You were born on the Kent/Sussex border were you?
Where was your farm?
It was between East Grinstead and Tonbridge Wells; about 30 miles south of London.
That’s where you were born?
Yes; my father worked in London. He was a brewer and owned about 1500 acres in the village of Hartfield and farmed it. A couple of farms were let but he had about 500 or 600 acres in hand at least. Dreadful land; heavy yellow Sussex clay. People say to me, â€œWhy didn’t you farm there? I’d have no more wanted to farm there than fly to the moon.
So how did he manage the two things?
He had a manager and a foreman. He wasn’t a hands-on farmer. He worked four days or 5 days a week in London.
Was it his own brew house?
No, he was a member of a family firm of brewers – Mann, Crossman & Paulin, and he was up there all during the Blitz. We didn’t think an awful lot of not going to London because of the bombing; one just trundled off and had a day in London regardless and he worked up there day in and day out. He was an extremely patriotic man and was pretty fed up that he was slightly too old to join the army. He was in the First World War but he was a very rich man; ran a huge establishment and had a chauffeur and lots of cars. You were living in Edwardian times practically you know – up to the war. If you had money, you had lots of servants.
Did you see much of your parents?
So you were quite close?
Did you have nannies?
Oh Lord yes; nannies and governesses and we were sent off to prep school aged eight.
Where was that?
It was near Epsom. It was absolutely another age; people around every corner to do the jobs, but the great thing was that you were brought up to behave and to pay great respect to all those people and to behave properly in front of them. It’s interesting – the conversation around the breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner table was all gauged because there were servants listening. It’s a totally different concept. You got black looks or ticked off heavily if you spoke and behaved in a manner that was not correct in front of the servants.
And dressed up for dinner presumably?
Oh yes; dinner jacket every night.
Quite nice in a way.
Yes, well it was a sense of occasion.
Did you have brothers and sisters?
I had three brothers and I remember my father saying, when things were getting a bit out of hand once, â€œMy God, I wish I’d made you call me Sir! We loved him dearly; we called him Father; it was Father and Mother. I was the youngest and my oldest brother was eight years older than me.
What did your father do in the Great War?
He was in an infantry regiment in France. He never talked about it. He was in the London Rifle Brigade I think it was. A City regiment. It had about 12 battalions. He was only sixty when he died in 1942. I was eighteen.
That sounds young.
People did die young. If you had angina you simply soldiered on until you died.
What did your older brothers go on and do?
They went into the army professionally. My oldest brother went in to the 14/20th Hussars; the next one went into the Royal Artillery and they both went off and joined regiments in India, because their regiments were out in India, before the war. We waved goodbye to my eldest brother in 1936 and didn’t see him for seven years. The other one got polio out there.
Did he? Same as my uncle.
He was invalided home but he didn’t leave the army. They patched him up good enough that he was Category C or something.
And gave him a desk job?
Not quite as bad as that but not front line, and the next one was only 3 years older than and he was only 21 when he died. He didn’t start a career because he was completely overtaken by the war and he was in the Territorials and he went off with the Sussex Yeomanry and was in the Eritrean Campaign and died of appendicitis out there aged 21 in 1941 and Father died in 1942. Mother had a tough time. She had a husband who was working himself to death in London and in the Home Guard and four sons all in the army.
Were you quite close to your brothers?
I suppose as the youngest you must have looked up to them?
And they looked down on me! Very much so.
Then you went off to Marlborough did you?
Did you enjoy Marlborough?
Were you keen on sport?
Yes, it suited me down to the ground.
Was there a particular reason you went to Marlborough?
Everyone in the Mann family goes to Marlborough – my grandfather, my father, my brothers
Yes, but he broke the mould; didn’t send his children there.
So in 1940, you were in the sixth form at Marlborough?
Was there a Marlborough College LDV?
There was the Corps; the CCF. We called it the OTC in those days. It was huge; there were about 500 in the Corps and there was some sort of age qualification and then you joined the LDV, presumably at 16 or 17; something like that.
So Marlborough College LDV was run by the school and the OTC people and you went on weekly parades and
You didn’t do any extra parades because you were trained as a soldier anyway and you had a rifle; a Short Magazine Lee Enfield.
Did you have the pre-war uniforms with the putties?
Yes; knickerbockers; putties..not battle dress.
So you didn’t have the battle blouse; you had the service dress?
Yes; you didn’t have a collar and tie though; a hook up and a hard cap.
When you did your LDV stuff, were you given tin helmets?
That’s a good question..I can’t remember. It was awful really because you spent the night – two hours on and two hours off and so on, and then you had to go to lessons just the same as if nothing had happened and you had to fit your prep in. You weren’t on every night but you were probably on one night a week.
What were you doing? Roadblocks?
Yes; roadblocks on the Bath Road and sort of an ARP post up on Manton Down. That was our side of the town. I don’t know what people in college did. We had an old thrashing machine that we used to haul across the Bath Road and block all the traffic.
What did you do? Shine torches in their eyes?
Yes, and we looked underneath lorries to see if there was anybody there..
There was this belief that there were going to be German paratroopers at any moment. Did you really think there was going to be an invasion?
Yes! We weren’t frightened but it seemed very realistic.
And were you following the events in France? At Dunkirk and all that?
Yes; people were acutely aware of whatever they were told. You couldn’t know things that you weren’t told but it was either on the news or in the newspapers and you followed every move and these wonderful, historical speeches by people like Winston Churchill; they really were very remarkable.
And you were very aware of them at the time?
We’d sit and listen.
There were radios at the College?
Or at home. My recollection is of listening to what we called the wireless at home, which was a huge great thing with a sort of grille across it and batteries inside.
Your house in Hartfield, was it large?
Oh huge and it was very old. He bought it in about 1910 and completely renovated it. It was a beautiful old house. It was sort of 14th century; very small bricks.
Tudor brick sort of thing?
Exactly, and big gardens.
Did you have your own shoot?
Did you hunt?
Oh yes; Old Surrey and Burstow, or the Erridge; we were on the boundaries of the two of them.
You grew up with rifles and shooting and hunting?
Yes; 410’s and 2:2’s; everything. Father was very keen on teaching us and having all boys it was easy. It was the standard procedure as you got older. You worked your way up the armaments. He was very keen that we did it properly.
It must have been a pretty good childhood?
Yes, but a lot was expected of one too. You were expected to work bloody hard at school to get a good report, and behave and dress properly.
Can you remember ever being severely ticked off?
By your father?
With a cane?
No, a slipper and I was in floods of tears, and beaten at school, and beating people. That was the way it was. There was nothing exceptional about it; it was just the way it was.
You still had fagging?
No, there was no fagging at Marlborough. The senior boys ran the thing, though. The army was amazing when one joined it because in many ways it was no shock at all after school, but it was a terrible shock to other eighteen and nineteen year-olds. They’d think, â€˜here’s a toff’ and would pull your leg but then they found that you could manage very adequately and that they were completely lost because they’d never been away from home and had always had Mummy’s cooking. They couldn’t stand the food; they couldn’t stand the beds; they couldn’t stand anything. Your first job when you joined the army was you were given a pallias and you were told to go and stuff it full of straw and that was your bed and you slept on that in your gym kit.
Were you ever in the Scouts?
At school, yes; prep school. I didn’t go very far with Scouting.
Did you leave school in 1941?
Yes I left school on the last day of July and I joined the army in November.
What did you do in between?
Worked on the farm.
Always knowing that you were going to be joining the army?
Yes, and always knowing I was going to be a farmer too.
Did you go to Sandhurst?
No, that was the far off view. You couldn’t join the army and get a commission in those days; you had to join a training regiment and if you were a volunteer and if you were under eighteen, or 19 – I can’t remember – but thereabouts, you went to what was called a Young Soldier’s Training Regiment. In other words, everybody was the same age as you joining up and you were all volunteers. Conscripts could be any age and were sent to a different sort of training place with mixed ages. But we were all young soldiers and we all went to Bovington because we joined the Armoured Corps.
Was that your choice to join that?
What made you want to join that?
You volunteered and then you could choose a bit. I said I want to join the Armoured Corps and so it was off to Bovington. I wanted to join an armoured cavalry regiment because that was the sort of people I wanted to be with and the sort of job I fancied and I’d got brothers doing it and that seemed the thing to do. I didn’t want to be an infantryman.
Was there any particular reason for that?
It was the thing to do; it was the top job. There’s always the thing that people think is the best thing to do and then there’s the ordinary thing to do and that was the top thing to aim for.
You must have known a bit about tanks..?
No; I hardly knew how a motor car worked. There was no mechanisation on the farm at all. It was nearly all horses. We had one tractor, I think. We had a threshing machine, or one came round, but that might have been driven by a steam engine; a static steam engine.
So you went off and did your training?
Yes and you had to excel at your training. You did 6 months square bashing and learning rudimentary things; small arms and that sort of that. All that was done at Bovington and after six months, you were assessed and a certain number of people were offered the opportunity to try and get a commission; that was the procedure. So you tried to keep your nose clean and be as efficient as you could in the hope you’d be picked out and then you were sent off to a pre-OCTU – OCTU being Officer Cadet Training Unit – for about two or three months and then you were sent to an OCTU and it was pure luck where you were sent. There were several. Sandhurst was one and there was Catterick..I just happened to be sent to Sandhurst which was quite an experience. I was there for a good six months and then commissioned and joined a regiment.
So just to go back to the summer of 1941, you left school at the end of July – no more LDV presumably?
Oh probably yes….went on LDV…probably joined up with Father’s mob at home.
You did that as well did you?
Probably, yes, and spent the summer holidays working on the farm.
So you were working in the fields and all these battles were going on over your head?
Yes; that’s it.
I remember you telling me that story about your father and the binoculars.
It was interesting…nobody told us it was going to start because no one knew it was going to start but I am sure the people in charge of the war had a shrewd suspicion it was going to be immediately after Dunkirk, or fairly soon after. The Battle of Britain started in September didn’t it?
Early skirmishes in July, but August, September was the main…
It was lovely weather and I can remember walking home from the fields and hearing this extraordinary droning noise. I remember looking up and it was partial cloud and I saw wave after wave of these bombers going overhead. I was flabbergasted.
You’d never seen anything like it before?
No and when I got home everyone was talking about it and they said, â€œDid you know they’d bombed London? And that was the beginning of it; literally the first day and I remember seeing it start and of course it went on for weeks with this amazing dog fighting and aerial combat and on a clear day it was absolutely extraordinary.
You could hear the engines but could you hear machine gun fire?
Oh yes, machine gun fire and empty shell cases coming cascading down and aeroplanes coming down in flames.
Did you have any coming down on the farm?
No, but they were not far away.
Did you ever go and see any?
But you could see them descending with smoke behind them?
Yes, and flames coming out the back.
Did you ever see parachutes coming down?
Yes, chaps coming down, bailing out. Father wanted a better view and shouted â€œCan you bring my field glasses? It was a lovely day and we were out in deck chairs and the butler brought them on a silver salver because of course he never brought anything except in that way! A telegram, a letter or someone’s spectacles…always on a silver salver.
So did you have a lawn at the front of the house?
There was a paved area where we were sitting and watching this amazing spectacle and sadly there was nothing we could do to help. We’d have liked to have done. Mark Thompson.why he was here was because his father was a great friend of mine at school and he used to come and work on the farm with me during the holidays and he was there working with me and we’d been given some job to go and do with a horse and cart. We were loading trusses of hay or something and a colossal battle started up overhead and cascades of these shell cases were coming down and we took cover behind the hayrick and then took pity on the poor old horse. He was very frightened and we thought we ought to let him go, because he was in the shafts I think and I always remember he trundles around the rick after us to have a bit of company. And we crouched behind the hayrick while assorted bits of metal came down from above.
But did you have any sense of what was actually going on?
Absolutely, yes. We realised that it was a momentous happening…
You were aware of that?
Oh, everybody was.
You knew you were literally fighting for your lives?
Yes and we’d listen in to hear what the bag was in the evening and what the results were….like the cricket. How many shot down; how many got through; they would infer where the target was and who’d been hit. We were not kept in the dark but they tried not to give away any information that would help the enemy. As much as possible, they tried to dish up a true picture of what had been happening.
You were quite near a number of airfields weren’t you? Biggin Hill…
And Croydon…Yes Mark Thompson’s father and I were very good friends at Marlborough. Ronald Thompson. He was in the First Airborne Division.
Was he in D Day?
Yes; he’s dead though.
I wonder if he was in Tunisia as well?
I don’t think so. He got married and had about eleven children. He was bulging with brains. Went to Cambridge; got a rugger blue. Did the war and then left the army and tried to farm a bit in the West Country. He had a yen for it I suppose because of me but he didn’t make much of a success of that. Then he tried to be a Liberal member of parliament. Then he got bored with his wife and all these children and they parted company and he went off to Bristol University and then went abroad to France and became an expert of cider apples in Normandy and ran orchards. He didn’t feel he was working hard enough so in his 60’s he enrolled at the Sorbonne. His thesis was on the Russian famine, which he studied in Russian and he got a PhD at a French university. He pickled his insides with Calvados and coffee and died about ten years ago in some sort of squalor in France and gave his body to medicine.
And he was with you in the summer of 1940?
It must have been extraordinary to see all those planes flying over and thinking that parachutists might drop any minute.
Yes; nearly every day for weeks on end.
You knew about Poland; you knew about the fall of France and the Low Countries and all the rest of it. Were you conscious of the might of the German forces? You must have been seeing all those aeroplanes going over.
Did they seem a bit invincible?
No because I think our Spitfires and Hurricanes shot down a lot of them and that was very comforting and that was about all you could say. But this bombing went on for a hell of a long time and then it moved up – Coventry…
Did you find that everyone had an opinion? Yes we are going to be invaded; no we’re not going to be invaded. People sitting in the pub speculating on what was going to happen?
It was like some people’s total absorption with football. The war – we were totally absorbed with the progress of the war.
Did you find that being a young 17, 18 year oldwas it exciting?
Yes, it was exciting.
The future must have seemed incredibly short.
It was the war; end of story. You didn’t have people trundling around having gap years; wondering how to enjoy themselves. We didn’t do anything like that. We had a very good childhood and then the war came and that was that. We went straight from school to the army.
You must have joined your regiment somewhere towards the latter half of 1942?
You joined the army in 1941 and it took the best part of a year to train.
I joined my unit in 1942, or early ’43.
And at that point you were training for the invasion already?
No; the regiment was in Keighley, Yorkshire. The three regiments in the brigade were at Otley, Keighley and I can’t remember where the other was; near Harrogate, Halifax. I went up there and joined the regiment and I was given a troop. My squadron leader was a great friend of my eldest brother; lovely man..boy because he was in his 20’s. I was 20 and he would have been about 25 or 26. I had more tanks than I had men. I think I had 5 tanks and 3 men. The reason being that we were a unit at home and we were being used as a reservoir for replacements for the desert war. As soon as we got men trained up half decent, they would be drafted away from us and they went to Tunisia to reinforce those units out there. That went on for a couple of months.
What tanks did you have?
Valentines; before those we had Covenenters I think which were even thinner but very fast. They had 2 pounders. One day there was a terrific announcement that the whole brigade had got to parade at the cinema in Keighley or Otley or wherever, and we were all squeezed into the cinema, all the men and the officers, and the doors were shut and a general came onto the stage, practically looking behind the curtains to make sure there were no spies and to make sure the place was securely guarded and he announced, and this was quite creepy, he said, â€œYou are going to be the first troops to land in Europe. That was quite something. There we were, a unit being milked of all our resources and a complete back number with nothing to do except train, and suddenly we became the absolute elite. There was nothing we couldn’t have. We got all the latest kit and everything and from that day til June ’44 we were training in the utmost secrecy; we had to censor all the chaps’ mail and we really were a sealed unit. We moved all over the place – Suffolk and Scotland…
Training, training, training?
Yes, on these amphibious tanks – DD tanks – and often we were behind screens. If there was a place where the public might have gone to, they’d put up miles of screening. They went to town to make sure no one twigged.
And was it quite exciting being a part of that?
Oh riveting! Morale is always the great thing and morale having been at rock bottom, it went up to bursting point.
It must have felt like a bit of an honour didn’t it?
It did! We were hugely proud.
And then out went the Coventers and in came the Shermans I suppose?
No, we did DD Valentines for a long time. We did a lot of training with DD Valentines. There were two parts to the training really; there was the individual training of the man.we had to do Davis Escape Apparatus like they used in submarines. We did that in a swimming baths in Lowestoft or somewhere and we did it at Gosport. They had a mock up turret of a tank in the bottom of their submarine trainer and we sat in it and then they flooded the bloody thing and then we had to get out by numbers and put on our Davis Escape Apparatus and go up to the surface, like the submarine boys were trained. That was the individual type of training we had to do and a bit of seamanship and the other was the tactics and know how of embarking and disembarking and all that sort of thing.
Was there then training with infantry and artillery?
In the end the whole thing was put together but we trained as a tank regiment separate from our infantry til very near the end.
It sounds like you were fabulously well trained for landing on the beach but the land operations…?
That was part of our livelihood anyway. We were trained for that. We were stationed at Fort George, Inverness for a whole winter and they used to take us out in the LST’s into the Moray Firth and we used to disembark in the dark down a ramp into the sea and have to go 5 miles inland in these DD tanks, which made 4 knots if you were lucky. They weighed 30 or 40 tonnes and only had a canvas freeboard of 18 inches, so the tank was below the surface.
But they did work?
They did work!
It’s astonishing really!
There was a moment when the chaps thought they were really becoming quite expert and could do with some more pay and they formed up and said â€œWe’re doing this highly skilled work. What about more pay? But nobody would pay them more because it would have broken security. If they started sending more money home, the little women would have said â€œMy lad’s training for the invasion!
Did you always know it was going to be May/June?
No; for a long time we didn’t know when it was.
Then suddenly in Spring ’44 it must have started to accelerate?
Yes, and we came down from Scotland and went to Gosport and they were building the units of the Mulberry Harbour right in front of us and we could see all that although we didn’t know what they were.
You were still a troop commander then?
But you had a few more men presumably?!
Oh Lord yes; I would have had three tanks with five men in each tank, so fifteen men. Tomorrow I am going to Studland Bay because we have a memorial there. We had a disaster in training and we have a service there every April 4th. There was a huge exercise and all sorts of people like Monty, and I believe even the King, came and watched it although no one ever said so. The plan was that the whole brigade landed fly firing but the weather went wrong and we lost about twelve tanks – sank – the Davis escape worked.
Were you all right?
I wasn’t there. I was away on a cookery course! They learnt a huge amount about what you could and couldn’t do and it was our saving grace on D Day, and it was the Americans undoing that they had not taken note and of course they all sank and it was their own fault. Our role was reversed because we were actually plonked in six foot of water instead of five miles out, which was brilliant.
You went across in an LST?
Were you Sword or Gold?
Gold I think; in the middle.
Presumably there came the point when you were finally given the briefing?
Oh yes! We moved into the cage down near Fawley, between Calshot and Exbury.
At the end of May or something?
Yes and a unit was detailed to keep us in the cage; we were prisoners for security, and then they started briefing. We had photographs and plans and were told where we were going to land and we were so well briefed that when we arrived, we felt we might have taken the kids to the seaside there you know.
All the landmarks you were expecting were there?
Absolutely; all the defences and booby traps and everything. They used to come with the latest information on what the Germans were doing because people used to land and walk about on the beach at night and see if they’d changed the defences and then come back and tell us; incredible. But that was all beautifully done.
It was superlative planning wasn’t it when you think how many people were involved; how many ships and bits of kit and everything?
It was the most incredible sight I think I’ve ever seen – dawn on the 6th – you could hardly see where you were going to get towards the shore through all the shipping and all these battle cruisers were hove to and letting fly as hard as they could go.
You must have been able to see the shells whistling over could you?
You could hear them; you can’t quite see them unless you’re stood behind them. It’s like a chap with a shotgun; you can see the pellets.
Did you load up onto to an LST the day before?
No; we loaded up….it was postponed; it was scheduled for the 5th and we loaded up on the 4th and jigged up and down in the Solent.
That must have been terribly hard because you were all revved up.
Yes, and then we were told it had been postponed but we didn’t disembark; we remained like that and then they said it was all go the next day.
Did you have a â€œthis is it moment?
I don’t know!
Can you remember being apprehensive?
No, we were just excited. When you’ve been trained up for something…I can almost understand Kamikaze and suicide bombers you know, because if you are trained up enough, you are so revved up that you don’t feel scared; you’re just elated that everything you’ve been sweating to do for the last six months is going to come off. It’s not a question of being brave I don’t think. It’s just a state of mind; that’s what training and discipline is all about and if you haven’t got that, your army collapses in a very short time.
As the French discovered in 1940. Were you conscious of being involved in something momentous?
It’s a hell of a thing to be able to say you landed on the first day.
Oh yes; one of my most vivid impressions was we were heading in and there were small landing craft infantry motor boats with a platoon in or something. They were skimming along to land more or less at the same time and one came past us with a lot of chaps sitting in it and it was buzzing along well and then the hatch at the back over the engine room opened and a gorgeous blond came out with hair flying all over the place! She was driving this bloody thing! Everybody cheered! They were thrilled to bits! She’d bribed somebody!
So it was only six foot deep where you landed?
Yes, the technical term was we waded, instead of actually floating because it was so rough and so unsuitable. We wouldn’t have made it and the Americans didn’t make it; it was pathetic. It was a couple of 100 yards to dry land.
From your point of view did it all go according to plan?
Oh yes, it went fine. I was so excited – I sat on top of my turret trying to get rid of…we had an awful periscope extension….
Were you on a Sherman DD by this stage?
Yes; the ordinary periscope wouldn’t see over the top of the canvas screen when the screen was erected for floating, so you had an extension which was a bloody nuisance and one couldn’t wait to get rid of it and you yanked it off and threw it away. We’d got to the stage where we were on dry land and I got out of the top of the turret and sat there and pulled off the extension and threw it away with a great cheer and got hit in the back.
What by a bullet?
Yes; that was it; I didn’t get any further.
Did it hurt?
No; getting hit doesn’t hurt. There’s a shock effect.
How long had you been on the beach before that happened?
A matter of minutes?
Yes; someone appeared and I said, â€œI’m not too bad; I can go on. It wasn’t a huge drama but it was a bit annoying because it was in my lung and gave me a collapsed lung so I wasn’t any good to anyone really. They lugged me off and I spent the day on a stretcher.
Then were you shipped back to England?
That must have been disappointing.
Terrifying because eventually when the battle moved in land and it was evening…
Did they take the bullet out?
Not then; 40 years later! There was a covey of us that were damaged and we were lying on stretchers in the dunes and eventually someone said they must get us back and they loaded us onto a DUKW which was American and it was a Yank driving this thing. He sa,id â€œWe’re going to take you out to an LST and you’ll be all right. We were all feeling a bit gloomy by then and slightly the worse for wear, some people much worse than me. The DUKW set off through the waves to embark us on the LST which was lying about half a mile off shore with its tongue hanging open. With a DUKW you approached it like this and then drove up the ramp out of the water, going from propeller to wheels. He charged at the ramp, stalled the engine and ran back into the waves and we were shouting, â€œYou fucking man! What are you doing! He said, â€œI’ve never done it before! There was uproar then. I can remember it now; this stupid man who had never done this before struggling with this machine. He did it in the end but that was the most frightening thing that had happened to me in months!
You got back to England ok?
Yes and I remember we were disembarked and put on the railway station at Southampton to be taken off to hospital by train and there were rows of stretchers and wounded and all the commuters were picking their way through us. I always say we were like the first grouse in London on the 12th August because there were these people going to work and here were the first wounded back from the invasion the other side of the Channel. It was spooky! People with bowler hats on going to London picking their way through the wounded men.
How long were you in hospital for?
About a month and I had about 2 months off all together and then I went back in August which was quite interesting. We were still boccaging. I rejoined my same troop. There was my same tank waiting for me. I can’t remember the sort of boat I went over on but we landed at the Mulberry Harbour which was fascinating because this was the development that had taken place.
And you’d seen being built.
Yes, the units, and then I saw the finished article and landed on it; fascinating. Then a stint in the boccage; very tricky country. We went right across northern France and Belgium, and Holland.
That must have been exciting.
Terrific; that’s what it was all about. I got wounded again in Holland in October.
We were having breakfast outside the tank and got blown up by a mortar.
Nearly had my leg off. That was a long job. I never got back after that. I was nine months in plaster and had the first penicillin. The first time I was wounded I had sulphanilamide and then 4 months later it was all penicillin. I had injections every three hours for ten days.
When war was over you went back to farming?
Back to Hartfield?
No. Father died; the place was sold; it had all collapsed by then and I went and worked on a farm in Oxfordshire for a year. I came out in ’46 and worked there from ’46 to ’47 and then we went to Evelyn’s parents home near Exmoor and from there we bought a farm at Devizes.
You were a captain by the time you finished in the army?
Sort of; I wasn’t paid as a captain but my title was captain.
Were you a squadron leader by then?
No; I wasn’t medically fit. I had a training job back at Bovington as part of the driving and maintenance wing.
You won an MC didn’t you?
No, I didn’t win anything apart from a smack on the bottom for getting hit. I was a very expensive soldier. When I was finally discharged from hospital, I was married by then and worked in the D and M at Bovington, so I was back where I started and I was demobilised. I joined the army on 11th November 1941 at Bovington and I was demobilised on 11th November 1946 at Bovington – same day! Extraordinary!
What was the name of your farm in Hartfield?
Is it still there?
Have you been back?
Oh yes but it is a sort of – it’s all broken up. Dozens of people live in the cottages and the house is lived in by two or three people.
You came here when?
You picked a good spot!
Amazing! We haven’t talked about doodlebugs. I was on leave after hospital. The height of the doodlebug was 1944. I was hobbling about in plaster when they were going over and we were living in the farmhouse by then which was on top of ma ridge and they could just get over the top of the ridge. I saw a Spitfire pilot tip one over.
The person who pioneered that was Roland Beamont who lived at Stratford Sub Castle. It was lethal to do that and also lethal to shoot them down because once you shot them, they exploded.
You had to do it in open country which we were in. If they could get at them, round about where we were, they would go down like that before they hit Croydon and Redhill and Reigate. The conurbation began with the North Down and if they could get them into the Wield, they were all right.
It took some guts to do that with a plane.
And they were bloody low too.
You must have seen it pretty clearly?
I was practically looking down on this chap when he did it.
Thank you very much. It’s been fascinating.