where the ships were. We were just transferred from one ship to another.
And that was just as barracks, effectively? They’d put you on a ship because there wasn’t room anywhere?
There wasn’t room in the barracks. But, the one ship we got on that was from India, they had a full… Oh, we slept in hammocks. All we done, sleep in a hammock at night and walk all around deck. They had the full cooking crew. We’d go down and eat at a table and the cooks brought it out to us! We were served! We were served by the cooks.
That must have seemed the lap of luxury after everything else.
Oh, that was the lap of luxury in that one. Well, some guys still had some English money on them, they’d tip one of the cooks or something to, you know, bring a little more of this. And they would. Tip â€˜em something, they’d bring it. Oh, that was beautiful on that ship! Sleep in a hammock at night, walk the deck all day long. Go down to eat breakfast and have it served to you by the ship’s cook.
So you still weren’t doing much training or anything?
No, no. Not much. Well, we did do some training once in a while. Now here’s one little thing that comes to my mind when you mention that: Course, I wasn’t a driver at that time so, whenever they had manoeuvres to go down and invade or whatever. So, there was one, I don’t remember when it happened, anyway, we went overboard and the motor ship picked us up. Well, it was at night. Black! I mean black as could be. And that landing craft, boy, he was heading out for shore. All of a sudden, way up in the air there was a flame coming and a guy was lighting a cigarette, the sailor up there. That boat was headed right for that ship. When the driver saw that little flame! [Crashing sounds] The bottom of that thing scraped that ship! That was as close as he came to ramming that thing head on. The point is, they talk about smoking, that’s one time a guy lighting a cigarette way up on that deck saved all us from getting whatever would have happened when he rammed. I mean, he was heading out. But when he saw that flaming cigarette, boy, that landing craft come and just the very tip. That was how close it came. Well anyway, we landed on shore and, course, we had to go and debrief and go up. Well, course, I guess mostly through Lieutenants and Colonels strategy, you know, they were strategy-ing because they separated things, you know, we didn’t fight or nothing. Well, we were in this old barn, we was in this old barn and we’d go down to the old barn at night. Well, daylight came and the house that I guess the barn was part of, we were walking around kind of outside, I don’t remember what time of day, whether it was breakfast or dinner or what. Here comes a little old lady, probably about eighty years old with a tray with ten crumpets for us in that barn. When she found out how many of us there were, she went back into her house and cooked some more, made some more tea. I’ll never forget that. What’s her name? I know she must have been about eighty, as I recall in my mind. She saw us up there walking around, well, when she found out there was a bunch of us in the barn she went back in and cooked some more, made some more tea so all of us could have ten crumpets. I’ll never forget that little old lady doing that part there. Well, course –
[Female voice] When did you get that?
The Brown Star?
[Female voice] The bronze award.
Well, we’ll come to that. I got the Bronze Star Medal and I got good conduct medals! [Laughs] The President’s Citation, Purple Heart, Silver Star for five battles.
You got quite a few medals, then?
Yeah. The French Cross [Du Guerre] or whatever you call it. Yeah, five Silver Stars for five battles. Yeah, that’s my awards’. [End of side] This Brown Star was over in Sicily for heroic achievement in connection with Military ops against the enemy in the vicinity of [Nicine], Sicily, 11th of July, 1943. Voluntarily leaving a position of comparative safety, Private Hall crossed over terrain under Hall’s initiative and heroic devotion to duty, prevented the destruction of valuable combat equipment. Residence in Kissimee, Florida. Well, I’ll get to that one too. That was a rough one, over in Sicily. I’ll get to that one too after a while. Then of course, I guess after the Generals and the Lieutenants and all done their paperwork, then, of course, we all boarded back and went back to the ship. Well then, we’d been there in the port so long that we got… Back in those days they done a code with their searchlights. Whenever, of course, they had a code, â€˜clap, clap, clap’, they’d say, â€œWe’re moving out, we’re going to another ship. I could tell, â€˜Yep, this ship was going out,’ and another one would come in and we’d go over on that one. Then, one day, some time apart, it was all very frantic and they said, â€œWe’re not changing ships now. We’re going to be heading out. Well, word came that we was heading out for Africa.
You heard that before you’d even left? You’d heard it was Africa?
Before we’d left out of port, we’d heard. But they was fooling the enemy. They went toward, well, I don’t know, toward this way then swung.
Out into the Atlantic?
Yeah. The Germans and all weren’t supposed to know where the fleet was heading so then we headed for Florida. They claimed we were in sight of Florida, we were that close but I don’t know, I didn’t go and look. Anyway, they were zig-zagging. Course, it was a convoy and, course, had the battleships.
Was it an impressive sight?
[Laughs] If you could keep that stomach still! Boy, I found out that ain’t no Queen Mary! When that thing went down and come up, ohh! But I never did throw up. All the sailors said, â€œEither keep your stomach full or empty and stay in the centre of the boat if you can. Well, I took their idea of eating all you can, keeping a full stomach. You could wander around in the boat, you could roam. You didn’t have to stay in, you know, your certain part of the ship or your bunk or whatever. So I, when it got real, real rough, I used to love going up on the very front. I’d get right up on the very front and just, you know, have a look around and see. Well, then at night the salt water would make little sparks. Have you ever watched down at night, a ship? Well, the salt makes just little sparkles. So you can lean over the side and as that ship goes through you can just see the salt water and things just like little sparkle things. I used to love to do that. And then go up on the very bow of the boat. It didn’t matter where you went, they didn’t care. It didn’t matter where you went on the ship, you could go anywhere you want. A lot of guys, to wash their clothes, would take a big, long rope and tie a knot in some pants, into their shirt and their underwear and throw it out and let it drag at the back of the ship. Now, how clean they got, I don’t know. I think it was a fad more than anything. Course, we took showers with salt water. They had salt soap. Salt water, even salt soap didn’t wash you. But, of course, that’s what you took a shower in anyway, was the salt water and the salt water soap. So then we headed out for this way and that way and then finally we started, I guess, then they did head for Africa.
Were you aware that you were part of a massive operation?
That must have given you a bit of confidence, didn’t it?
Uhh, didn’t think much about it. It was just the idea of, â€˜There’s this battleship down there as an escort!’ I’m up here on deck trying to save my stomach. Here’s that battleship way going over the top of it, sailor hangs onto something, it goes by, he goes about his business. Another one washes over the battleship, he grabs onto something. Boy, I couldn’t take that!
Glad you were in the Army and not the Navy.
Boy, I couldn’t have been nobody on a boat like that. They were the escort. They were the escort for us. So, then… Here’s something that nobody – has never been told out much; We got, I don’t know, I guess we were just off shore from Africa, the whole convoy, and we were all called up on deck. Well, when we got all called up on deck they – I don’t know who it was, the Captain or General or whoever it was, somebody – it came over the loudspeaker, the loud system, that we’re going to invade Africa. It’s going to be a three day police action because at the third day the French were to surrender. This was the agreement, that there would be what they called a three day â€˜police action’. One of the guys said, â€œYeah, a police action but you get killed anyway! So, anyway, this was something that was never told, I don’t think.
No, I’ve never heard that.
I don’t know if the other ships but our ship, they told us that it was going to be a three day because if the French gave up on the very first day, Hitler would take cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces or whatever, line â€˜em up and just mow â€˜em down for retaliation of them giving in. So, therefore, if they fought, if they fought against us for three days and then gave up Hitler couldn’t say that, you know, â€œYou just turned it all over to them.
And you were told that on the ship before you embarked?
Oh, we were told that. Yeah, we were told that, I don’t know, the day before the actual invasion.
So, it was an Army General or someone who told you that?
Well, I really don’t know who was on speaker. That I don’t know. It had to be some official to know that and tell us. So, course, I was an old foot-slogger then. I had to weigh in on the landing craft. Course, they don’t take it to shore, they can’t, they got to let you out about knee deep in water. Well, the very first thing that impressed me when we was invading North Africa and [Iran] was our destination, where we were headed, so, as we came up and got on the road and headed into Iran, first thing I saw was women with their half veils. They were all along the road watching us. I’d heard but I’d never seen an actual African with a half veil. Now, some of the younger ones, I don’t know what age, some of them didn’t even – I think the older women, the married ones or whatever had to wear the veils. Now, the ones that didn’t have to wear the veils, they had to wear this big long robe or whatever right over their heads, it was pulled down tight against their face and all they could look through was one little slot out of that thing there. Now that was the impression. The next thing was; here at that time was concrete [light holes]. Concrete light holes in Africa that we didn’t have in our world in America. And here they were had â€˜em in Africa, going into Iran. Well, we got into Iran.
Did you come across any opposition?
No. No, we didn’t see any.
So you weren’t particularly apprehensive about landing?
Oh, no. The only thing… Oh, no, no.
And at this stage were you just an Infantryman?
Just an Infantryman, right. I guess another bit I can say here: Back there they had communications but the communication; A G.I. had to carry the wind-up telephone and another guy had to carry the cord that was strung out, that went to the other communication point. Now, Buddy, that was a tough deal! To carry that telephone round on your back and the other man had the wire to string through the place where they go. So, we got into Iran, we got into Iran in the daytime and we slept in the park that night in Iran. Well, then we went, our group, our part of it went down to a little town called [Farouk] just outside of Iran. Well, that was through the wet season, the rainy season and, oh, bloody hell was it a rainy season! We was on a little bit of a slant and we all had our own [pop] tent. Well, when it rained, if you touched the pop tent, Man, it would just come leaping through!
You couldn’t touch the outer side, could you?
You couldn’t touch the outer side when it was raining and wet. If you did… They gave us a mattress cover and then we went to the straw pile and stuffed the mattress with hay and whatever. That was what we laid on on the ground. Now there was water running under the pop tent and under the thing there. The streets were all wet. Well, there was a guy named [Blank] and he had these epileptic fits and he had had a fit and he, you know, went into convulsions and they just leave him laying out in the street, everybody just walking around him. Nobody touched him, nobody helped him. You leave him alone. He was foaming at the mouth. He’d get through it, he’d have to snap out of it and get up on his own. Well, a lot of times he’d be back in my tent and he’d be taken into a fit. But anyway, if you had both legs you were going to go and fight! They wasn’t about to take him out. Well then, through the rainy season, we could go up into Farouk, we could go into Iran and then some of the restaurants, they told us where they had given, the kitchen of that restaurant, G.I. food. So when we went out or anything and we wanted to get G.I. food from a restaurant we’d go into them and tell them we wanted the American food and they cooked the American food for us in that restaurant.
Well, then the rainy season got over with and the first campaign came in and that’s when I got put on as pool driver, at the start of the African campaign.
So that’s when you were moved up towards Tunisia? Once you left Algiers for the front?
Oh, yes. Yeah. Well then I got put in as PFC. Private First Class. A nice word for it. [Laughs] A poor, frustrated civilian come along with it. Course, a lot of G.I.’s had all kinds of things for it. Anyway, that got me behind the wheel pulling a 37mm gun.
So you were still in the Anti Tank Platoon?
Oh, yes, the Anti Tank Platoon. Our job was mostly when they found a mine field we were to protect the mine field whether they were German or what, we were there to protect the mine fields. And then bridge heads. We had to make bridge heads. So the very first – when we started the campaign – I forget who it was that told me, â€œYou’re a full driver and you have an assistant driver when you’re pulling your 37mm gun.
You had a jeep to do that, did you?
Oh, yeah. It was a jeep. Now this is the message centre. I’ve got a story on that one. Now, the one that I pulled the jeep with, I had, well it was assigned to me. I had my number for that jeep assigned to me. You had to remember your serial number, your rifle number and your jeep number because a lot of the time when they had you fall out they’d ask you your number and you had to memorise it, tell â€˜em what each one was. So, then one time we got up into a… When we started out it was kind of rolling. Rolling hills, mountains. Kind of rolling. I was sat in there one day and this Lieutenant or Captain, I think or something, I was sitting in my jeep and he said,
â€œOkay, Soldier. I want you to take me up front.
Well, â€œYes, Sir. So he got in the jeep and he was with the Artillery and he wanted to go up past the front line to find out where the Germans were out there. Well, I went. But I’ll tell you I was apprehensive on that one! Oh, I don’t know how far we went out there past the front line.
This was up in the north of the country?
North. North Africa, up in the mountains. Then, course, you get down the side of one mountain and you go up the side of another. Before you’d get up there you’d stand up and look all the way up in front. I don’t know, about a mile I guess, out past there.
All that driving and finally he said, â€œThat’s far enough. We’ll turn around and go back.
â€œYes, Sir. We turned around and we came back to my position where my gun was, the anti tank gun, and he patted me on the back.
He said, â€œSoldier, you’ve done a wonderful deal, that I had gone and drove him. Well, kind of squared your shoulders for that. He did tell me that he did appreciate me going way out there for him to observe, so it kind of helped a little.
Well, then… I guess I won’t tell this one. This one people will tell you that other people don’t want to hear. But anyway then the campaign started. I don’t remember just what city we hurt first. Course, I was in the battle of… Well, just about all of them. The [Kashree] Pass…
What can you remember about that?
Now here I got that one written in here. I don’t think I can find… I’ve got that written in here about the Kashree Pass but I don’t think I’ve got it separated. Oh, yes. Stonehenge. When we were still in Tidworth we went on a thirty mile hike. I don’t know whether a General or Colonel or somebody decided that we had to go on a thirty mile hike. Well, Stonehenge was our destination. We didn’t know it at the time but when we got to Stonehenge we all stood on the stones and somebody said, â€œStonehenge. Well, we never thought nothing about it. Course, a lot of guys dropped out, their feet hurt or whatever. I made the whole fifteen miles there, fifteen miles back. A lot of â€˜em, course they got the feet blisters and all kinds of things. By Golly, I made that thirty mile hike.
You can’t get within 200 yards of it now. There’s a big fence around it and you can’t get very close at all.
Yeah. I don’t know which rock I sat on but I sat on one of them that day and ate my dinner and then they headed us back to barracks. And then, after that, I find out it’s such a famous place! And here we just sat on it as a place to sit.
Can you remember your first actual bit of combat action? The first time you were under fire?
Oh, yeah. Alright. Okay. Now, North Africa… A lot of these things get mixed. The Kashree Pass… Hill 609! I was on top of Hill 609. I was right on top because I was in Anti Tank and I was the only one up on top of the hill! Hill 609. Now B Company was on the left. I don’t remember what company was on the right. But anyway, when the Kashree Pass fighting was going on the planes, I guess ours, were coming over about the height of that fan. Now, Buddy, I can’t say that I wasn’t scared but I held my ground â€˜cos I was there with my jeep. They’d come and then, course, go wherever and strafe over there. Well, then the B Company Commander, he surrendered the left flank.
At Kashree, right. On Hill 609 there. So then I was commanded to come down off. Boy, I came down that hill, I’ll tell you! I was glad to hear that order! I came down out of there. I think it was after the Kashree Pass…
I think that was more like April ’43 and Kashree was February.
These things get all kind of muddled in my mind here. What I’m going to here is at some part of the campaign our Colonel – we moved at night. We moved at night – well, we’d come down out of the mountains and of course there was a valley. Well then we’d come into little rolling things here and by the time daylight came we were way out in front and the Germans would see that we were in range, see us and start firing on us. Our Colonel or whoever he was, I can’t remember now of course, ordered turn around, come back. Well, we couldn’t get back all the way. We was too far out in front. So what all us jeep drivers and everybody done, I parked my jeep on the front part of the knoll and then you get on the back part. You’ve heard of [88’s/ADA’s]? Phew! Boy, they’re already past you and you’ve heard the explosion. They were fast because they were anti tank, they were aircraft but they use them also down on the ground, but they were so fast you didn’t hear them go by you. All you’d hear is when they’d hit, the spider things. Well, I put my jeep over on the front side of the dune and we stayed there. By Golly, they got chow to us! They got chow to us. We had our kits, we had our mess kits, we were sitting over on the other side and all of a sudden on the other part of the knoll, Pow! Boy, sand blew all over the place. It didn’t get nobody but it ruined our food because it blew sand all up. Most of us it ruined our food. There was a guy in there named John [Day], name of John Day. He was part of my, he was part of the Anti Tank gun on my jeep… Here’s something here: We all dumped our food that wasn’t edible and John, This John Day says – course, we all had our backpacks hung on each side of the jeep so he said, â€œI’m going to go put my mess kit up.
â€œAh, Boy! You know, â€œThat’s right where things come in!
â€œYeah, He says, â€œI’m going to go put it away. I’m going to go put my mess kit up. I don’t know what was said but he said, â€œWell, if I get hit I hope I get hit in the leg.
Well, he went out around the knoll. We heard the shell explode. Well, we was over here, we didn’t know nothing about it. Well then, in just a very few minutes, we saw a medic going up with a stretcher and he went up there and we saw them bring a guy out. Well, that didn’t mean anything to us so they carried on past and John didn’t show up. Didn’t show up, didn’t come back.
â€œMy God! That must have been John Day!
Now here is something hard to believe; Course, the windshield was down. You always had your windshield covered. Now, a mortar shell – I had my overcoat on, I don’t know who else but there were two overcoats on my driver’s seat. This mortar shell came over through those two overcoats, through the back of the seat, down through what would be the fender or whatever, missed the tyre and blew his right leg off. Blew John Day’s right leg off. That was him that they carried away.
I said, â€œI’ll never, never, never say, â€˜I’ll get shot in the leg, the head, the foot, whatever’. I’ll never say. In theatre they say, you know, â€˜drop dead’, or something. I’ll never say… That was an experience. The amazing thing; that shell went through two overcoats, the back of the seat, through the metal piece of the fender, missed the tyre and landed right in his right leg.
So he was stood on the ground by the..?
No, he was putting his mess kit up. He was back around the dune on the forward part of it.
By the jeep?
He was on the jeep side putting his mess kit in his backpack.
So when you were caught on the front of that knoll you couldn’t move the jeep round because it would make too much..?
Oh, you couldn’t go. You had to wait for night.
So you had to leave it and get on the other side of the knoll out of the way?
Oh, yeah. You parked it and then you headed for the reverse side.
Hot-footed it round the other side so they couldn’t get you. And was your jeep okay?
Oh, yeah. All that was just a hole in the seat. Alright now, all day long we was under shell fire. 88’s and mortars. 88’s and mortars. Oh, it was coming in all day long from here and there. Well, they did capture some of the guys that didn’t get back far enough. They did capture a few of the guys, the Germans.
Okay, night time came and okay, the order was, â€œEverybody in the jeep and pull your gun, go to the back, get to the back.
Well, I don’t know how many miles we went but there’s a big deep ravine and I remember, Boy, that jeep was like maybe that gun was going to come right round in front of me. It was steep. Steep, steep, steep. We went down there and got down into there and daylight came and there’s where you go into shell shock. This is where… Now, I saw a man go into shell shock. That’s a horrible thing. Real honest-to-goodness shell shock is a horrible sight to see. [Strunk]. Strunk his name was. It was there where he went into shell shock. He rolled in the dirt. He was real. You could tell he was in shell shock. The medics came and got him, came and took him.
Well, we got down in this great big deep ravine… No shell came over. No 88’s come over. Quiet. You were waiting. You were waiting. Nothing happens and your nerves begin to frazzle. Well, it came along about in the afternoon and I knew I was starting. I was waiting and nothing came, nothing came. I waited and I had sense enough to know it was coming. I had sense enough to know that I was heading in for shell shock. Well, I couldn’t think of what to do. I couldn’t think of what to do so… Course, the windshield cover had magazines in it and cigarettes and anything else anybody wanted to stuff under the thing.
So, what is a windshield cover?
It’s like a canvas and they can fit right over your windshield so when you put it down there’s no glare. The cover goes over so there’s no glare from the windshield is what it’s for, the cover. Course, I was a smoker at that time. I had my cigarettes under there. The other guys had all their cigarettes and anything else you wanted to put under there.
Well, I was beginning to shake and I had sense enough that the silence and no shells, you can’t take it. You can’t take it and it’s driving you nuts. Things are so quiet. Well, I opened up the, I lifted up the windshield cover and I saw a Reader’s Digest. I pulled that Reader’s Digest out from under the cover and sat down by the back wheel, laying against it. I read every single word, I spelled it, I put the dots, I dotted the i’s then I read. Pretty soon it all went because my mind stayed away from it. My mind was on, â€˜J – U – S – T T – H – E’, saying it, whatever it was. I spelled each word. I knew I had to get my mind. I don’t know how long it took. Maybe about a half hour, maybe less. Everything, I realised I’m coming out of it. Now, course, the big thing everybody likes to hear, I had a Bible under there. No one had a Bible. It was a Reader’s Digest. I never told Reader’s Digest about that. I don’t know how to tell â€˜em or anything. Anyway, it was the Reader’s Digest that kept me from going into shell shock. Now, like with Strunk, he just went to pieces. He didn’t do anything to try to get his mind off. He just went. Course, they put him back. They put him back.
You can’t remember what stage of the campaign that was?
I can’t remember that part. I can’t. I don’t know whether… Now, when we went into, I think it was [Gafzah].
I does sound like it with terrain like that.
I think there was a pass there. But, anyway, they was after Rommel.
So that was down in the South near [Al Gittar] and all that stuff? Near Gafzah and Al Gittar?
Al Gittar and Gafzah, all around there.
So that was when Patton was in charge?
We was put in Patton’s charge.
Yeah. So that would have been at the end of the campaign then, sort of March, April time â€˜43.
I guess so. We went past lots of places that Rommel was.
Yeah. If this episode happened when you were up against Rommel then it would have been the end of March, beginning of April. It would have been somewhere between the 22nd of March and the 7th of April.
Anyway, there was a big mountain up here and then there was a pass and there was a city, whatever it was. Well, I don’t know, the English I guess was on that range. We were on this range and… But, anyway, the deal was that Rommel was going to get fenced in because we’re coming from this way up on the mountain, down here, round here and he was going to get trapped.
Okay, there was a guy named [Holman]. He was as thin as a rail, tall. They came to me and said, â€œAlright. Holman’s going to be taking over this jeep and you’re going to go climb the mountain.
Holman had holes in his shoes. He’d gone to supply to get some new shoes and the supply clerk hadn’t got â€˜em from where they come from so he couldn’t climb the mountain with holes in his shoes. So Hall was picked in his place to go up that mountain range and into where this town was. You don’t say â€˜no’. Holman gets up in the jeep and sits. I get out and hike it up that mountain. Here’s the thing; there’s two guys carrying the message, they were stringing the wire along. One guy had the wire on his back and the other guy… They got a big commendation! They climbed that mountain, that mountain range down there.
Well, we had a guy named, our Lieutenant was named [Fagin]. He was a, I mean he was a nut! But he was a Lieutenant, he was in charge of us. Sometimes, when we’d be out someplace, he’d be turning things right to right, opening the tail and legs and sighting the things and nobody paid any attention to him. He had the other jeep, the jeep crew had to take that 37mm gun apart, take the barrel and the shields and everything up the top of that mountain by hand! By hand and then set it up when they got on the top of that mountain just because he’s a crazy nut! What in the world was a 37mm gun doing on top of a mountain? He was a Lieutenant and he told them to do it, they had to take that Anti Tank gun apart piece-by-piece and carry it up the side of that mountain and put it back together! Then, when everything was – when it went he was gone by the time… Then, course, everything had to come back. Well, course, when I come back across the range and came down to the jeep, then, course, I took back over. Holman, he went back into whatever. I don’t guess he got his shoes. But because he had holes in his shoes, Holman got Hall out hoofing it up that mountain.
And all for nothing.
All for nothing, really. Because Rommel was, I guess, long gone before whatever troops would have bee there.
Out of interest, this Lieutenant aside, did you generally have respect for your Officers?
Uhh…. Well… Now, here’s what we were taught: When you see an Officer, you’re not saluting the man, you’re saluting the bars. If you’re a Colonel I’m not saluting you, I’m saluting your gold leaf as a Colonel. If you’re a First Lieutenant, I’m not saluting you as First Lieutenant. I’m saluting the bars of the Army. You could despise that man but you had to salute him. What you were saluting were his bars. You weren’t saluting him.
Now, we had [Denholm] and, uh… One was Colonel Denholm and Major… Major… When we was in Farouk. I can’t remember which one it was that was in full charge. When I was in Farouk and in Iran, he would throw parties up there in Iran for the elite. He would take GI food from the GI kitchen and throw the party up there for those people and that didn’t sit good. That didn’t sit good. As a man they didn’t respect him. His bars, at least, they respected.
But if you’re in a battle situation and you don’t have a lot of respect for an Officer do you think that means you’re less inclined to follow an order or, in battle, would you never question it?
There were some officers found with American bullets in them.
Really? Not in you Regiment?
Not in our particular Company but it was known among the troops. Now… Oh, I forgot to tell this one about Farouk. There was a… The [Top Kick]. He was up for retirement and he wanted to come over into Africa. He still wanted to be Top Kick, top charge over Africa. Now, I’m going way back here but I’ve got to tell this: When it came time for his retirement, to go back to the States, he bought a keg of beer and set it up in the Company. Well, I’m telling you, guys were getting stupid-drunk with that beer and getting in a lot of fight, getting, â€œWhy, I’m gonna… Boy, them fistfights were because of that beer and he had bought the beer for them. Put the keg in the middle of the Company. I didn’t drink, I didn’t have any part of it there. For about two days, I think, he brought down beer. Course, tempers were – that was during the wet season and tempers were, they were short.
So, really, it was not a sensible thing to do?
I don’t know why he done it! Because the beer – they were already tense. Very, very wet, wet, rain, rain.
He completely misjudged the situation?
He misjudged the whole thing. They’d get into line, hit each other and things. Well, then it was only about two days. Then, course, he went back to the States.
So, one of the main problems for you lot is that very few of your Officers had any experience up there? You’re all a new army, aren’t you?
Ninety day wonders. Ninety day wonders, they called â€˜em, came in. Trained for three months and then they were sent into combat. Now, ninety day wonders for an experience for â€˜em was pretty hard to swallow and they were let to be known that, too. There was one we had put in; he’d been a… The word went around his father owned [A and P] Stores. He was sent for this here. Oh, he was a nut. He was a ninety day wonder.
Well, I’ve got this one in mind, I guess I might as well tell it. Now, this one, I can’t remember which one it was that had all these parties. Well, this other [twitch] they had, he was a Polish boy and he had the B.A.R. gun. You know what the B.A.R..? It has a tripod. Well, this Colonel’s tent and… [Wachowski] or something like that, he was cleaning his B.A.R.. Well, it went off and went through the Colonel’s tent and, well, it was pretty well known among us that it wasn’t an accidental bullet that went through. But you know what he done to us? When we went into the next campaign all the Corporals took all our ammunition away from us and it wasn’t to be issued to us until we got into where the enemy was. That’s the way he retaliated for someone trying to kill him.
So this Colonel was not a popular guy?
He was not very popular, no way.
Why not? What did he do?
Well, that’s what I say. He’d take GI, he’d take food from our kitchen. When we were in Farouk he’d take food from our kitchen to throw these big parties out in Iran. He didn’t take the Officers’ food, he took the GI’s food.
That’s pretty short-sighted, isn’t it? Bad man-management.
That’s a bad deal. I don’t remember where we were or which campaign we was headed for but anyway, [Bratowski] or [Skali] or whatever was cleaning his gun while it was sitting on the tripod, he was cleaning it and somehow it went off and the bullet went through the Colonel’s tent.
Didn’t hit him?
Oh, no. It didn’t hit him but then when we headed for the next battle he took all our ammunition, all the guns was given to the Corporals of the jeeps. Then we got up to where the fighting was to start and they handed all the bullets back. He wasn’t around.
Now, these things go… I forgot about when we first started the African campaign. I forget what city. That was our three days just as we got off the boat and I’m going way back now. Going way back. When we got off the boat I was sleeping at night and that boat was just rocking. I was on the ground but that boat was a-going. You get that in your head. Anyway, a little town that we were to capture; there was a road and a big field here and then there’s a haystack round here and then there’s a bridge that went into the town. Well, we was all kind of greenhorns then and when we got off the truck we all just headed up for what was the front up there. Well, our Top Kick wanted to know where our full field pack was and it was back in the truck. Everybody jumped off and left their full field pack on the truck!
Well, I was apprehensive then because the French were fighting against us. The kids, they’d come back with cigarettes and bon-bons. Cigarettes and bon-bons. Now, what they would do to come back to us and then they’d go back to tell the Germans where our position was. We finally wised up that they didn’t want gum-gum or bon-bon or what, they wanted to know where we were.
Well anyway, the Top Kick made us all go back to the truck and get our…[Laughs] You ever heard talk about this grab-bag deal? You didn’t know who’s field pack you had. You got somebody’s and somebody got – we didn’t know what truck we was in, we didn’t know where we’d put â€˜em under the seats.
So you just grabbed any old pack?
We just grabbed a full field pack and put it on your back.
You didn’t have many personal possessions with you then?
Oh, well, course you had your eating kit.
But you didn’t have photos from home or anything like that?
Oh, no, no, no. Your pop tent, your blanket and your eating utensils were in your full field pack on your back.
And that was all you’d come across from England with?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. That was all we had with us. So, when we got back to where we were before we went back to get our full field pack out, there was this road here. Well, there was a sniper under the bridge.
A German sniper?
No, a Frenchman. French. Because that’s when they was fighting us. This was a part of the fist three days. So, our Lieutenant I guess it was, sent two of us across the road to see if we could spot where he was up under this bridge. Well, there was this haystack so we ran across the road and got behind the haystack. Well, I don’t know who he was but anyway… [End of side two]
Bob Hall 10/9/2003 Tape 2
…He got down on his belly in the back of the haystack. Course, he bellied it from there over to the ditch. The sniper didn’t realise he was going to do that. Well, next came me so I stepped around. Pow! I thought, â€˜I better do the belly-crawl too,’ so I got down on my belly and I headed on my belly across. He saw me then but I don’t think he was really keen on… He was a civilian and I don’t think he really meant to…
But even so it must have been a bit..?
It was scary.
I was going to say, it must have been a bit scary to have someone shooting at you?
It was scary to be under fire but we both got back across the road, back into the field. We never did see the sniper but that was an experience, I’ll tell you.
Quite a wake up call I should think?
Oh, yeah. Well then, at the end of that three day period, I don’t recall where we were… Well, yeah. Everything gets so hazy. But anyway, when we first started the African campaign and I got put in as a jeep driver, they had Bazooka. You know a Bazooka? Well, that was when the Bazooka was introduced. That’s when they introduced it and word went around that the German Commanders with the anti tank was amazed they had something they could fire that wasn’t on a vehicle. They all wanted to see that Bazooka because that was unknown to anybody. But, boy, that was a dangerous thing. You had a big, round pipe like that and the guy had to carry it on his shoulder and when he fired it flames went out from the back of the thing. That was a dangerous thing to fire. But they was all… They got quite a few tanks with them because they were surprised.
Now, let’s see where was I…
We’d been talking about Officers before that.
Right. That’s where they took the ammunition away from us and gave it back to us when we got up to where the fighting was going to take place.
Were you conscious, when you came up against the Germans for the first time, can you remember thinking, you know, you were saying that you were just greenhorns at the beginning of the campaign when you left your packs on the truck, did you feel a bit inexperienced?
No. It was just a wake up call. This next one’s going to be real. It wasn’t going to be the French fighting.
But you had confidence in the overall shape of the campaign, what the Commanders were telling you, you just accepted it?
Oh, yes. Of course, Eisenhower; everybody adored and worshipped Eisenhower. And, of course, Patton. As an Anti Tank Platoon, we got put under his command, bridgeheads and things. Now, when you’re under him, you wear your full steel helmet. You didn’t wear your helmet liner. You did in our old company but when you got put under Patton’s command and you was in combat, that full steel helmet was on you and if somebody caught you, I don’t know what they’d do. I had mine on but he was strict. Patton was very strict.
Did you think a lot of him? Did you like Patton?
Oh, yeah. They liked Patton. Because he went with the men when they invaded Sicily. He was one of the first off, the first one going. The other Officers held back.
So you didn’t mind that he introduced all these things like wearing ties and all the rest of it?
Oh, no, no, no. No, didn’t, no. Patton was Patton. I mean he was a leader. He was a leader. His men went there and he went with them on tanks. Now, the other Officer defied the men, â€˜You don’t do that! You’re an Officer! You don’t go up there with them.’ But he did. Patton went. And then, course, when we get through a bridgehead or whatever, to go back to our own Company and out of his command and that part there.
But then, as the campaign went, Hill 609, I was on top of it when they talk about that. Then, course, Holman. I had to climb that one mountain because of him. Well, we were in all those cities I can’t recall but, course, you put marks on the village where they’ve been fired.
Well, I don’t know just where we were when the campaign ended.
You must have been up in the north somewhere.
Yeah. Well, Algiers. I think we were round â€˜Giers at the time. Have you heard of the Kasbah? The Kasbah in Algiers? Me and another buddy went up in there. Boy! That is a place! They’d cut your throat quick. A lot of guys went up there by themselves and didn’t come out. Yesiree. You had to go in twos. I don’t know why they let two go up in there but they let two.
The ones that were there, you’d look at them and you could tell that they’d cut your throat without hesitation. Because they were outlaws up in the Kasbah. That’s what they were there for. They were avoiding the law.
But they could rob you?
Oh, they could rob you in no time flat. Well, there’s another episode happened in there but I won’t tell that on here anyway. So, we came down, we got out of the Kasbah but boy, I’d never go up in there again even with somebody. When I say those looks they give you, in those eyes you could tell if they had a chance you were gone. You were a dead duck. Didn’t nobody tell on â€˜em! They’d shoot you right in the street and nobody would tell. They’d stab you, who done this, GI or anyone else. There was some who went up there by themselves and didn’t come back out and that was in the Kasbah in Algiers.
Well, then I can’t recall too much after the campaign.
When you were out in North Africa at the beginning of the year and it was quite wet and cold, you weren’t fighting all the time so how did you pass the time of day up in the frontline? Were there always things to do or was it a case of playing cards?
I’d go get a can of jelly! [Laughs]
Would you tinker with the jeep and sort that out?
A lot of times, when you’d get different jeeps to drive, you’d get what you called a â€˜kitchen run’ down the front. You’d leave your gun and if you got kitchen duty you’d go down the kitchen and get all the food they cooked up in the jeep and then take it to whatever outfits were dug in or whatever it was in the field.
Well now, I think I’m skipping around here but I’ve got to before I forget to tell it: We were in Africa and we were put to guard a German minefield. Well, we had set up our position, our gun and it was flat country, and it was C Company I think, soldiers of C Company with their kitchen and then we were Anti Tank Platoon and our kitchen was somewhere. Well, the Germans cut us off. They cut us off from our kitchen wherever it was and we were guarding the minefield. Well, it went I think a whole week and we didn’t get GI food. Well, the A-rabs was coming around with A-rab bread. You seen A-rab bread? It looks like a pancake. It’s big and round and flat like that. Well, they were giving it to us at first. Well, then they found out that our kitchen had been cut off and then C Company’s kitchen ran out of rations because the supply route had been cut off by the Germans to get supplies to the C kitchen. So we were all without food. I think we were there I guess two days guarding the minefield. Now, you’ve heard of illusions? Mirage? One day I was on guard – you get guard duty and I was on guard duty just walking around the perimeter of our gun and by the gun here. I came back around to and there was a picnic on the ground. Tablecloth, dishes, food on there. I started taking my rifle off… â€˜Good God, man! That was a mirage!’ Your stomach, you’re so hungry. Now, the A-rabs at first would give it to us. Well then they found out our food was cut off. Then they’d only sell it. So if you were a GI with money you could buy an A-rab’s bread. If you didn’t have no money, buddy… Or salt. They wanted salt to put in with their bread. When they found out that our supply was gone and we couldn’t get anything then you had to pay for the A-rab bread. Well, I was walking around as I say, I saw that picnic. I saw the tablecloth, I saw all the dishes, I saw all the food. Oh, it was a beautiful sight. Had my rifle on my left shoulder and I went to take it off and it went. I saw that twice. I saw it the next day or whenever. I mean your stomach and your mind, your mind sees those things. I’ve experienced it. I saw two mirages but the second one I saw my head told me, â€˜You’re seeing another mirage. Don’t take your rifle off.’ Then, course, it disappeared. Then finally they did get through the German lines and they did start getting our food through to us. Then, course, they pulled us out away from the minefield.
That must have been a relief?
Oh, that was a relief to get GI food again. But I had that experience of seeing two mirages. The first one I was going to sit down and eat and the second one, â€˜Okay, buddy. You’re seeing another mirage.’
That’s another thing there. There were so many things…
Did you have anything to do with the British? You came across them?
Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. Course, we’d have our coffee break and they’d have their tea and crumpet. Oh, a lot of times we’d go through with them. A lot of times they’d be parked along side the road.
Would you stop and chat?
No. You didn’t have time to do that. You’d wave to one another. â€œHey, Buddy!
[Female voice] What hill did you go up to get your jeep? What mountain did you go up to get your jeep?
Oh, that was in Sicily.
[Female voice] That’s coming up, huh?
Yeah, that’s coming up is Sicily. I’m skipping around but at the end of the African campaign, I think we were in Algiers then because, as I say, me and my buddy went up to the Kasbah.
Course we didn’t do much… When we was guarding a bridgehead or a minefield you just sat all day.
Did it get quite boring?
Not in a way.
There was always someone to talk to?
Oh, yeah. There was always someone to talk to.
I know you were at Kashree but did you know that was a big blow or did you just..?
When we go into Kashree we were in convoy. We were in convoy and all the planes were going around us and that’s when… I’ve got the whole thing written down here but I don’t, I didn’t separate it or write â€˜Kashree Pass’. It’s all about it in here somewhere but I don’t remember where. But we were in the Kashree Pass deal, we were out in the road and the German planes were strafing and the American planes were… One thing we found out at the beginning of the campaign; when you see a dogfight up there it’s a good thing to look at but buddy, them bullets come to ground! They don’t stay up there. When that German plane shoots, American, whatever, Boy! One guy got one in the rump! Got one in the rump as it came down.
Because you must have seen a lot of the air war? Planes strafing and [Stukas] and so on?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, we’d see quite a bit of that. Well now, here’s a little something. Here I’m skipping to an airfield. Oh, what was his name? What was the big ace of the air back in them..?
An American ace or a..? In North Africa?
Yeah. We guarded his airport. We guarded his airport. As I say I’m skipping around but anyway, they put us to guard his airport. They put us on kind of a little slanted slope. Mitchell? That don’t sound right either. Captain Mitchell Airport? That don’t sound right. I think I’ve got it here. I can’t remember but anyway they put us guarding his airport.
Well, all our pop tents were all facing this way on the knoll and over here and over here, kind of a street. We got our pop tents up with our little pegs and here goes the first bomber up. Here go the pop tents! Boy, that backwash just wiped them pop tents out! So then they brought us stakes about that long and we drove and bang and bang and bang. Those old tents would shake but they held ground.
Well, we’d get guard duty around the perimeter of the airport… I can’t think. Mitch? That don’t sound right either. But we’d get guard duty around the airport, you’d go around here. Well, when a fighter plane would come in and we was close enough to him we’d ask him, you know, â€œYou just come in from the States? Well, he was coming from the States. â€œWell, how is it back there? And everything else.
Well, here’s where we saw German bombers come in on a wing and a prayer. We watched them go up and they’d roll around â€˜til they got their squad into formation then they’d all get together and they’d head out. Well we got to watching, each one went up and we got to watching sometimes all four of â€˜em come back, sometimes one of â€˜em –
These were German bombers?
No, these were American bombers. Oh, yeah. [Taffui] airport. By God, I’m getting old here. But anyway, as I say, he was the big shot. Anyway, we’d watch go up and form their formations and then we saw â€˜em come with tail-gunner things all sot off, only one motor going, wings all broke. We’d think, â€˜How in God’s name do they..’
These were all B17s, were they?
These were B17 bombers, uh-huh. We’d say, â€œHow in the wide world did they get that plane back to the airport?
There’s an amazing photo of a B17 and the tail section is almost completely sliced in half and that happened over in Tunisia. It’s the most extraordinary photograph.
All clear. [Phone rings] Those cordless are good but you don’t know where you put it!
Yeah, we’d see â€˜em come in and we were amazed. We couldn’t believe the pilots brought that thing back in. It was so shot to pieces. So we saw it ourselves. That was some part of Africa. I guess that was before or after… Anyway, the kitchen crew would have to fight off the A-rabs when they threw garbage away. They’d jump right down in that garbage and fight for the food when it was thrown in that garbage pit. The kitchen crew had to watch out, get â€˜em out of there because they’d dig into that stuff there. That was at the airport, that part.
But generally speaking you didn’t have too much to do with the Arabs?
No, not… [Laughs] Well one gender they did!
[Female voice] I’ve never heard him talk this much. We was married for years before I ever heard a thing about the war.
Well I suppose when you got back you just didn’t talk about it.
The A-rab women, when you go into town, into Iran or Algiers or any of â€˜em there, the women had to keep their faces covered up. But they’d have it, their hand, held here. Well, as they passed you, the GI, they would fix it over and cover up but you knew where they wanted you to go! So if you wanted to go with â€˜em, if you saw their face then that meant…
They were open for trade.
Yeah. So then, in the cities there were well, I’d guess you’d call â€˜em brothels. The kids were the only ones that knew where they were. Actually they were supposed to be outlawed I think but they was all over the city. And of course the kids would come up to you, the GI, and, course, they’d say the word and you’d go to wherever. Then, course, there was a big building and when they’d get enough GI’s all around they’d have an exhibit out in the parlour there. And, course, the women were right in back of you. Then, over in France, well, when I got into Paris – I’m skipping a bit here – but in Paris it was all after seven o’clock they could ply their trade. They had to have appeared. If they didn’t have appeared then you weren’t to go with them but didn’t nobody pay attention to â€˜appear’! But when seven o’clock came it was wide open to you, them and everybody in doorways, on the grass. After seven o’clock it was wide open to anything. Then, course, daylight came you’d think.. But once again in there you were supposed to have your –
[Female voice] Take a couple of sips.
Over in England, while we’re on that subject, over in England it wasn’t illegal or legal. Most of the women would get, at night, would find a doorway to a business or anyplace where there’s a little [coal/cold] and they’d either sleep by themselves or take a GI to kind of help pay for the next day.
Presumably all of the GI’s knew pretty quickly where.
Sicily, while we’re on the subject, Sicily was a worse place than anywhere. I mean it didn’t matter on the sidewalk, on the side of a hill, in a ditch or anywhere else. I mean it was just there. It was just there. If you wanted it, accept it. But the medic, the Captain or whatever, the medic, he always picked a girl in Africa or England or… He’d have a girl come to the medics so if you wanted to be sure everything was going to be good you go to the medic and then you knew there wasn’t going to be no… But I’ve seen some guys that’s got themselves drunk, go with somebody that if they were sober they wouldn’t even look at it!
It’s a long way from home, isn’t it?
That’s that part of the War.
Then, course, when we’d invade a place we jeep drivers, instead of going out to manoeuvres we had to waterproof our jeeps. We had it was kind of a putty-like stuff. You put it over your spark plugs, you put it over your distributor. You waterproofed everything that was electrical. And then your exhaust pipe, you put the pipe up so it would be way up over the jeep so when you invaded, your journey up to water was up through the floorboards but the water wouldn’t do anything. So that was our jobs when it came for invasion, we went to the motor pool. But then a lot of times we’d get chosen like I say.
Now, when… Gee whizz, I… Well, after I saw those mirages and I get put on what they call the â€˜water run’ or â€˜kitchen run’ and the cooks would load up their big guts. Every place we stopped, boy, that mess kit came out and they ate with them. We’d go to the next one with that mess kit, I’d eat with them. I’m telling you that mirage taught me you eat. It didn’t matter how many we went to. They got to kidding me about it. Well, what I was kidded about was when we’d get into campaigns and get into fighting, one time I’d got a big can of jelly. After I’d got the water run and the kitchen run I’d go back, I’d go in the kitchen and get me a big jar of jelly because I loved the jelly. Then, course, as we went around, dip in get that jelly, dip in get that jelly.
Well, then our Sergeant – Gee whizz, I don’t know if you can make sense to this or not. When we were in England we were in… Let me see now. I’m starting to get ahead of myself now.
This was after Sicily and you came back to England for D-Day?
Yeah. Now, when we invaded Sicily – we got through the African campaign – we waterproofed our jeeps to invade Sicily. Well, when we got the, when they loaded us up the jeep was down in the hold and we were up on the deck as the ship went. Now, when we got to Sicily the ship kind of went along and they had a, it was a great big ship with tanks on it, GI tanks and the German aeroplanes was coming around strafing it. Trying to strafe it to keep it from getting on. Well, we couldn’t get out there. Well then they’d bring the jeep up out of the hold with the thing and swing it over and put it down in the landing craft then put the gun in the jeep. So then when it came to my number, they called out my jeep number, â€œYou got a flat tyre. I had to go down in the hold and put my spare tyre on in order to make the invasion of Sicily. So when I got my spare tyre on from off the back my jeep came and they got it down on there I got in to land. Now, here’s where things got rough. When they couldn’t do anything about the tanks going out of the ship they quit strafing. That’s when they let us jeeps go in, when they quit strafing. So we got in to land and, course, it was all dirt roads and everything. When we got in they put me and other ones in a field and well, the main road was like here and the little dirt road come down this way and when you come in the main field, there’s a little opening into this field. Well, I had my jeep parked along here on this side and other jeeps and things all around the field here. Well, I don’t remember what day it was or what but it was the first day. Someone yelled, â€œThere’s a German tank coming down the road! Well, I was the driver and then the gunner, the gunner, the trail and then the sight man, they took the 37 off there and headed it for the road. There was a little opening about as wide as that little thing there that you could see the tank when it came down. Well, they got – I think I opened the tailgate, the tail, and then the other gunner, he got on the lander. Well then, I can’t remember the guy’s name that was supposed to put the sight on, he was the sight man. Well, things were happening too rough. He didn’t get the sight on and when he saw – you could kind of tell where the tank was up there – he took off! He took off, went through. The thing of it was, all along that ditch and everything was cactus! This little fuzzy stuff. He went piling through that. He was loaded with that stuff. The guys was having to pick them things out of his hand later on. Now, so here was the gun set up, the shell was in the breech but there was no sight. Well, I was standing there – I can’t remember, he was a blond-headed kid – but he took off, went through all that stuff to get out of the way. Well, I saw the tank tracks coming and I thought, â€˜Well, everything was there except when I see it in the middle of the thing I’m going to pull the lanyard’. The shell went out but it was like a BB gun trying to kill an elephant. Here was a great big German tank and here’s a 37 shell about… Now what you’re supposed to do is hit where the men were in. It was lined with this stuff that chips off. Or you were to shoot at the track and try to wedge that shell into the track. Where that thing went I don’t know but I fired at a German tank. So then, after he got on down past the road – I can’t remember his name. He was a blond-headed kid – everyone was helping him pull those little fuzzy things out of his fingers and out of his shirt. He had all that cactus stuff all in his shirt and all in his arms.
So anyway, now they moved us. They moved us out of there, went a little more inland. Well, I think that was the night they had that German tank battle. Boy, that was a rough one. We put up a bridgehead. Would you call it a bridge? Wouldn’t call it a bridge. A little brook I guess but we called it a bridgehead. Well, we set up our 37, I don’t know which way it was heading but then there was a big ditch along the road, a big ditch. Well, we got the gun all set up with the gunners and I went back to my jeep and Sergeant Mitchell, his name was Sergeant Mitchell, Sergeant and squeaky, the white-haired guy, Sergeant Mitchell and then I was the driver of the jeep. Well, when we got the 37, when we got the gun in place on the bridgehead most of us all went back up the hill and I was laying down by the jeep, laying down beside it. Well, night time came so then we all went to sleep, had our blankets out and went to sleep. And I woke up sometime, I don’t know, sometime dark, sometime in the morning. I look around and it’s just blankets. Blankets, blankets, blankets. Nobody was round nowhere. Hadn’t even woke me up. Just let me lay there by the jeep. Well, I figured, â€˜Golly, I got to find them’, so I stood up. Pow! Pow! Pow! A German had seen me stood up and silhouetting myself and those were those shells coming. Now, they were standing outside the perimeter.
â€œCome out now. You’re surrounded! That’s what they’d been taught. The German soldiers had been taught to say, â€œSurrender! You’re surrounded!
They’d placed â€˜em round where it sounded like there’s a big batch of ’em around there. Well, when I stood up and silhouetted myself and there’s Pow! Pow! Pow! I knew right then what I’d done.
Well, I didn’t know where everybody was so I figured well, I’d crawl on my belly, went down on my belly and went down towards the ditch. Well, I guess I kind of lost my bearings. I didn’t know when I got to the ditch whether to go to the right or left or what. So, when I got down, course, I was crouched down in the ditch – [Saknick], his name was Sergeant O’Saknick, was one of the Sergeants there – I started hollering, â€œSaknick! O’Saknick! And I’d move a little bit and holler, â€œSaknick! O’Saknick! I wasn’t getting any answer so I figured I hadn’t gone far enough that way and just as I turned around, Pow! Somebody threw a hand grenade down in the ditch because he thought I was going to continue and he threw that hand grenade down there about the time I would have been there. It would have exploded and got me but I figured I’d gone so I turned around. Well, I got down. That’s where they all were, down at the bridgehead. They hadn’t woke me up! But that was a scary deal.
Alright. That night they moved us again over to someplace else, the jeeps and all. That was the night they had the – Man! That was a tank battle! Course, we were in a safe area, in a way, while the tanks were having their fight out along the road and out in other places, the German and American tanks were fighting amongst themselves.
Well, O’Saknick and I don’t remember who the other guy was with him, they had gone to sleep under a tree and while they were sleeping a German soldier came and had a pistol and one of â€˜em woke up and saw the… What did you put in the thing? White? Ah, good and pure… One of them reached up and got the German’s hand with the gun, with the pistol. Well, somehow they got the better of the deal and they shot the gut that was going to shoot them on the ground. Well, when everything was all done and we came back to our jeep area O’Saknick, he wanted to go back and get the German pistol from the German, you know, he had the German? So they went back to where they had been sleeping and come back with the German Luger or whatever they call it.
Now. They moved us out and when we moved out those tanks were shot to pieces. The guys down in the tanks had got up the turret and only got over and just burned to a black crisp. Tank after tank after tank. Some of â€˜em all laying on the ground dead. Some of â€˜em just got that far out of the turret.
I was going to ask you actually, did you ever get used to seeing – I mean you see someone get shot in a film and it’s all incredibly neat and they get a bullet in the chest and they collapse on the ground but in war obviously, you know, limbs come off, it’s a messy old business. Do you get used to that?
But do you get used to it?
Used to it, yeah. Some places you see â€˜em with their guts hanging out, laying on the ground.
But all these things do you think that you slowly but surely get used to seeing them?
Well, it’s â€˜You didn’t get it but they did’. There’s nothing you can do about it.
But you were never particularly squeamish?
Maybe some of â€˜em did but I never got squeamish about it for myself.
Now this, this is in Sicily. This is where the medal’s come in for saving the jeep: There was kind of a hill. There was a road, a main road here and then a road here that went down and went up on to the top of this hill. Well, things were getting rough again and they ordered us off the hill. There’s a German tank coming up from that way, the other jeeps got going and I was the last one to come – I don’t know where I was – I was the last one to come down the road. Well, that German tank spotted me and started zeroing in on me. I was putting the pedal! I was putting the pedal. The first one landed quite a ways in back of me. Well then he started firing to the side of me because they didn’t want to blow up the road, they didn’t want to pockmark the road, you know. He was zeroing in on me on the side. Man, I was pushing that pedal. That old jeep was flying down that road. Just as I got to the main road, just as I got to it he zeroed in on me. The last one that he got was right beside me and I knew the next one was going to… But then I hit the main road. I turned left and got out of that guy’s way.
This is where this medal business comes in. Well now, while we were there, during that day there was one GI who’d got hit bad. All his stomach and everything was awful to see. Well, there was a hospital set up but, I don’t know, he was a comrade and he was GI soldier but tanks were all around, German soldiers were all around and by golly, this little Squeaky, he jumped in my jeep and he went down and picked up that GI that was all shot up. He took him to hospital and he came back with my jeep. Golly, he made it. What happened to him I don’t know but Squeaky was the one who had the guts to pick up that shot-up soldier and take him.
So he was still alive at that point?
Oh, yeah. The guy was still alive, groaning and just awful. Nobody done nothing. I didn’t. I didn’t, I’ll admit it. And by golly, squeaky…
And did Squeaky get something for that?
I don’t know if he got anything or not. Now, how come all these medals? When all the campaigns and everything was all over all the Generals and all the Colonels and all wanted medals. So what you were to do was to sit down and make a list of what you had done that deserved a medal. But, course, I put down taking the jeep off this hill to get it out of the way. That’s how come that medal came into being, because they asked every GI to think of something that they had done to deserve a medal and then it was all handed in to the Company Commander and I guess they went through it all and decided who deserved a medal for this and so I got that. But it wasn’t handed out at any big parade or any big band, it was, â€œHere’s your medal for this and here’s your medal for this, in the barrack room. There wasn’t no fanfare or nothing about it. You just got â€˜em.
So then, course, after we went through the tanks, then we started up through the north part of Sicily. Then we got up, we slept at the foot of Mount Etna, we got up into Mount Etna. The grass was that high. You could just lay down in that grass and you’d have a mattress that thick. Oh, that grass was as green as green. Rich and that big and as I say, when you laid in it and lay down you had a whole mattress made out of that grass at least that thick. Then at night you’d see little red Pow! Pow! going up. Well, course, a volcano explosion was in your mind. But some nights – I don’t know how many nights we stayed there, quite a few nights – but some nights you’d barely see a red and then other nights you’d see stuff going up and coming back into the volcano but it never erupted. So I can say that I slept at the foot of Mount Etna and that grass was as green as… Oh, that was beautiful.
Now, we’re talking about a country that had no sanitation, Brother. Sicily was horrible. When you’d get your mess kit the flies were all over your face, your hands. You’d get a spoonful of food and you brought it up and you laid your hand like that. They was all over your lips. You’d have to eat fast. Boy, that food went in quick. Boy, them flies would drive you crazy, they was just all over you because there was no sanitation.
You must have been quite relieved when you were ordered back to England, weren’t you?
Well, yeah. It was good to get back out of all that stuff. Well then, with the Sicily campaign done, they got Sicily then they moved all the vehicles from down in this part of Sicily to Palermo, to the port of Palermo, and they were used to go invade Italy. They were used to go invade Italy. So I got on the detail of a big GI truck. There were several of us, we had to go down – course, I only had licence to drive a jeep – so I’d get a jeep, another guy would get a four by four, a truck or whatever, well then, in convoy, we’d all head up for Palermo. Well, then we’d leave them at Palermo and get on back on the truck. Well, one trip we made there was a [washboard] road and there would have been one, four, would have been about five on this side of the seats and about five on this side. [End of side 1] Must have been at least a ten mile road. Well, as I rode along my guts were going down, down, down. Just down, down, down and I was pretty much over the back wheel. Oh, man, the hurt. I’m thinking, â€˜What the heel am I going to have when we get there?’ My stomach’s just going down, down, down, down. Well, finally I saw one guy that couldn’t take it and he laid out on the floor and I figured, â€˜That’s what I’m going to do too.’ So I got off my perch and lay down on the floor for the rest of the ride and my stomach was all right. But it was just that pound, pound, pound, pound of that washboard road.
Well, then they was going to form the one that was going to invade Sicily. Well the word went around and it was pretty true, they took the deadbeats outs. All the Captains and the ones in the Company that – oh, what do you call â€˜em? – the screw-ups. In other words they were the ones, the Lieutenants or Captains that had started wandering out of their Company. They didn’t want â€˜em. So they were the ones that made up the group that went from Sicily. Not all of â€˜em. There was other guys went too but, in other words, the ones they wanted to get rid of were the ones that were chosen to be part of that Italy invasion. Well, I was a good guy, I had a good conduct medal so I didn’t get to go there. Then we… I don’t know how in the world we got back to England. I guess we went back on ship.
You must have felt pretty battle-hardened by then?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
A different man from the man who’d left England a year before?
Now here’s another. You’re talking about the German, your enemy? Well, here’s a part I forgot about Africa. I don’t remember what part of Africa it was, I don’t know why we were there but we were on a pretty good-sized mountain range here and then there was a kind of a valley about probably five or ten miles wide. Up on that mountain range were the German soldiers. Well, there wasn’t any fighting going on so we’d watch them wash their clothes, hang â€˜em up on the line. They’d watch us doing whatever we were doing over here and we didn’t pay no attention to them and they didn’t – it was a funny feeling. It was a funny feeling.
Did you have respect for the Germans as a fighting man?
Oh, yeah. I mean they were like us.
So you didn’t think of them all being ardent Nazis?
No. Except the ones that were supposed to be the elite, the ones that were out to really do you dirty. I mean we couldn’t understand how they had the mind to do it. But they were young and impressionable and they didn’t care what the… But the average German soldier, no.
That brings me up to the end of the African campaign. Now, when the African campaign was near the end… Oh, well I got to go back: When the B Company surrendered the Germans took them prisoners and they were loaded on ship and they were loaded on ship because the port was just a little way from where we were when it was all over. But then, while they were on board ship to be going back to Germany, the peace treaty was signed. Well, we had our pop tents up, we had our pop tents up. Now, when the peace treaty was signed the German soldiers, they came from all through, they came right through your camp but we were enemies then. They came through and they were going to Prisoner of War camp. That’s where they were headed, where they had the Prisoner of War camp. But we’d be here doing whatever it was and here’d be one come walking through the Company and another one walking. Just say, â€œHi, and off they went to the German prisoner camp. That was a strange feeling.
Did you talk to any of them?
No. â€˜Nichts verstehe’, was all I knew. â€˜I don’t understand’. No, we didn’t talk to them to any extent there. Yeah, I remember that part. Well then, before the guys that had been taken prisoner, before the ships left the peace treaty was signed so they all came back off the ship. They let them off the ship and they all came back to their Company or wherever. It was a strange feeling at both ends of it. Here they were, Prisoners of War, now they were released. Here the Germans were, enemies, but it was all official and they just walked through your camp. Two or three at a time, one at a time. You’d just… You’d nod. You’d nod to â€˜em. But then when it was on those hillsides, we were here, we could see them, they could see us. That wasn’t the same time.
Did you lose any good friends in Africa?
No, not in Africa. [Laughs] I left a good friend in England.
[Female voice] Yeah.
She was a friend. [Laughs] No. Didn’t have many in Africa. The one… I forget where we were but there was three A-rabs was sitting under a palm tree there and they had their tea in their things. Well, as we – I don’t remember how in the world it happened – we walked, somehow we was in the perimeter of it there and they motioned for us to come over and eat with them. Well, we was told if they asked us to eat with them, you eat with them. Well, I don’t know what we were going to eat to be friendly and I don’t know what in the world they had. I don’t remember. I think they had tea or something but anyway, there’s two or three of us and we sat down and oh, they were just as pleased as could be that we’d sat down and accepted their invitation. I don’t know if we ate. I guess we did. I don’t remember except that they invited us to eat and they were just so happy that we had sat down and accepted their invitation. That’s a little side thing there too.
One thing I was going to ask you about North Africa and generally speaking, how much did you know about what was going on in the rest of the campaign and the rest of the War? Did you ever see copies of Stars and Stripes, the little newspaper, the magazine?
Oh, we had a pile, [Ernie Pile]. What did they call that paper then? Oh, yeah. We got it. We always looked for Ernie’s. Always looked for Ernie Pile.
So you knew a little bit about what was going on?
To some degree. To some degree. Well, we didn’t even think about it. Well then… Here’s something that I haven’t told very much, not to many people: Now, let me go back here again to my buddy, Jack. My buddy, Jack Tyner. When we were still at Fort Benning he wanted to get into the Military Police. He wanted the Military Police. So they had their building someplace there but anyway, he didn’t have a good O.D. so he borrowed my O.D.’s. I walked down to the MP house there with him, he went in and they accepted him as an MP. Accepted him as an MP. Well, he got on as an MP. Course, that took him out of my part of it there. Well, then one day he took General Roosevelt, they gave him General Roosevelt as a driver. Course, Jack, he’d go anywhere. He didn’t care if it was muddy, it was dry, whatever. I mean, he was all over. Well, then General Roosevelt told them he wanted him as his driver. Then, when I’d be around, walking out and about, General Roosevelt would go by and I couldn’t even wave to Jack because here was Roosevelt in his command car and here was my old buddy Jack going down the road with General Roosevelt. He had him drive for him.
Well, here’s a part I’m going back into Africa and this is going to be hard for a lot of people to read. A lot of people that knew Roosevelt, would know him, he came up to the frontline. He came up to the frontlines. Well, Jack was his driver and there was oh, about five or six, seven or eight or nine sitting of kind of a slope thing there and Jack stopped the command car and Roosevelt got out and sat by my right. Sat by my right and I don’t remember what he talked. He asked us about things and the other man and he kind of talked to all of us a little bit. Just talked a little bit then got up and walked back down to his command car and Jack drove off with him. Now, a lot of people are going to say that’s hogwash. Not Roosevelt. Roosevelt was known to be like Patton and I had that experience of him sitting not right close to me, a little distance from me but he talked to that guy and he talked to me and talked to the other one. I think he asked us how things were going.
That’s a good thing. Generals need to do that.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. We respected him. Well then, course, Jack was his driver but you know what? Jack liked beer too much and he ruined his own career. He got drunk and go and fight. All he had to do was sit in the motor pool and drive Roosevelt when he wanted be driven and he’d get into fights in bars and he done it so much that they said, â€œYou can’t drive no more. It seemed so strange that a guy could like his beer and getting drunk and fighting over being the driver for a General. But he ruined his own career, was taken off as a driver. But then he died of cancer. When he came back home he got cancer, all eaten up with it. But that’s a little bit of thing about Roosevelt and I know personally that Roosevelt would come up to the front and talk to his men. I know personally about that.
Did you ever see [Terry Allen]?
No, never saw him. I saw Eisenhower. The only time I saw Eisenhower, when I was in England. I was on a message centre run and I forget what town it was in but he was giving a – oh, yeah, I got a load on Patton too – he was giving a speech to thousands of GI’s. He was talking and I saw him up on the stage but I had to drive my jeep and go on with the message. But that was as close or anything as I ever got to seeing him.
Now, let me not get too far away from this one: Have you heard about Patton slapping that boy? I’m telling you, that would put me on a soap box! That makes me so mad when they tell, â€œPatton slapped that boy! He did not slap that boy. If I’m sitting down here all slumped down and discouraged you’re going to say, â€œCome on! Come on, Kid, snap out of it! Get up and be a soldier!
Nurses and Doctors, â€œHe slapped that boy! He didn’t slap that boy. He tried to get some backbone into that boy is what he was trying to do but they turned him in. His punishment was to go and apologise to all the troops. All right, when it came – he was from our Company, not from our Company but from the 16th, the boy was in the hospital, from the 16th. They built a stage. They built a stage and Patton came up in his command car. He had only one pearl pistol. He was always known for two pistols but that day he only had one pearl. We all mentioned about it, â€œHe’s only got one pistol.
So he got up and talked a little bit and he said, â€œIf there’s any GI soldier, to a degree I suppose this speech is down, â€œIf there’s any soldier within my boys’ that feels that I have wronged them or done something to them, he said, â€œI am offering them my apology now. I’m apologising if you think, you know, that I have done anything to you in any way.” Course, he hadn’t done nothing but he’s apologising. But when he got done and he got ready to go, â€œGod damn it, Men, we’ve got to lick them bastards! I don’t remember if it was â€˜bastards’ or something but that was his last words. â€œWe’ve got to lick them God damn bastards! I think was the words. Now, whether that’s ever been put out I don’t know but that was his last words before he went down the steps. So I’ve always said that I had Patton apologise to me because that was part of his speech, that if I had thought that he had ever done something to me like that, that I could not accept his apology. He hadn’t never done but he was offering me the apology if I had. So this is the reason that I say that Patton apologised to me. But at the end of it he told us what had to be done. That didn’t get out of his mind there. I had that experience and saw Patton up there with only one pearl handled gun that day.
So now let’s see. Where am I now?
Coming back to England. You were back in England.
Okay. So we got back now. That’s when we wound up in Lyme Regis. That’s when we got wound up in Lyme Regis and I was there in Lyme Regis for quite a while and I managed to get friendly with one of the English young ladies. Whenever I got a pass her mother and folks, Marion [Northcott], her name was Northcott – have you ever been to Lyme Regis?
I have many times.
You come down the hill and turn to go up the hill and there’s a hotel there at the bay? Her parents’ owned that at the time. Well, when you come down the main drag and come up there’s the Tudor houses, that was where our barracks, that was where we slept, in those Tudor houses there. Well then… So I don’t know where I ever got acquainted with her but anyway. Well, God, there’s so many things in my head. But anyway, when I’d get a pass and go somewhere I’d ask her if she’d like to go. Good companion. It was just a companionship. There wasn’t nothing left behind. No GI guy or anything like that. Strictly a friendship to have. When you’re there without anyone to go to, you go to a pub. The pubs are all right. Now that was the days of darts and they’d have their darts in their little boxes, they’d have their sandpaper for filing that point. Filing it, getting it right here. Then they’d have a darts game between the men and the women. Well, for the fun of it, when there was a GI in there they’d say, â€œJoin us. I couldn’t hit the dart board anyway but it was all a fun thing.
Well, at that time they had double summer time. It didn’t get dark until eleven o’clock and it didn’t get light until about eight o’clock either. Well, when we’d get called down in the morning for… What do they call it? Well, when you get up in the morning and you come down, â€œHall, John?
Roll call! You’d come down for roll call. Well, it was dark as pitch at six, seven in the morning when they got us up. Well, one guy discovers that you didn’t have to get dressed. All he put on was his overcoat, just his overcoat. Well that caught on so oh, for a long time we’d get called in the morning for roll call, put our overcoats on, the Officer would be out there calling everyone, â€œYep, here, here, here, One morning he found out we weren’t being dressed! We had overcoats on! Next morning after that we were dressed, we left our overcoats where they were. But we got by with it for several mornings before… I don’t know, course, they had different Lieutenants counting there. This one Lieutenant, Smith, and by golly I’ve been reading into [big heads] and he’s moved up the line I think to Brigadier or some big guy. But anyway, almost got into trouble with old [Snuffy]. He name was Smith but I don’t know, he just looked a little like Snuffy Smith from the funny pages. He got tagged â€˜Snuffy Smith’. Well, one time he and I got put on a detail for something, I don’t know where we were or what we were doing. Snuffy was bad-mouthing. He was bad-mouthing Lieutenants and bad-mouthing things and I was going along with the bad-mouthing but this Smith, he wasn’t liked. He wasn’t liked. But anyway, he let us bad-mouth for a while. I forget what he said but the end result was, â€œLet’s knock off the bad-mouthing. That knocked off the bad-mouthing right there. It was Captain Smith. He was strict but he was a Captain and I read in one of the things I got that he’s moved way up into a big deal. He moved right on up.
We had a ninety-day wonder one time in the motor pool. Anyway, it was a night there in Africa somewhere… That was where the German bombers bombed our own men. They got the wrong – [Knock at door. Tape stopped]
Well, anything else you can think of.
Anytime they needed a banjo they called on you?
Yeah, right. But I played guitar too. All these tapes I have a home…
But you can still play can you?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeees! Yessiree! Because my generation is fading out. I played for dances for over fifty years I guess so I’ve been in music all my life since I was three years old. Now where were we?
I’m conscious that I’ve taken up your entire afternoon.
Oh, no. Well, Lyme Regis. Marion, her name was.
[Female voice] Yeah, he promised to bring her over here. And then he got back home and met me.
She changed the picture.
Do you ever hear from her now?
No, never heard from her. No, I didn’t contact her and she never contacted me. I guess I’m the black sheep of the whatever. I don’t know, I think she found a good Englishman. I don’t think she suffered. I don’t think she moaned or groaned too long after we were there. But the Tudor, if you know Lyme Regis then the Tudor houses was about the second set up from the hotel where my part was.
Now, I can’t never remember his name. He was a sap drunkard from minute one. He could drink white wine a hundred and fifty proof just like it was water. Boy, he was a souse. Well, he hated, he despised us jeep drivers because we didn’t have to go when they went foot-slogging out to the moors, up into Scotland, England and make their landings and things like that. Because if we was on board ship they’d go off from the ship for landing and we’d eat with the ship’s, the sailors and oh, God, that burned him up. He just couldn’t stand it. Well, one morning, one time, the guy that was the Sergeant in the motor pool, the two of â€˜em was drunk and they was rolling down the hill and he was telling him that he wanted to get in the motor pool. I thought, â€˜They’re just drunk.’ By golly, if the guy didn’t get him a rating in the motor pool. Well, one Sunday morning all the troops were out going and I was laying in my bed. He says, â€œHall, you’re going to message centre. You ain’t going to lay around here. Well, okay, drunk, you know.
Monday morning, Sergeant says, he says, â€œHall, you’re going to be message centre jeep driver. Well that was better yet! I didn’t have to pull a gun. This building that was the message centre, I’d just go upstairs and lay in a bunk all day until a Lieutenant calls from somewhere or I had to take a message somewhere and I had a better life! He gave me a better life than what I had in there!
Did you have quite a good time in England then? Did you quite enjoy that period in England?
Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah because I went into London and Salisbury. I went all to the top of the places.
So you were given time off?
[Female voice] He sees these things on television, he says, â€œOh, I’ve been there! I’ve been there!
Oh, yeah. Every weekend. The big weekend, course, was in London.
Was it dances and shows? What would you do on a typical weekend?
Oh, go to a show. The first one was the English anthem, the next one was the French anthem, the next one was the… What four powers were there in that day? All the ones that were… What was it? England, France, America…
Hmm. Well anyway, when you’d go to a theatre or go to a movie all these countries’ anthems had to be played before the show would come on.
Really? I didn’t know that.
Yep. When the English anthem would come on everybody would stand up and then I think the American was next and then I guess the French. I don’t know if there was another country or not.
Russia or Australia?
Russia might have been with us at that time. But anyway, you stood up through all those countries’ anthems. When they were all done then you would sit down and you watched the show. It was either watch the show or go to a pub and I wasn’t that much of a drinker so I’d generally try to go to a show. But you stood up through all those national anthems.
There must have been plenty of bomb damage in London?
Oh, yes. Oh, you’d see… Oh, my gosh, Blockbusters they’d call â€˜em. You’d see a hole the size of this house. You could drive a truck down into â€˜em â€˜cos of those big Blockbusters. Then, course, there was U2’s. Those things would come over. We weren’t too much in to where they were. They were heading more for London. They didn’t come down in our part of the country.
And I guess all the time you knew you were building up for the invasion?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. That was the main thing, the big deal was building up. Course, we were just GI’s to go.
Was there much discussion about whether the Germans would turn and run or whether it would be a piece of cake when you got there?
You didn’t, no. You didn’t even try to figure it out. You’re going into combat and… I didn’t. I don’t think anybody else did either.
Then, when we was over there, that’s when Roosevelt passed away. Theodore Roosevelt, the President. So then one Sunday, I guess it was just after he died, they come around. There was a bus out there that anybody wanted to go to this church where it was for the memorial for President Roosevelt, get on the bus so you can go to the memorial of the President. Got on the bus –
[Female voice] You’ve got to go through your last days. D-Day.
Well that’s coming up. Oh, yeah. As I say, I went to President Roosevelt’s memorial in the church.
Oh, yeah. That’s another thing: When I was on message centre you’d get sent this Company. A, B, C Company –
So basically you were waiting for messages to deliver to the various Companies?
Right. In other words, from Headquarters I’d take it to C Company, A Company or wherever.
So, someone would say, â€œHere’s a message. Take this to Lieutenant whatever.
Right, to he head. This one day I went to I don’t know what Company it was, B Company or something and there was a Lieutenant in there all choked up. So when I went in – course, there’s houses, I mean they’re villages, you know – so I handed the message to the Sergeant that was at the desk there. The Lieutenant come out, â€œOkay, driver. You’re going to take me to – â€œ I don’t know what city it was. He said, â€œThat’s an order! Well, you take your last order first so I kind of…
The Sergeant said, â€œHe’s a Lieutenant. He says, â€œHe’s ordered you to take him to whatever city it was.
I said, â€œAll right. That’s my last order. He was all soused up.
He was drunk?
He was drunk. He was a Lieutenant and even though he was a drunken Lieutenant I had to take his order to drive him to this city.
To take him from Lyme Regis to..?
From Lyme Regis he was going to see his girlfriend in this town, you know. Well, when we got started he had I don’t know how many bottles of beer, Guinness, whatever it was. He drink one then throw it out. Boy, that made me mad! I stopped the jeep, I said, â€œSir, you’re not going to throw another bottle out of that jeep into the road. There’s English cars coming that can’t afford tyres and if they hit it they’re going to blow â€˜em. You will not throw another beer bottle out of this jeep. I started and the beer bottles went on the back floor of the jeep. He never threw another beer bottle out of that jeep. [Laughs] He was drunk enough to listen to an old GI driver, â€œDon’t throw your bottles! That made me mad!
Did you ever see him again?
No. Never saw him. When I got to the city where his girlfriend would be he went to her house. She was at the theatre with another guy! â€œWell, all right, take me to a theatre! So we got in and he went to a theatre. He said, â€œOkay, now you can go. Back to Lyme Regis I went. Course, didn’t nothing happen to me and the good thing, because the Sergeant in the Company heard him order me. I never knew what happened to him. I don’t know what they done to him. Then I had to deliver the messages the next day.
Did you get in trouble when you got back?
He got in trouble of some kind, I don’t know.
But you didn’t?
Oh, no. Because I had to take, in the Army you take your last order first. If you’ve been ordered to halt this one and do this and somebody says, â€œTake me here, all these orders are… Your last order, that’s what you do. And I was fortunate that I done it in the office of his Company and the guards and all the rest of it heard him demand that I take him to the city so I was all covered in every direction and I didn’t get nothing happen to me. But that was the one time I told a Lieutenant, â€œYou never throw another bottle out of this jeep! The next beer he drank was in the back foot hole of the jeep. He wasn’t that drunk that he didn’t accept what I told him. So that was an old anecdote I guess you’d call it there.
Well then, course it came time that we was going to invade. Course, we all went to [ED] area. That was down near Portsmouth and… Course, there’s a whole miles and miles but we were in what was known as â€˜D’ area at that time. Well course, we jeep drivers went to the motor pool every day and prepared our jeep for the landing, we waterproofed everything.
Well, [Neesenhuts], that’s what they’re called in England, there was one, two, three, four, five, they were all the kitchens. They were all the kitchens so this group went to that one, that group went to that one. Well, there were two coloured cooks in this one Neesenhut kitchen. Boy, could they do pork chops! Oh, out of this world! They’d run out of pork chops in about the first half hour because everybody went to their kitchen for pork chops when it was pork chop day. Well, it got so bad that they issued out coloured cards and this group had a white one or a blue one, a pink one, whatever and the colour on the Neesen or on the kitchen, well that was your kitchen to go to. That was the knockout, going to this pork chop deal. One guy would go in with his colour for pork chops and give this card… Those coloured cooks could cook pork chops!
Oh, golly. Now I’m going back to when we was back in Lyme Regis: We had a Cajun cook come down from Louisiana, he was a Cajun cook. Oh, he was a wonderful cook. Oh, he was good. Well, what he would do, and I took him out on a lot of his trips, he’d go out into the countryside and find a farmer that wanted American food. He’d take boxes of American canned food and stuff. When he’d found a farmer that wanted American food he’d trade him for live beef or vegetables or such as that and give him and then come back and make soup and things out of these vegetables right out of the garden. Oh, he could cook! He was wonderful. One time I took him and he got two cows. He shot them, the farmer, and then he butchered them right there on the land and threw the meat in the jeep. Off to the kitchen he went and boy, we had good meat that… Now, the good part see, he was French, from Louisiana so he could talk French to â€˜em. He could get â€˜em to understand what he was there for, that he was wanting to trade American food for their vegetables or beef or whatever it was and boy, we had the advantage of that!
You ate well?
Boy, we had good food! One place where we went to a farm they had, they were making wine and they had a great big building that you’d get up in there with your bare feet and walk around the grapes and then the grape juice would all flow out of this thing into the bucket and they’d just walk around squeezing the… That was something. They didn’t wash their feet, they didn’t wipe â€˜em or nothing. Where that vat was they just took their shoes off and go barefoot or whatever, squash the old grapes and there the juice went into there. I wanted to get that one in too.
Well then, our Top Kick, he had a girlfriend there in Lyme Regis so at the end of the day he’d have me drive up to the kitchen door. Well, then he’d get… Well, I don’t know what he’d get; several canned stuffs and things like that. Well, then he’d take it too his girlfriend’s house and give it to his girlfriend. Well, I’d get another jar of jelly! It was good for me because he’d always let me get my big cans of jelly. Boy, I’d eat out of that, that jelly.
Do you still eat jelly?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I eat it. Love jelly.
But then… All right now, we’re ready to invade France. So D-Day was the 5th. But we all went out. I didn’t have my gun then, it was a four by four and just my jeep, message centre jeep. So, they left out of port and got out into the channel. Boy, you can talk about being in the ocean, then waves were up and you could stand back in those landing crafts and see that thing, you was wondering if those rivets was going to hold. Then word got out and we turned around and went back into port again.
Was that hard? Because I imagine you’re all kind of mentally prepared for invading the following morning and then you’ve got to adjust for another twenty four hours or you were okay about it?
Hmm… No. No, it was just too rough to make and just had to go back and wait.
You weren’t that bothered then?
Didn’t think nothing of it. When we went back with our landing craft, they were pulling into the dock and they changed the motor. I never knew why but anyway, they had the motor out of there and back in within, I think, fifteen minutes. Didn’t take â€˜em no time to put another motor in that landing craft.
Well then, course, the 6th came and it was rough but it wasn’t rough enough to stop it.
Were you first wave or second wave?
First wave. I was first wave. So we had a doubt when the rocket ships went past us. That was all the… I don’t know how many rockets were on the rocket ship, what they fired up in there. I don’t know how many went past us almost in the dark. Course, they were in the first part to soften up the [bull]. Well, then the landing craft that myself and the other guy was on just kept plodding along and well, they hadn’t – they couldn’t make the beachhead. The Germans were dug in on the beach and they didn’t know it. We didn’t realise they were dug in that way. And then they had landmines. Well, as we came up to our part of Omaha beach in the landing craft, we dropped the gate down and a guy would step and blow him in the air. I don’t know how many we saw step on landmines. They’d get blown to pieces as they tried to get across. All of â€˜em got there but we couldn’t –
Were you scared at this point?
No. No. No, it was… I mean, we felt sad for â€˜em.
But you weren’t worried about your own personal safety?
No. No, never thought about whether I’d get hit. You’d get hit, you know? Course, the morning wore on and then the ducks, their motors’ quit and, course, they started sinking. You know, the ducks, they call â€˜em. Well, and then they still didn’t make the beachhead until late in the day. Well, there was a building up on the side up there that had an observer. Well, our landing craft, we were just cruising along. Well, the two of us – the four of us; my driver, him and his – we got up on the tailgate of the gate and we figured, â€˜well, if I stand here trying to look.’ We sat up there like we had a grandstand seat. We was just watching the ships and things going down sinking, we watched some guys getting…
Were you worried that things 100% to plan?
No. It was just going the way it was going. Well, then one of the – I don’t know what big… It was one of the big Battleships, one of the big battleships. I don’t know if it was the Texas or what it was but anyway, our landing craft, he was going along the shore and we was watching. Well then flip, flip came the light and he was telling him to get out of the way.
So you were still on the boat waiting to disembark?
Well, yeah. We was out in the channel and we were sitting up on that thing that went down, the ramp. We were all four across there just like, we were just watching it like it was a theatre. What else to do, you know?
Were the rest of the Regiment already on the beach?
Well, yeah, the 16th. It was one of our Lieutenants that said, â€œWe’re either going to die here or die up there. Let’s go! They’re the ones, the 16th, they’re the ones that opened the way to all the rest of â€˜em, went up and made the beachhead. They finally made the beachhead. But the Battleship they said, the observer, was going to get rid of him and they got rid of him. He didn’t observe no more.
So there’s nobody… Now, what my wife wants me to tell: Nobody up there was… There was thousands and thousands when we got on the beach, when we finally made the beach and went up on the road that took us up inland, in the orchard or what you call it, thousands of bicycles, bicycles, all you could see was all bicycles. Well, even Squeaky, I spoke to him, he said he didn’t even see â€˜em! There was thousands of â€˜em one on top of another just thrown. Well, I could never find anybody that went past those big bicycles, all those bicycles.
Well, I guess about five years ago I had to play for breakfast out here for a restaurant on [6th and Rose]. Taiwanese, a Taiwan owned it and he came to mark it I had the jacket and the hat and he wanted to know if I come and play breakfast in his hotel there. I look American and I play American music and I said, â€œI’d be glad to. So I get down there at seven o’clock and play walking round the – [End side 2]