FRANK VIDOR SERVED WITH THE HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT IN TUNISIA AND ITALY.
I was born in Canon Street in Winchester and went to school in Winchester, and the street where we lived there was about 20 lads, all about the same age, 17,18 and quite a few of us were in the TA. Some were in the Hampshires, the Infantry and the rest were in the heavy ack ack. They were mobilised just before the war and over night the street was empty – they all went to different places; some in the Navy, some in the air force, most of the people we knew went into the Hampshires.
What did your father do?
He was a publican in a pub called the White Horse in Winchester. It’s not there now; been converted into very posh flats. There were 3 White Horses in Winchester, but there’s only 1 left and that I hear’s been turned into a wine bar.
Were you a large family?
I’ve got an older brother and a step brother who’s younger. The older brother he went into the air force before the war. Went to Aden, Abyssinia – they were sent home from Aden by ship and Churchill had announced the night before that no British ship would travel unescorted; well, he got torpedoed, got into life boats and got picked up and taken to South Africa. Came home from there and was flying again, he was a flight engineer, over Berlin, got shot down and taken prisoner. After he was released he went on to Transport Command and flew to Australia and New Zealand and Canada. Then he got onto the Berlin air lift and when he came out he went to work for Ford’s. Now he’s retired and lives in Lymington. I talk to him every Sunday. We were all about the same age the de-mob group and I’ve lost touch with a lot of them but we have a get together every September here in Winchester. People come from all over, Isle of Wight, Guildford, Somerset, Birmingham. There’s only about 4 left from the old platoon now though. There were only about 6 from the original 30 strong platoon that came back. Only 6 made it all the way through. There was old Brooksie from Birmingham, he was a real character.
What was someone from Birmingham doing in the Hampshire Regiment?
He was a reinforcement, came from the Royal Warwick’s and then there was another crowd who came from the Devonshire Regiment and there were some form the Royal Sussex; by the end of the war we were all mixed. We had chaps on the ack ack march in Cairo, when the war slackened off from Cairo, they didn’t want ack ack people any more and they were all drafted into the infantry which they took a very poor view of.
You were in the TA in 1939?
You joined up before then?
But you volunteered to do that?
And you did it with a lot of your friends did you?
Did you know that war was coming?
No, we didn’t really. The higher ups had known for some time. To be quite honest, we viewed it as a bit of adventure, in a way, at first.
Did you train here in Winchester?
We went to all different places – we used to share camps, and when we were actually mobilised just before the war we..
You got your draft papers?
Not exactly, where I used to work, a printer’s works in Winchester, I was apprenticed to a printer.
Did you leave school at 14?
Yes. Another mate of mine, Charlie Allen, he was in the TA as well, when they were mobilised, they did it on the radio as well. I was standing by the window of this printing firm looking out and all of a sudden old Charlie came along and he was saying â€œCome on, come on! I said â€œWhat’s happening? He said â€œWe’ve been called up! â€œReally? â€œYes, everybody! I told the boss, and he gave me the necessary paperwork and a week’s wages and off I went. Came home, had my uniform at home, and changed into that and went to the Drill Hall and when I got up there, all these blokes I’d been at school with were all milling around.
Where did you go to?
Newburgh House. A TA depot in Winchester. We milled around and no-one knew what was happening; they hadn’t had experience of this before. There was an announcement about who lives where and what. If you lived locally, you were sent back home and this will make you laugh, Charlie Allen he was a bigger lad than us, and he was put on guard. All of us were trooping out to go home and there was Charlie on guard and he said to me â€œDo me a favour. Nip home and tell my mum I’m on guard will you? So I had to explain to his mother because all military installations then had to have a guard.
So you did lots of training then?
Yes, we got shoved off to Romsey, 10 miles away. The highlight of my time at Romsey was that I slept under the billiard table at the Romsey Conservative Working Men’s Club. Everywhere was commandeered in Romsey for accommodation. We slept in the Oddfellows Hall, skittle alleys, a hotel. Then we went to Castle Carey in Somerset for field training.
Do you think the training was good? You weren’t trained with officers at all were
We were trained as platoons. With the position as it was then, we used to called them VP’s – vulnerable points, all round the Southampton area, Fawley, places like that were all being built then and they had to be guarded. The militia, they went to the depots, like Isle of Wight, Parkhurst, places like that, and trained at the depots, they did nothing else, but the TA we had to do everything, we were training for 2 weeks then we’d be taken somewhere else, 2 on and 2 off, at all these different VP’s and stuff.
How long did the training go on for?
It just went on all the time. We went from Carey to Ramsgate.
Was that what you were doing during the Battle of Britain?
Yes, Ramsgate, Dover, then Faversham.
What was involved? Were you mainly watching for invasion? Was it observation or was that left to the Observer Corps?
It was all sorts. We were digging trenches all the way along the coast at Ramsgate.
And manning machine gun posts?
Yes, and building sand bag trenches. Guard duty and there was a battalion for 9 miles of coast.
A battalion – about 800?
Yes and about a quarter would be more or less admin.
HQ Company and all that.
Yes, HQ Company were a specialist company (?) and the artillery, they all went out to Rifle Company.
What company were you?
82 Company, Signal Platoon.
How did you get into that?
When we were at Romsey, I didn’t know anything about this, my old mate Alec, he was in the Signals Platoon before me.
You stayed in the signals all the way through did you?
Yes, right through Africa, Italythey suddenly said â€œThey’ve started a signal corps and old Charlie Allen said â€œWhy don’t you come along? So I did and suddenly I found myself in it. We had Morse, basic Morse, the Morse buzzer, Morse lamp, Morse flag, semaphore and weapon training. We still had bren guns and all that stuff.
The role of the Signal Company was to direct actions in any kind of engagement?
The Hampshires had 3 battalions in one brigade. We worked with a rifle company; we were sent to a rifle company. You usually stayed there. They might swap you over to another company. When people got wounded or killed, they had to be replaced.
You go off as an individual rather than as a platoon?
Usually 2 people.
Did you do a lot of stuff with your mate Charlie?
Oh yeah Charlie and Norman (?) bless him, various, and my poor old mate Bobber (??) he was killed at Salerno.
So you were at Ramsgate during the summer of 1940 what happened after that,
before you went to Africa?
We went back to Faversham, we did 5 days stints, or schemes as they used to call them.
Then we were at Chingford for a while where we were trained with the Home Guard, teaching them what to do.
What was that like?
Oh we got on very well with them. They used to invite us to little do’s.
Did you think the Germans would actually invade? Or did you not worry about it?
Thinking about it now, I don’t think we used to worry about anything very much at all. If they’d invaded in 41, it would have been over. We probably only had 2 bren guns to a company, whereas later on they had a bren gun to every section.
A section is probably about 10 men?
It started off as 10, but it dwindled to about 4 or 5, they didn’t get any reinforcements. They used to make any sergeant major who was prepared to, make him up in the field to an officer. There was Bill Perrin, another chap who was in the TA with me
That was often the kiss off death. I’ve heard that the first people to go were often the first lieutenants.
Old Mac finished up as a captain. He got a DCM at Galliano, because the officer was very ill and Mac took over and Archie Fry, he was another character, he finished up as a sergeant major which was laughable. I always called him Archie, never called him sergeant major or sir. He was a sniper. By trade he was a game keeper and he did a bit of poaching as well. He was a strange chap actually. Normally he wouldn’t have got above a private but he became lance corporal then corporal, then sergeant, got the MM, the DCM and the Americans at Salerno, gave the battalion the silver star, gave it to Archie. Then we went out to Greece after the evacuation, when the troubles were on, the EIM.
North Africa was your first overseas posting?
How did you feel? Did you want to go?
Oh yes, couldn’t wait. Wherever the battalion went, we wanted to go. We got on the train for Thurrock on the Clyde. 6 in a carriage, we eat in the carriage and slept in the carriage. The train was packed with young men. We had to march to the station. There were 2 commanding officers, and one poked his head through the door and we were jammed in there head to toe and he said â€œRight then chaps, wash and shave! There was one toilet and one wash basin on the train! No chance! At Thurrock we got off the train and there were all these red caps there. We said â€œWhat are they doing here? They said â€œThey are to stop you lot running away! Running away! We were already on the boat!
You weren’t worried about the danger and leaving home?
No, it was all a big adventure. We got on this boat and went down below and fellows were saying â€œRight, this is me, and putting their pack down. They really thought they were going to be there for the whole journey and after about a quarter of an hour there was a bump, bump, bump and we thought what’s up now, and they called â€œEverybody out! and there we were up alongside the trooper, which was huge by comparison. It was called the Leopoldville, a Belgian Congo ship. No-one will ever forget that ship. We were packed in like sardines. There were all these hammocks, neatly rolled up looking very smart, stacked up on the deck. Someone said â€œRight, grab a hammock each, so we all grabbed a hammock, â€œFind a hook, so you tried to find a hook and someone would say â€œThat’s my hook, and you’d say â€œNo, it’s mine, it was such a shambles and to make it worse, in the morning time, everyone had been sea sick, terrible seas, all over the tables and everywhere and then in the wash room, this much water. Then a ship’s officer came round and said â€œRight, roll the hammocks up and stack them where you found them! Oh it was a shambles and he came back down a bit later and he went spare.
Did you manage to get any sleep at all?
Well, sort of, but there was water all over our clothes and it wasn’t very nice.
I bet it was smelly.
Did you know you were part of some kind of invasion force?
But you didn’t know you were going to North Africa?
Presumably there were loads of ships?
Oh yes, it was a big convoy.
Were you all speculating about where you might be going?
Not really, we weren’t worried too much. There was a Polish ship called the Sovieski (?)
next to us and it pitched twice as much as we did, and we thought ours was bad enough. A rumour went round that one of the ships was lost.
Did you worry much about being torpedoed?
Didn’t think much about it. We used to lark about quite a bit. We used to go up the sharp end, of course they didn’t like you calling it the sharp end. We had these life jackets.this navy bloke he said â€œThere aren’t enough life boats but these raftswhat you do is take the hammer, knock out the pin and that’ll slide down into the water and when we looked at these things, they’d all been plated over. They wouldn’t have slid anywhere. They had big posh life jackets with lights on them.
It sounds like you and your mates didn’t take it too seriously.
One time, we went on this refresher course. Me, Brooksie, Ted New, Johnny Bray, Tom ? and I forget the other one, in Cairo. We were in a bivvy area, 2 man bivvy’s, and there’s the ? commander sitting under a tree. Haynes his name was. We used to call him boy Haynes because he was younger than us. One by one, he called out the names, go to mine and he said â€œYou got Q2 on the course. I said â€œWell, that’s quite good. â€œNot very good he said â€œI expected more of you. You didn’t get any more pay or anything, it didn’t mean a thing. â€œThe trouble is, I expect you treated the course as a joke. I said â€œWell, we didn’t bother too much. He said â€œThe trouble with you crowd is to you the whole thing’s a joke; the whole war’s a joke to you!
And you didn’t correct him?
I expect it helped you through, having a sunny disposition.
We had a reputation of being a bit bolshy.
Where did you land in North Africa?
Algiers port itself?
After the Americans?
More or less the same time. The whole thing was one big thing, you know.
So Algiers hadn’t fallen by that time?
We marched up the quay on to another boat and went down the coast.
Can you remember where you went to then?
Any opposition when you got off?
No, we were in tents outside Bone. The only trouble there was that they used to bomb Bone every night and we used to get the shrapnel from the guns. We had to dig trenches
So the problem wasn’t so much the Germans.
No, it was our own people really. As we were steaming in towards Algiers, they were signalling to the ships to land and we’re standing on the deck reading the lamp because we could read Morse. It said â€œLeopoldville will dock at so and so and of course the news flashed round the ship and the navy blokes were most upset.
You were in these tents at Bone, what did you do?
We had working party jobs for a few days, humping stuff, labouring. There was stuff coming up from the EBSD, emergency base supply depot. We were working with the Arab prisoners. We used to steal stuff.tins of Bartlett’s Pears. Funny thing was, if you offered some to the Arab prisoners, they’d shake their heads and run off. We didn’t worry about things like that.
Was there any nightlife in Bone?
Good heavens, no. We were about 2 miles outside it anyway.
There wasn’t much to do when you had some time off then?
We didn’t have any time off really. We were just there. After Bone we moved up the line,
to Tunisia, a couple of weeks after. The sobering thought was the second battalion had been involved already and we moved out in trucks and we got off at a place called Djebla Boyd (??). We got out of the trucks and these RSC blokes who were driving the trucks, they said â€œGood luck lads, all the best! and we said â€œWhat do you mean? and they turned the trucks round and drove away and we went up the road about a mile and there were burnt out tanks, weapons lying about and we thought â€œWhat’s all this? This is getting a bit serious.
Can you remember ever worrying about going in to action? I would have thought it would be terrifying.
Well, it didn’t terrify you but it made you think. You think nothing’s going to happen me. It’ll happen to someone else, but I’ll be alright. Then of course you start getting casualties and you think, just a minute, this could happen to me, better watch my back. But it’s just luck.
You really think it is?
Absolutely, pure luck. We turned up once at the Gothic and my old mate Bill Collins (?) went through his pack. Can’t get much nearer than that.
But he was ok?
Yeah, his mess tin was all dented. Plenty of things like that.
Can you remember going in to action the first time?
Oh yes. Went into Gessa which was forward of Montaigne Farm. I was sent to B company, as a signaller, went with a chap called Naish. We had a section of railway line.that’s the only thing I can remember about Tunisia reckon, the line from Beeja up to Ksarmezouar and on to Sidi Nazeer. At this station Ksarmezouar we had an anti tank gun on the railway line. The Germans used to stonk (?) all the positions every night. We were all dug in B Company and the rest of the platoon were down the road at the HQ at a farm. I had to take messages on foot as a runner. Used to go from B Company across the railway line, and used to meet a chap named Tommy Cole from A Company and we used to go and sit in this hut and have a smoke while they were stonking.
On your way back from taking the message? You’d just pause for a minute?
Yeah, well it would depend on how long the stonking lasted. I had to take a water can and fill it up from this water point and lug it back to the position but what we didn’t know til afterwards was that ammunition was stored in this hut. When they were stonking around, and a week later it had a direct hit and of course it blew up with all this ammo in. Went along to HQ, Charlie Allen was on guard and he was more or less in charge and he was a perfectionist. They had this dug out and when he saw me he said â€œJust the job, get stuff from ? and put more on so we put some stuff on top of the dug out and Charlie was saying â€œNot enough, put more on, put more on. So we got a bit fed up, but we did and later on they had a direct hit. Made Charlie’s day because they were alright and he was the one who’d told us to put more on. Perrett, another bloke we were with, he left his jacket outside and it got blown into a tree and in his jacket was his pay book, which you could never lose, so he had to tell the commander. He was taken prisoner in Italy.
How long were you at Montaigne Farm? Hunter’s Gap.
We were at Gessa. Their patrols got out from Gessa. They pulled A Company back from Gessa and C Company, they moved into Montaigne. It used to cop it Montaigne, so they used to switch us round. The old CO, real old school chap. First thing in the morning, they used to start stonking round. We used to sit in the trenches and watch. They’s stonk C Company and then they’d switch. They knew where all the companies were, that was the funny thing. D Company up by the Marchard (?)..
Do you think they got that from aerial reconnaissance?
Don’t know but they got it from somewhere. It’ll be us next! Everybody dived into the trenches.
So was this before Christmas 42?
I talked to a guy who was in 225 squadron and that was an army reconnaissance unit in Hurricanes at that stage and in that early sequence, he thought it was November, he said he accidentally strafed the Hampshire boys. Do you remember that?
No. We got bombed by the Americans once.
You don’t remember being strafed by Hurricanes?
No, but there were 4 battalions down there. We had a go at a German spotter plane once. This gunner officer came up to our position and he wanted to go to a forward position to spot for the guns, 25 pounders. The usually took an RA signaller, but he came on his own and I said I’d go with him. I dragged a line and teed it in to another line going to the battalion and they were putting through to the guns. We were in this forward position and it was all very official. He said â€œRight, we’ll have a ranger on there, up 2 feet. Or whatever. It was quite a novelty to me as I hadn’t done this before. A German spotter plane came over and it came down into what we called no man’s land, and landed bang on the floor. The pilot jumped out and started run in a zig zag up the slope away from us, back towards the German lines.
It had been hit had it?
I don’t know. The part I remember is the gunnery officer, he was trying to hit this bloke
He was saying â€œQuick, quick, left, left! and they were firing. Imagine, 25 pounders, trying to hit one person. This gunner got a bit carried away.
The German got away?
So that was all before Christmas 42? What was the weather like?
Can’t really remember – not too special I don’t think.
Can you remember being cold?
Oh yeah, it was cold at night time.
Did you have a great coat?
I guess he shakes his head
What did you do to keep warm?
We used to have gas capes, which were supposed to have been used for gas, but never were. We used to use those as a blanket.
When you got out there, I suppose you’d been in the army for at least 2 years. Did you feel well trained? Or did you not really think about it?
No-one bothered because it was our way of life then.
When it came to officers and orders.you’d follow orders without question would you?
There wasn’t much grumbling.
Did you trust your superior officers?
Oh yes. You just carried on, didn’t think about it too much really. We had our own littleonly 5 soldiers we were see, it was an important job in a way. If the line is busted between Companies, there was only you 2 to go out and fix it.
Conditions were pretty basic I expect?
We went 7 months without going in a building. All the time I was in the army, 6 years..end of side one, start side 2..
And presumably you just took a kip when you could?
Yeah, anywhere. Of course all the action took place at night time.
Your normal daily routine that you’d have in civilian life is just all to pieces.
Oh God yes.
But you were young, you got used to it?
Oh yes. You get used to anything.
Problems with nits and fleas and so on?
Oh fleas, God yes. Sometimes we’d have to sleep in Arab mud huts and they were full of fleas.
What about food?
To tell you the truth we were never really that hungry. In England we were always hungry. In Ramsgate, we’d go to the pub on an evening off, but we never had much money though because we were on very basic wages.
So you weren’t hungry particularly?
No. There were 2 kinds of rations – there was bulk, which means you have a piece of bread, or there was compo rations, a wooden box – 14 men for one day. It was all tinned stuff, corned beef, tea, coffee – instant powder in tins all included. A tommy cooker, put your mug on. Bully beef, biscuits – Burtons Breezy (?) Biscuits from Blackpool.
Did you ever try to do clever things with it? Mash it up?
We used to make what we called biscuit porridge out of all the scraps of biscuits. If you were on a troop train you’d go up to the engine and get hot water to mix it with. In North Africa you could throw some sand into a tin, put some petrol into the thing and then light it. The corned beef was from South America, well, I will never ever eat corned beef again. In the heat you’d pour it out of the tin, all gristly, oh God, terrible.
And you just eat when you could?
Yes, not set meal times.
Who would dictate when you ate?
No-one, you just ate whenever there was time. I remember the compo boxes had numbers, no beg pardon, letters, A, B, C and D and I remember D had treacle duff and it was your ambition to get hold of one and have it all to yourself, but you didn’t seem to see many of those D boxes. You got cigarettes as well. Woodbines. The blokes unloading the ships, the Pioneer Corps, they could have the boxes that had been broken open, and the cigarettes would be goneafter the war, they were called the Royal Pickpocket Corps (?).
Plenty of tea?
Between action, you maintained the equipment, sometimes they’d take you on a route march, or even a drill parade. Before the battle of Berrada (???) we were in this gulley and the RSM came along. â€œRight he said â€œGet you rifles.drill parade. No-one was taking much notice, he’d been in the first world war, Wickman was his name, and he started getting mad because we weren’t jumping to this drill parade quick enough, and he was always reminding us he’d been in WW1, â€œThis is my second war! He was a good RSM but being an RSM he was always on his own. He’d been taken out of the battalion. I was at this watering point where you could wash, and I had a bucket and thought I’d cut through the line of tents, so I was hopping over the ropes and suddenly this voice booms out, â€œYou there! Well I thought, he can’t mean me, so I went on and the voice came again, â€œYou with the bucket! and it was this RSM. The standards had dropped but this RSM he was immaculate with his Sam Brown on and he said ?????I am afraid I can’t work it out, I think it might be â€œGive us that but wouldn’t swear to it. RSM’s didn’t talk like that, but he was choked up, he said to me â€œThey’re sending me home you know and he didn’t want to go. â€œThey’re telling me I am too old he said.
Was this after Burrada?
Yes. He wanted to know all the info, but you don’t know that much, only what’s going on immediately around you.
What happened after Hunter’s Gap in November, December 42?
We went to Pichon. I can’t remember dates now.
There was a big attack on Pichon and Venduc (?) in April, and you were doing it with the Americans then. 134th American division were there.
There was an attack on Kasserine which failed and they hit the Guards brigade down there.
Did you go to Thala?
No. Went to Pichon and were then detached from the division as an independent brigade. We were originally the 43rd (44th) Wessex Division, and were transferred to the 46th (26th?) being independent, they could send you anywhere.
Did you have much time out of the line? The Hampshires were pretty busy weren’t they?
We always seemed to be rushing around doing something or other.
So you weren’t involved in Kasserine?
No, we had this attack at Pichon. That was where we were making the attack. The Americans had a news sheet called Stars and Stripes and we had one called the Union Jack. You rarely saw them. They never seemed to get through to us somehow. I can remember seeing an American one – â€œAmericans take Pichon! I thought what are they talking about? They didn’t take Pichon, we did. I think it was A Company that went through the village of Pichon. We were just this side of the village and C Company were over the way or something. Bridgeman, Sergeant Major Bridgeman, a real pig he was. He was a regular soldier but he would never even have been a corporal in peacetime and now he was sergeant major. People talk about soldiers shooting their own people, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had shot him. He didn’t like anybody. Certainly didn’t like signallers and people like that. The attack started and we had the objective of the village. We had a Canadian with us, Captain Matthews, about 6’4, a huge man, Canadian Scottish. We ran across this stream and I was carrying the wireless set, like a heavy back pack. We got up to the position and jumped in the trenches, and the Germans jumped up with hand guns and there was a German machine gunner laid out, he wasn’t dead but there was blood all over him. Bridgeman, I’ll always remember this, officers didn’t use to carry a rifle, because they didn’t want to be picked out as an officer, so they had a revolver, but Bridgeman had a rifle. Bridgeman was running – we were all running, spread out, and he lifted up the rifle to bash this bloke and I shouted out to him.
What did you say?
â€œLeave him, for heaven’s sake leave him and he looked daggers at me.
Did he kill him?
No, he looked at me and then ran on, and then a German came out with a Red Cross arm band, to pick up the wounded.
Did he say anything to you afterwards?
He was taken out of the battalion a little while afterwards and we didn’t see him again. But we heard he was in charge of an army detention camp in Greece and he was a captain then, dear oh dear.
Did you find going into action was a nerve wracking experience? There must have been so much noise and confusion.
There follows a bit where he is talking about Matthews getting killed and being found on the road shot, but the tape quality is very patchy, and this is a bad bit.
What happened to you?
A mortar landed right in front of me. I was kneeling down. We’d fired off a vary light to tell the other Company to come up and all of a sudden whooooosh, only way I can describe it. The smell of cordite. It was a daylight attack. We’d been there about a week, hadn’t washed or shaved, hadn’t had much in the way of rations. I remember Old Mac, he’d poured some of his ration of water into a mug and he was shaving! He was immaculate – sergeant major.anyway I knew I’d been hit, there were specks here and there and it’s still in my chin now.
Did it hurt?
Not really, I knew I’d been hit. Went to the RAP, which is the first place you go to. They got me in a stretcher jeep and I must have passed out I suppose, but when I woke up, I was in hospital. Then I went to another hospital lying on a stretcher and the walking wounded were coming through, blokes that I knew. There was a Major there, Major Price, and he said â€œAre you alright? I said â€œYes, I’m fine. I went into the head section and that wasn’t too clever because in this ward were about 8 people. They were in a bad way..
When was this then?
End of January 44. Anyway they put this thing in my eye like a protractor and probed around, because I was virtually blind. I could hear voices and I didn’t know that there 2 people in the ward who were blind. Anyway, they gave me an eye patch. I had to help the sister with this bloke’s leg. Oh dear. People say I can’t do that and I can’t do this.you can.surprising what you can get used to. At first I just couldn’t look at it and the smell.it was shattered.
Did they have to amputate?
Not while I was there. The sister would come in each morning and say to him â€œOh it does look better today, and after a while I could look at it with her. You could get used to anything.
It must be so grim seeing people with terrible injuries, seeing dead people. Did you ever get used to that?
Well, you sort of think, it’s not me.
You must have seen some gory stuff.
Oh yes, people run over by a tank and the like and you think, it’s not me, and as long as it’s not you, it’s alright. In Italy we had to wade across the rivers, or go on a boat; we had to go back to the Volturno (?) for a practice river crossing. We were all lined up, our platoon was back together again, and got in this boat. The other side of the river is some of the top brass, swagger sticks and all. We didn’t know about this; all we knew was that we had to paddle across this river. Off we go, and this corporal, ex Palestine and all that, real nut case, he starts to sing, and so we all join in and get across, and the CO comes over and he says â€œWhat do you think this is? A bank holiday? And made us paddle back over and do it all again. After all that, we were dug in alongside there. We were being stonked every day and they decided there was going to be an attack. We got lined up ready for the boats and I am carrying the set again. A patrol had gone first and laid a white tape, there was supposed to be a crossing point that wasn’t too deep. Off we go, night time, everything quiet. We got near to the river and heard a funny noise, and when we got there it’s rushing by, in full flood. Before that it had just been trickling along. We found out afterwards that there were sluice gates and the Jerries had opened them up. You couldn’t hold the boats in the river. One bloke tried to swim across and disappeared. Someone got into a boat and paddled out and they were swept off too, so the CO said â€œRight, we’ll try a second battalion crossing. Anyway, by this time it was nearly daylight and there was the second battalion strung along the river bank. They opened up on us and so we struggled back up to the trenches that we’d left. So we didn’t cross the river then; had to do it by pontoon bridge.
You mentioned that you were strafed by an American plane.
Oh yes, I can’t remember where we were but we were standing out in a long line and this plane come over, it was a big American bomber.
Don’t know but we were coming down a slope to go across the plain and he came over and you could see the bombs dropping.
Right on top of you?
No, not on top of us luckily but the people in front of us..bombs dropping all over the place.(difficult to make this out with clarity).
Did you have much to do with the Americans?
Not too much.
What was your opinion of them? I mean they got some stick out there didn’t they? Was there a general perception that they weren’t up to it?
Well, after the campaign finished, we got sent to a place, can’t remember the name, there were 2 wire cages. The Germans, Italians and SS. The Italians – what a shambles. You couldn’t believe it. No discipline. The Germans they’d have their cans, just waiting in line. The Italians they’d just rush for it, pushing and shoving. 2 of the SS blokes got out up the top. This Canadian, Captain Matthews, he ??? because they grabbed hold of him. They thought they were going to be shot. He said â€œI’ll tell you what we’ll do with them it was hot May or June, and he sat them out right in the middle of the compound (?). That was when an American convoy came by one day. A Jerry sergeant major came out, and he spoke very good English and he said â€œThe trouble with this war is that we’ve got the Italians and you’ve got the Americans. I had an old Picture Post and in it was a picture of a Jewish Rabbi and this SM said â€œHas that man ever done a day’s work in his life? and then he said â€œCan I borrow it? I said â€œYes and he took it back in the camp. This was around the time of the dam busters raid and a Union Jack came round with a picture of that in it and I showed it to this Jerry SM, and he said â€œEnglish propaganda! and he walked away laughing. We used to take them to a little river to bathe, about a 100 of them and they used to say â€œWe’re alright now! They used to sing and they’d sing these German marching songs. And one day this German SM said to me â€œThe war’s over now in North Africa, but it’s not finished, not for you. You’ve got a long way to go yet. But what about us? We’ll probably be sent to Canada as POW’s and our war is finished. That’s the way they looked at it. By the time we finished up there, there were thousands of them.
Where were you then?
Just outside Tunis. On a hill with the French.
Tell me about Burrada. You’d taken Pichon, came out of the line
Came back up to Allarusa, that was just a name to us, that was when we had the drill parade. The CO came out and said â€œYou’ve got 3 objectives – Gravel Top (That’s what it sounds like!!), Mahala and Roman Ruins (???) ..there were stacks of guns.
Yes, all going off.
It must have been deafening wasn’t it?
Yeah. The theory was that you couldn’t shoot wide in this barracks (?) You could walk across it because there was no-one there in theory. I was carrying the set
You had no gun?
No, I just carried the set and the leads and my mate had a tommy gun..
Were you with B Company at this time?
D I think. Anyway we started towards Gravel Top and they opened up and of course there were mortars and machine guns all over the place. We were wet through and the platoon took Gravel Top. There was a hill and they were dug in there. They had a slit trench but they’d dug in further so there was like a room. Safe as anything. In theory the Jerries could have stayed there safely for years. They were defending, they’d been over that ground once, so you were at the disadvantage. That was a dodgy old day.
Did you lose any good friends that day?
Oh yes. McFarlane, he was killed, Wiltshire was wounded and sent back, Bungy Allen was alright, there were mines all over the place. My mate Kenny stepped on an S mine and sort of fell forward and only hurt his leg and ended up with AMGOT which became known to us Ancient Military Gentlemen on Tour. Really it was Allied Military Government of Occupied Territory! I saw him several times after in Italy. He had a staff job. (Some more names that sound like Garrigan, Needle.then end of side).
The generals and that allowed for 10% casualties or whatever they thought
And it was just accepted.
Oh you had no option. I remember 3 tanks came up the road and got knocked out and the tankies jumped out and got underneath and that’s where they stayed for the rest of the time, next day as well. They were safe enough from mortar fire there.
That must have been one of the last pieces of action in Tunisia for you wasn’t it? That was towards the end wasn’t it?
That’s right. There was some stonking on Tangoos. We pulled back and the French came though.
Do you think it’s worse being under shell fire, or under mortar fire? Or just being in the middle of the whole thing?
Well, it’s just ? Montgomery admitted it afterwards – he said when he took the 51st Highlanders from North Africa to England because he wanted them with him on the invasion, and if you read the accounts now he says â€œThey didn’t live up to my expectations. The reason was that those blokes who’d got through that lot weren’t so happy about going again. You couldn’t say it but their argument was â€˜I’ve done my bit’ but you hadn’t done your bit until you were either dead or you come back home. A lot of those Highland blokes thought that and they weren’t too happy being sent over on D Day. A lot of people didn’t know that. Only 2 brigades of the Highlanders were ever committed. A friend of mine was in one of the brigades and he rode in a truck all the way from Cairo up to Marath.
So you must have been chuffed to have made it through your first campaign though?
We were in what you’d call a camp, just a few tents. Reinforcements came, all new boys.
Were you involved in the Sicily campaign?
No, I stayed in North Africa. We trained in a place called Bleeda (?) for a little while then onto to Djelli (?). Looking at a map the other day they seem to have changed a lot of the names.
Yes they have. Throughout the North African campaign, did you have any concept of what was going on; whether you were winning or not?
Not really. When we were up on Tangoos going towards Tunis, nobody ever told you very much. We were looking down on the plain towards Tunis and all the tanks were moving up. We always claimed that the Derbyshire Yeomanry, known as the Derby Yeos, they were the first into Tunis. But when you read these other accounts, all the others claim to have been the first. It didn’t matter to us, we were marching. We had blokes captured Burrada and they were taken into Tunis and we had a chap named Powell (?) and he had wings, and he was known as Spitfire Powell, they were taken and pout on a ship in Tunis harbour to go to be POW’s. The Derby Yeos, or whoever did get in there first, they got them off. Old Spitfire, they wheeled him straight back because German intelligence, we found out, couldn’t make head nor tail of him. They knew all the regiments you know.
Did you have much strafing from German planes at all in North Africa?
Not too much.
Did you see many dog fights going on over you?
You used to see planes zooming about you know, but we never had too much bother with aircraft.
Did you have any opinions about Henderson and Alexander, commanders?
Not really. They were out of our league. We thought more of Montgomery when he was in England. He was our divisional commander once. We had a week at Faversham where we had a parade every day and the last day Montgomery came. The RSM was enjoying himself of course. We were all lined up and Montgomery arrived and walked to the front of the battalion and said â€œRight, break ranks and gather round me, come on lads. And so we gathered round him, much to the RSM’s disgust. He used to mumble â€œ.in the first war..jolly good show.want you with me when we fight the Bosch..I shall be pleased when we .fight the Hun.. I remember in Italy, General Hawksworth, they had these forked sticks and we were trudging up this road and he was coming back towards us and he was with a lady war correspondent. These war correspondents weren’t always what they made themselves out to be you know.
In what respect?
I can remember one day where they put on a little show for usColonel Perkins, we were in a slit trench and they brought this photographer up.anyway Hawksworth was coming towards us in his jeep and he stopped and said â€œWhat battalion are you? â€œHampshires we said, â€œOh jolly good show giving the spiel, â€œDoing a fine job. He pointed with his stick and said â€œKeep going chaps. There’s nothing in front of you. You’ll be in Venice in 2 days or whatever it was then he got back in his jeep and off he went. We thought well, if there’s nothing in front of us, why’s he going in that direction?
There was something in front of you was there?
In 2 days time we were only a hundred yards down the road.
When did you get out of hospital then?
Well, you were in the ward, then you went to the passageway. Of course all the passage ways were full up with beds and then you went from there to the tents and after the tents you were more or less on your way. They couldn’t do much more for me really.
But you were alright basically?
Yeah, they picked the worst out of me. Once they knew my eye was alright they said to me, no I didn’t get as far as a tent. People don’t believe me but there were these matrons, Queen Alexandra’s what not. They used to march around, like something out of a carry on film. You actually had to lie to attention, if you were able. Lie with the sheet up like this and your arms straight down by your sides. Sometimes she might speak to you, sometimes she wouldn’t. Then I went to a convalescent depot at Salerno and nothing happened there for about a week. Then I was down in the town itself just having a wonder round. It was mostly infantry there and I met a chap and he said â€œThere’s a re-grading on today, and I thought I’d see what the score was so I scooted all the way back to the depot and joined the end of the queue. But what I didn’t know was that the main re-grading had finished and I was in what they used to call the staff queue, all people who had little jobs in the hospital, cooks or whatever and they’d stay in the hospital. And as you filed past this surgeon he’d just say â€œRight, another week, and he didn’t even look to see what you were. Some of them stayed for ages! By the time I got to him I said â€œJust a minute Sir, I’m in the Hampshires. He said â€œHampshires are going out. Do you want to go out with them? So I had to think fast
Coming out of the line?
To go back up the line. So I thought I could be sent anywhere, so I said â€œI’d go, and went back and re-joined the Hampshires.
And that was what weeks, or months?
So by the Spring you were back with them?
Back in line again.
Can you remember when Rome fell?
Oh yes – I can’t remember where we were but I remember them saying Rome’s fallen. And I remember when D Day happened.
That was 2 days later.
Funny thing was that no-one seemed to bother much. The talk was that there were going to be landings in Normandy and people just said â€œOh yeah? and that was it. No-one bothered about how bad it was.
Do you think Italy was worse than North Africa?
In what way?
Weather wise for one thing and the opposition.
Less Italians and more Germans?
And they were all in prepared positions again. I remember we stopped once and the CO came up the road and he had some Italian civilians and they were having a go at these civilians about the fortifications. There was this much concrete in them and so on.
Did you have much to do with the Italians?
Presumably going through towns constantly, crossing the Po and so on
We hardly went through any towns. We went through the mountains..I had 4 days leave in Rome.
What was that like?
It sounded good at the time but thinking about it nowwe’d just come out of line
That must have been Gothic Line time Summer 44? Summer or autumn?
We were still in battle dress.we were in this village ? and there was a local concert in this hall and we wandered down there and they stopped the show and called out a list of names, mine among them and went back to the company office and was told I was going to Rome, and we’d just come out of the blooming line you know.
Did you go by truck?
By train. Stopped off at one place; it was a mess, scruffy. We did have a shave in a barber’s shop. Then we went on to Rome, to the camp and there were all sorts of regulations. You had to be back in by 7pm. Luckily there was a NAAFI place called the Alexander Club there. Blokes would wander past the Coliseum, and hardly gave it 2 looks. It’s the Coliseum! Oh yeah! People now pay thousands of pounds to see it. The more I think about it now, we didn’t do anything in Rome at all.
How long would you be in the line typically? Then how long out of the line?
It varied with the operations. Sometimes it would be 2 or 3 days out of the line; rest they called it.
What would you do then? Clean equipment and such like?
Oh yes, there was always something to do.
There must have been lots of goods banter and people you got on with better than others, and you’d tend to stick together?
Yes, we would yes.
Was Charlie Allen still around?
No, he’d gone by then. He was captured at Volturno. Funnily enough he met my brother in a prison camp.
When you’re in action, presumably you’re under fire all the time, mortar attack..
Sometimes you were in there for days all quiet.mind you, you’d find yourself in some funny places. We occupied a factory once, can’t remember where. It was empty and I can’t remember what they used to make in it.
Can you remember crossing the Po?
We crossed the Po on duck board things. We weren’t involved in the assault across the Po.
Can you remember any specific bits of action round the Gothic Line?
I can’t remember many of the names..Castelforte, Meldoli that was a little village. There was Repatranzone, inland from Rimini, up a winding road, just after Christmas.
Yeah, but we were in the line for Christmas. This was after. The conditions were terrible. All forest, it was raining. We were in trenches half full of water and we got shelled by our own artillery. A Spitfire came over in front of and got shot down by a German plane. A Canadian pilot and we got him out.
He was alright?
Yes, but he claimed afterwards that he was shot down by us. It was terrible though, steep, muddywe occupied this church. There was a crypt and that’s where he (?) had his HQ. I made a cup of tea on the altar! There was another church at Montogallo, and that was where the CO got his MC. We were coming across the flat, cross this river. Tanks came along and they got shot up, and 2 new signals blokes came along in another company. Ten minutes after they went by, they came back the same way walking wounded. They were in the platoon for a day and nobody knew their names or where they came from.
The bloke who got the bullet through his back pack, was that the Gothic Line?
Yeah, old Bill, trudging up this road up hill. The Indians were on the left putting an attack in. All you could see was tracer and we were coming under heavy fire on this road, and all of a sudden
Sorry, where was that?
Somewhere in Italy. I can’t remember. This church in Montegallo, we got up there and all the graves had all been shelled and the tombstones, and it was terrible. For some reason, Italian cemeteries are often built on top of hills.
These tombs they had bodies in them?
Oh yeah. And another company had attacked the day before and their dead were still lying around outside. Every time a stonk came down, it was knocking the bodies about a bit more. We got into this church and while we were there they were stonking the place up something terrible. Old Bill stuck an aerial thing up outside, and a shell came down and knocked it out of his hand. It was a terrible place. The command post was about a quarter of a mile further up and someone had to take messages up to the command post. Old Banks got caught for that a couple of times and did he moan. â€œNot me again! Something came from higher up, never experienced it before. It was a secret code or something, that we were going to be counter attacked at 4 o’clock. At 3.45pm they were stonking the place
You were inside?
Inside and out. It wasn’t very nice being inside the church really. There was no best place, you just took your chance. The barrage stopped at about 4pm. Just below us were trees and I forget which other company was with us, but sure enough, there’s Jerry coming up the hill.
Yes. Everyone opened up and they dispersed so we got away with that. That’s where the CO got his MC.
Why did he get that?
Because he was in charge. He was no better or worse than anyone else. He had it painted on his jeep after that – Montegallo – actually painted on his jeep.
But as far as you were concerned, he didn’t do more or less than anyone else?
No, not really. He was just the CO. No-one was too bothered about what he was doing; they had their own troubles.
You were pretty busy when this was going on, on the radio?
What sort of messages were you sending out or receiving?
Usually they wanted to speak to the CO.
So you were near him?
Wherever he was, he’d come and find you. They all had code names and he was Sunray. The Quartermaster, he didn’t come into much because he was way back, he was Acorn. You’d pick up the thing and say â€œSergeant, fetch Sunray, quick!
If you were on the radio and you needed to get hold of the CO, was it your job to go and get him or does someone else run off and get him?
It depended where you were. The Brigadier, he was Big Sunray! Bren carriers and lorries were â€˜Thin Skinned Friends’ and tanks were â€˜Thick Skinned Friends.’
So at times like that, you were only on the wireless, you didn’t have a weapon.
No, you were too busy with the set. Your mate did. He’d have a tommy gun.
He covered your back so to speak?
Yes, my old mate Dazzle (??) he was killed in Italy, same place that old Norton got his VC, near Gothic.
Were you there then?
Yeah, saw him go, old Dazzle.
This was a guy you were with and he was right by you when he got killed?
Could you recognize the sounds of different ordnance?
Incoming! Oh yes. If you heard it go off, mortar fire, it would go phwww 2,3,4,5 phoosh and come down like that, and sometimes our own artillery.when we were at San Amiano (??) I was sitting on the side of a hill there, we’d been across the plain, up onto the Amiano Ridge. All the guns, they couldn’t get the guns up the hills, they were on the plain. The gunnery officer would direct the fire. He could see where to aim but the guns couldn’t. It was evening time and you’d just sit there and you could see the battery, see the flash then wait – phoosh, then plonk on the other side of the hill. They didn’t know what they were firing at. Only the gunnery OP’s knew that.
So when your mate got killed, you must have been very lucky not to have been hit as well, because you were very close to him weren’t you?
What do you do? Do you try to help at all or was he killed outright?
He was killed outright. There was one time when the platoon had gathered at this old farm house and Johnny Bray said â€œLet’s have a bit of a blow on some bikes shall we? So we just got on these motor bikes, Johnny Bray, Norman Alexander and me and off we went. And we got to San Merino, which was neutral, although Norman swears we didn’t. Anyway, we were bowling along this road and there were 3 young ladies walking along. Bray is in front and starts chatting to them in his pidgin Italian. They wanted a lift to Rimini and Bray said we’d take them. Well, one was not nearly as good looking as the other 2, and Bray said â€œCome on Norman, take her on the back. Norman wasn’t going to. Anyway, he did eventually and off we went and blow me down, round the corner come 2 red caps, and not just ordinary red caps, they were court (?) red caps. The girls scuttled off quick as anything and disappeared. They claimed we were out of bounds in San Merino. They took our names told us to get back to where we’d come from. Next day we were called to company office. The CO said â€œWhat have you 3 been up to? This is a red cap charge. I can’t deal with it. 6pm. So at 6pm we trooped up to the farmhouse and up the rickety stairs. At the top was a little tiny landing and the RSM was there, in his element he was. We were laughing about it. By mistake I trod on his foot and he gave me a push, anyway, went in and he charged us 3 days pay. Well, that didn’t mean a single thing to us. We had no idea of what a day’s pay was; had nowhere to go and spend it anyway; fair enough, 3 days pay. â€œBefore you go, he said â€œWhat were you doing on the motor cycles? Quick as a flash, Johnny said â€œUnder instruction Sir! â€œOne thing I will add before you go he said â€œI think you should be commended that at such an early stage in your motor cycle training, you were able to carry a passenger, and I won’t ask who the passengers were! And that was it. We trooped back downstairs again. The sergeant was waiting and he said â€œWhat did you get? â€œ3 days pay we said and he said â€œShame, I was hoping to take you off to the local nick.
What about shaving and washing in Italy? Presumably supplies were still limited. Did you bother much?
No, not really. Often ladies in small villages would take your washing. Give them a bar of soap, which was like currency to them, and they’d take it and bash it on the stones.
And you just shaved when you could?
When you could, but you couldn’t much.
What about, without wanting to get too sordid, going to the loo? Dig a hole?
Oh yeah. In the slit trench, you’d keep a tin and then throw it out.
Did you have much trouble with mines?
Oh yes, the Germans would put a sign up, MINEN as much for their own people. Trouble was with the rivers, a tank couldn’t cross them. They’d say â€œGet the Infantry across, and we’d have to wade across, or boats, or throw a rope across.
Can you remember the end of the war?
Oh yes, not half. We were sat in a field and it came over the radio.
Did you celebrate?
Nothing to celebrate really. We just sat there talking.
You must have known it was coming didn’t you?
Well, not really. We didn’t know.
Did you have much concept of what was going on round the world? You mentioned you heard about D Day.
No, not really. Didn’t get much news at all.
Did you get many packages from home?
I got a parcel of 14 letters in one go, but no packages.
After the war, you joined the Merchant Navy and did that for a bit? When did you come back to Winchester?
Pleased to be out?
It was a bit strange really. By this time we’d been routed to Austria and we were an army of occupation.
Was that interesting?
It was cushy. We used to do guards and thing like that. The CO didn’t do any training, but the RSM used to come round and try to get you to sign on, because of course the army was so severely depleted. He used to say â€œCivvy Street holds nothing for you!
You weren’t tempted to stay on?
I did stay on for a little while.
So when you got back, you joined the Merchant Navy. When did you come out of that?
And did you retire then?
No, went to work at the Hampshire Chronicle in the composing room.
Have you got children?
One daughter and she had 3 children and now we’ve got 2 great grand children. Frank is 83. (Pause)
Keeping a puppy..give her to Teddy York who was our platoon truck driver. He used to look after her and we called her Stonky because she was found in the middle of a stonk. She grew with us.
Who found her?
Jack Harvey. We were up in this bivvy area and the CO came walking through and he suddenly saw Stonky but walked on. Took her Greece and to Austria. She was only a little dog, a white dog. She loved Austria, running about the fields. In Austria all dogs had to be muzzled and by this time several people in the battalion had started to acquire dogs and the order came â€˜You’ll parade with your dog muzzled.’ Stonky didn’t want to be muzzled, had never even had a collar or a lead. I took her down for the parade. RSM turned up and I got on the very end and she didn’t have the muzzle on, I had it in my hand. The CO he came right down to me and he said â€œAh yes, I know you! and he turned and walked off!
What happened to her?
After we left, there were still platoon blokes there, so she stayed with them. She had some puppies, Jack was panicking, he was like a midwife! She had a special kennel