GEORGE VAUGHAN SERVED WITH THE HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT IN TUNISIA AND ITALY.
I am the president of the Royal Hampshire Comrades Association.
So you were A Company were you?
Head Quarter Company. We’ve been back to all those places, Salerno .
Do you find it good to go back?
Well, it’s nice to see it. Salerno landings they were something. We were penned in on a couple of farms round these 3 hills. There was one hill, White Cross Hill and it used to change hands every night because this big cross was there and there and there, and the Navywell there was no real radar, and we used to put it up the Germans used to come and take it down next night and there were so many dead bodies, you just couldn’t get to them, some probably could have been saved but you just couldn’t get to them.
When you were at Sidi Nsir, it must have seemed much the same as when you were there.
Yes. We got over there in January at Algiers and they plonked us in a football stadium, we were all sleeping on the benches and we only stayed there a few days and then they shipped us off to Bone. We were only there a few days and then we were off again. The idea was to block, the 8th army was sending him back all the time, and we were to block that. We could have gone straight to ? but the Germans didn’t know where we were and we didn’t know where they were. Then we went to Beja. Then they said the line’s a bit further up. The 128 Brigade was always the Hampshire Brigade. A brigade consists of three infantry battalions plus all the support, and we went there and we were ten miles in front of the others on those 3 hills.
Was that your first bit of combat?
Yes. 3 months before Taboura, that was a bit further up but on the side more and one of our battalions got done there.
Was it February when you got out there?
We left from Scotland about second week of January and went in a convoy on a ship called the Leopoldville, a Belgian ship.
What was the crossing like?
We had 13 in our convoy, all spread out with Naval boats going up and down the side.
You weren’t worried about U boats?
Well, that was the Navy’s job.
Can I re-wind you, and find out about where you were born and bred?
I was born in Southampton. My father was in the Welsh Regiment in the 1st world war, he was a Londoner. When my mother was pregnant she went back to her mum and I was born in Southampton. My gran was from Southampton. We came back down to Southampton to live when I was 6 years old.
How many children?
6, I was number 3. There were 4 of us in the forces, 2 army, 2 navy and we all got home. The only time I got wounded was in Italy on the biggest mountain in Italy, going up to relieve the guard, zig zagging up the mountain, and they were firing mortars.
How long were you out of action?
Well, the thing was, we were going up to relieve the guards, and if you were wounded people said â€œDon’t go to hospital unless you have to because the thing was that if you went to hospital, you might not get sent back to your same blokes, you might go anywhere
And you wanted to stay with your mates?
They were shrapnel wounds were they?
So you bandaged yourself up?
Well, yeah and you might not get seen for half a day.
And you and your brother all made it back?
Yeah. My eldest brother he did the maiden voyage on the Ajax. My younger brother, he lives upstairs. My other brother joined the TA after I did. I joined in 1937.
How old were you then?
I stuck my age on – 17 and a half.
What did you father do during the second world war?
Well, when we moved down from London, we lived in one room so then, I was farmed out to my aunt near Fawley and another brother was in Gloucester. My dad eventually got a job at Thorneycroft’s at Woolston, a ship yard. In the end he managed to get in the docks as a stevedore.
He survived the first war ok?
Yeah and he was still alive when I got discharged. When the war finished we were at the top of Italy. When Italy capitulated we went straight into Austria. We were operating on the Yugoslav border. Old Tito he was a big problem. When we got to Italy, we had a photo taken and out of 1000, those were all that was left.
Not all killed mind. We had a lot taken prisoner. In our first battle we lost a lot.
About 120 there.
We got to a place called Aardbruck (?) in Austria. Then the cities of Winchester, Bournemouth and Aldershot decided to give the regiment the freedom of the boroughs and I was one of 20 chosen for that. I’d been abroad 2 years 3 months. We came home on the back of trucks. It took us 4 nights. Then we got to the barracks and they said don’t go anywhere tonight and we thought.. it’s like talking to the wind. I went off home and there were all these balloons, welcome home George, and then there was no bugger in! I had to sit outside for ages! The 3 freedoms Winchester, Bournemouth then Aldershot then we come home for 3 weeks leave. On the second week, my father was taken ill and had to go into hospital and so they gave me some extra leave and he was still in hospital so I asked for more and they no so I went all the way back to Austria for 5 days and then came home and was de-mobbed. Ridiculous.
When did you leave school?
I was 14.
Did you do some kind of apprenticeship?
First of all I went down to Supermarine and worked on Spitfires. These days it would be called eyelet riveting, but back then it was called Chaubert riveting. There was a special gun I used to use.
It must have been a good atmosphere down at Supermarine what with winning the Schneider trophy.
You wouldn’t believe..everything was shut up at 7.30. If you were a bit late, you had to stay there til they opened the doors. You got to your site and it was all open buildings and in the middle was the office block, all glass and the gaffer would be watching out and if he saw you talking, he’d say â€œbring him up to me..
Oh yes. You couldn’t even eat a sandwich. Your coat was on a wooden thing like that and it was raised to the ceiling and wouldn’t come down til 12 o’clock.
When you were working on the Spitfire, did you know it was something a bit special?
Well, yes. It was a nice job. In them days they were also building these flying boat things. If you wanted to go to the toilet, there was a bloke there to give you a key and if you needed it more than twice a day, they called you in to see if you had diarrhoea.
Was there one particular foreman who was strict?
I’ll never forget my foreman’s name. He was called Mr Weed. He had his runners. You could eat your sandwiches between 10.30 and 10.45 and if you did it any other time, they’d have you up. Terrible it was.
Did you ever see Mitchell?
Oh yes. Quite nice. Nice man to talk to.
It was like a big open plan
It was like a dance hall.
What did it smell like?
It was clean enough. Inspection was the most serious thing. They drilled the holes and if one hole was out of place, that panel was taken out. Very strict. But I had enough and went down to be a driver’s mate at Shell Mex at Hamble. When I started down there, it was 2 shifts, 5am and 2pm for the drivers and there was no paid overtime in those days and if you’d done 18 hours in the month, at the end of the month you’d get ? bonus. They used to do that the last day of the month, then one day they knocked it on the head completely. Just before the war I got a job on a lorry, delivering petrol in 2 gallon cans. They had to have a pit at the back in case of fire because they didn’t have pumps. And I did that after the war. Then I got a job at Ford’s and stayed there for 33 years.
So the TA was a bit of adventure? Did you join up with some friends?
Oh yes. You do a bit of week end training and a couple of night here and there, and sometimes you’d go away for a weekend. They take us to Bishops Waltham and we’d do manoeuvres.
You got a bit of money for doing it?
Yeah, but the best thing was going away for a fortnight camp each year. The first one I went on was near Exmouth, Woodbury Common. That was brilliant.
Yeah and we used to go down to the village at night.
You went down by train did you?
Yes. We used to go down there with the caravan year after year..one bloke remembered the camp.
So that was good fun? Did you do rifle practise?
There was a shooting range at Romsey and sometimes on a Sunday we’d go down there in trucks.
Where were the headquarters?
At the drill hall, Merryoak, the other side of town.
When did you leave Supermarine?
At the start of 38 I’d say.
So you’d seen the Spitfire up and running?
Did you know war was coming?
Everyone was expecting it. Even if you weren’t in the TA they’d still have you. I got called up twice. I got called up for a week when Chamberlain.then a few days before it started. The first thing I had to do was guard duty at Hamble and over to Fawley. Ended up later with the Battle of Britain. First job we had down there was cutting trees down and taking them into the fields and putting them up to stop gliders landing in these open spaces.
Did you see Nicholson get his VC?
Did you ever see any dog fights?
In Kent that was all there was, Battle of Britain. You used to see more of them come down than ours. In the beginning they had the gear, but they couldn’t match the Spitfire.
When you were down in Kent with the Battle of Britain raging over head, and the Spitfires, you must have said to your mates, I used to work on them?
Oh yes. We ended up for the longest period in a place called Burchington on Sea which was an evacuated area. The only people who were allowed to stay there was reserved occupations. There were a couple of pubs open and a club. But everyone in non-important jobs were supposed to be evacuated because they used to come over in their dozens. But we’d see more of them come down than ours.
Did you think they would invade?
Well, very, very close. We were down there when Dunkirk happened. We had trenches on the beaches and at Dunkirk we were living in them 24 hours a day. Waiting for them to come across. Biggest mistake he ever made, not invading. If he had we would have fought like hell.
Yes of course. So training all over the place?
Yes, we went to this big country house with loads of ground near Christchurch. It was full time guard duty. You had a week of it then you went back to Southampton, and then back again. There were 4 fields and we had to walk round these fields and shoot anything that moved – we shot a lot of cows! You know what it was? Radar. On these caravans.
You must have found the bombing of Southampton upsetting?
Oh yes. I was in Kent and hadn’t had no leave and I had a 48 hour pass so I came down from Folkestone. I comes home on the Friday night and went to the cinema and half way though the sirens went and we had to get out. Where we lived at Waltham you could see all over Southampton and the next day the sirens went again about tea time and I looked out and it was like the whole town was alight.
How did you feel? Angry, sad?
It was all gone. Angry yes. Well, it was like Sidi Nsir. When we lost all those blokes, the first thing we done was ? How nice it was to walk through the sand and see dead Germans all over the place to make up for our blokes.
Yeah. So when you were posted out to Africa, can you remember thinking this is my chance to get one back?
Well you’re in it and that’s it. If you don’t get him, he’s going to get you.
I wasn’t frightened, no, not frightened.
You weren’t worried about getting killed?
I wasn’t looking forward to getting killed! We did an NCO’s commando course in Kent and the sort of training I had there for 3 weeks – get changed in your PT kit, timing each man and at the end of the course, you had to get in full fighting order and beat your previous time. We were fit, very fit.
Did they teach other combat techniques?
Yeah and you can’t be soft hearted. If he’s there with a gun, shoot him or else he’ll shoot you. Village fighting you know. If you think you’ve driven them out of a village and you’re searching houses and you see something, shoot.
You must have been pretty well trained up by the time you got on that boat?
Yes and fit as a fiddle.
You were an NCO?
Yes, but I wasn’t cut out for that. I’ll give you an incident. When I was in Kent we were all in different house and there were about 26 of us in this one house and there was this argument about peeling spuds and I couldn’t put them on a charge, so I went and did it myself, so I went back to being a corporal. I couldn’t do it to my mates see?
Still in HQ Company?
Did you have a specific task?
I was the bren gunner of the section.
Who else was in your section at Sidi Nsir?
Rocky Rolls, Vic Cotton, my brother-in-law, we were in the same section. And his brother
was taken prisoner at Sidi Nsir. They did this forced march for 10 days and he was a cripple time they finished. He got out of POW camp straight into hospital and they took his legs off.
You docked in Algiers?
Yep and we were taken to Le Stade Municipale, football stadium.
Were you quite pleased to be getting a foreign posting?
You was in it weren’t you? We could have been shipped earlier.
Did you know what was going on out there at the time?
We knew it was getting serious. The first night when they plonked us we thought we’re
sitting ducks here. That period when that bit of fighting went on, we had no tanks. (We) (possibly they?) had plenty of 25 pounder anti tanks and we had 3 or 4 vehicles towing little 2 pounders. They were hitting the Germans and bouncing off like peas.
When you were first positioned at Sidi Nsir, right out on a limb, did you know the
Germans were on the march and you were going to get it?
About half a mile up the road was Hampshire Farm and that’s where the stores was. I used to go between the two all the time. It was a big farm but it was long more than it was deep. At this end were the cow byres and we was there one day and we used to see German aircraft every day but hardly ever Spitfires. The rule was don’t fire on them, til he shoots at you, because you give yourself away. I was up there covering a bloke one day who had to go for a medical. During this time there were couple of aircraft and the next thing we know there’s shooting and it was the sergeant major – he ought to have known better. They turned and had a go at us. We run in this barn and when it was finished one of the cows was dead.
Yeah, he’d given us away.
So you were on guard there?
Yeah, rifleman. When you was up there you always had to have someone on guard at
different points. There was a trench here and there and a bank and there was the road going down to Sidi Nsir and another bank the other side. We was sat in this stable and they turned their tank down and we ran and rolled down this bank, then that one, on our hands and knees for about 100 yards, about 6 of us and walked on back.
Tell me about the earlier part of that day.
The heroes of that day, well there were loads, but the 155 anti tank battery, they stayed there and belted the Germans.
So you were at the station house and can you remember when the Germans first
Oh yes I see them coming down the road. You know why we had no tanks? Cos it was too muddy and they’d sink.
So you can remember seeing your first German tank?
Oh yeah, they came down the road into Sidi Nsir, 6 of them about 100 yards apart one behind the other.
Was there any sense of panic?
Well, it was just a question of looking after yourself.
You were in HQ company, quite close to the brass.
The RSM was there.
Were they calm?
Oh yes. You’ve got to haven’t you otherwise you’re going to loose the battle.
Did you think you were on a hiding to nothing?
I thought how are we going to get out of this? These 3 disappeared round the back and
took our rifles
What time of day were you captured then?
Time I got there was about 10.30, cos it had started at dawn.
So you’d come up from the farm? Hang on, early in the morning when the Germans first appeared, you were up at the farm?
No, I was at Sidi Nsir.
When did you move back to the farm?
When they told us, they told us to group back at Hampshire Farm it must have been about 8.30am, 9am.
They’d reached you by about 11am?
Yeah. We were in a hopeless position.
Had you been firing madly?
No, I hadn’t fired a shot. They took our guns off us. I think they were going back to the
stables down there and as soon as their back was turned gone, I said â€œCome on and off we went.
So show me on this map. At dawn you were here at the station and then at about 9.30 you pegged it back to Hampshire Farm, then the Germans over ran it. The Germans carried on going down there. Who had ordered you down here?
So which direction did you escape in?
Down this side where the field was.
Side stepping the Germans who were coming down the middle of the valley.
We went back to Beja where our echelon was.
You must have thought you’d had a lucky escape?
Oh Christ yes.
Did you see any of your mates get killed?
Not killed, wounded yes. This road from Beja used to get mined. You could hear them laying them over night. You had to fill these sand bags and put them in the trucks, by the clutch. It was almost impossible to drive really, but Bill Woofard, his front wheel was blown right off, but the sand bag stopped his legs being blown off.
So what happened after Sidi Nsir?
We re-grouped and then attacked Pichon, then we never stopped then all the way, it was called the Capon Peninsula. The bloody Yanks were bombing us more than the Germans there.
From the beginning of March until May, going up from Pichon, can you remember it as being vicious fighting?
It was a funny place, all mountains, a lonely place. You could be going along there in a truck, no-one there and you’d stop for 5 minutes and suddenly they were all around you, Arabs I mean. You never knew where they were those Arabs.
Was it a case of move on a bit, dig in, artillery starts going. Did you have to use your rifles much?
More in Italy.
In Tunisia, those last couple of months, did you learn to recognise an 88.
Yeah. You were in groups, never on your own.
But were you involved in shooting?
Yes. First thing, if you were going to stop somewhere was dug a hole even if it was only small. You didn’t need to dig a hole all that deep because your biggest problem was mortar fire. Basically you had to be is ground level.
So as long as you’re below the surface.
Yeah, we used to say a 2 foot one will do as long as it’s long enough for you.
But it was very rocky
We all carried our own shovel.
And that was sufficient?
Well, if you didn’t do it you were going to be unlucky.
Was the weather picking up by then?
Yes. As I said, we had no tanks because it was too soggy, too muddy. After that it was one way traffic.
And you sensed that at the time?
Oh yes. We knew he wasn’t going to push us out of there. When we got to ? we had names for the hills, the big one was Brer Rabbit.and there was one place we could hear the Germans shouting at us, â€œCome on you Englisher bastards, and it was the Herman Goering regiment
You could actually hear them?
What was the reaction?
When they shouted that we’d say, â€œCome and get us then!
Were you in the line the whole time?
Leave?! The first I had a 24 hour pass was in Palestine, and I had a 24 hour pass in Cairo.
You couldn’t light fires could you?
In them days, we had, as soon as we got to Sidi Nsir, a box about that big – Yankee rations – and in it was 14 men’s rations for one day, or one man’s for a fortnight. Everything was in there, so many slips of toilet paper, sweets.
If you were moving up, did you walk or go by trucks?
Walk mostly. If you went by truck or coach, it had to be a safeish area.
In between the action, what did you do to pass the time of day.
Half the time you were on standby. Discipline had to be so strong. Things you had to do and you daren’t forget, like your mess tins. You had to put them under there in case a passing aircraft saw the flashing.
Did you find yourself feeling hungry?
Oh, always hungry. From the time I got off the boat at Algiers, I don’t think I saw a slice
of bread, not for 6 or 7 months. All we had were those hard biscuits. Sometimes you thought you’d break your teeth. But what we did have which was fantastic was NAAFI rations. You’d get a bar of chocolate, a bottle of brown ale this big, between 4, the sergeants got.tin of 50 cigarettes. Army wise, depending on how high a hill was you’d get half a bar of chocolate or a whole bar.
Can you remember any specific incidents other than Sidi Nsir?
The hardest one was if you took over a village and you had to search it. You’d have to kick the doors down
Can you remember Pichon?
Oh yes, it was quiet, a bit of shooting further up but there was bodies all over the show
Mostly Germans because we were on the attack there.
Did you find you were squeamish?
Very often I had to change my pants! But you sort of got used to it. In a tight spot it’s you
or him. It was a good Company – best mates in the world.
When you escaped from Sidi Nsir was it with people from your section?
Yeah, six of us escaped together.
Was your brother-in-law there?
He was in that yeah. When it was all over, I was one of the few who went on the victory
march in Tunisia. I’ve never seen a picture of that.
I can help you out there. I’ll send you a copy. Can you remember seeing Alexander and Monty?
I met them twice. I shook hands with Monty. Before we went from here, must have been about 3 months before we went, he was made 12th corps commander and he came and inspected us. Your haircut had to be right up to there. â€˜Course he lived at Bentley.
What did you think of Alexander?
He was a master planner. He was as good as anybody. He was overtaken by Monty in the end, but we were under him for a long time.
Was there a sense of celebration at the end of the Tunisian campaign?
Oh yes. I’ll tell you, we were at Booji, the sea port and when you wanted to go any further it was mountains. Even the road went through the mountains. You come out the other side and as soon as we’d finished at the Capon Peninsula, they took us out in boats, then on little rowing boats and I thought I wonder what’s going on here. We had a few months training on that and then they put us on these Yankee boats where the end comes down. The best thing about it was the grub. We were only on it for 2 days then we came back and the Italians had capitulated, but of course no-one had told the Germans had they and they pounded us on those 3 hills. We lost a lot of people. Italy in them days only had 2 roads, one each side, all the rest were little tracks really. Loads of bends and streams, so it was a problem all the time, they’d blow them up. Then we come out at Mount Ornito, and the first bloke I saw was someone I’d worked with at Shell Mex!
So you managed to survive Casino, because that was pretty horrendous wasn’t it?
Oh yes. It was mostly Poles up there. The Jerries had these guns you could push in a tunnel, that’s why no-one could get up there. We joined the Poles up there, finally got up there. The Yanks blew it up, with the promise that they’d re-build it after the war.
What happened to you after that?
You could see why Casino was such an important place. You could see right across to Rome.
The Americans took Rome.
I wouldn’t say they took it. They had the biggest number there butin North Africa, the other side of Pichon, we’d been in for 3 months and came out for a break and the Yanks took over from us, 3 days later they lost it so we had to go and take it again, then the same happened again, and then the next time our boss said no, we’re not handing it over.
So your opinion of the Americans as soldiers?
If it took 3 of us it would take 5 of them, know what I mean?
Would you say that actual combat experience was the best form of training?
Our RSM was ex-Coldstream Guards and we went up to London for 5 months before we went out there and we had to go on parades and the cry was â€˜steady on parade, steady in battle’ that was his attitude. That man, you’d hear him at Town Quay if he opened his mouth now. Everybody respected him.
You think that taught you self control and not to panic?
You must have learnt a lot in a very short space of time about how to look after yourself and soldiering from actually being in combat.
It’s a lot different training to being involved.
What can you remember about attacking the Gothic Line?
It was I would say, the worst thing was crossing the Po. It was very wide. A bailey bridge had to be built and it was such a fight to get it across. There was a place called Calabrito. There was a small river, but still quite hard to get across. We were in a house right by this river and being shelled. First you’d get the range then at night you’d come out and push a button and the range was automatically set in daylight and locked. You couldn’t rest because it went on all night. Some were five minutes apart but then maybe it was 2. My mate and I were trying to get out of this house and the shelling was going on and hid underneath a sink all day.
Did you have much to do with the Italian civilians?
You always saw them if you were going to the barbers, they’d be having their hair permed. They couldn’t fight nothing. They were on the scrounge all the time, for food.
Did you give it to them?
If we had some. Them and the French have got to be about the 2 worst in the world.
When did you see the French in action?
Well, they built that line and left both ends open. They were occupied the first time they got a city bombed, occupied by the Germans weren’t they?
Did you do a lot of patrols?
Oh yeah. A lot of patrols. One on, two off.
This is your line, that’s theirs and 4 or 5 of you would go creeping to see what you could find out. One bloke, Milligan, he went off and I said â€œWhere are you going? he said â€œI can’t tell you and he had one of those German stick bomb things and he went and stuck it on a tank. When it came to patrols, he was that fearless he’d go on his own. He’s still alive, but he got badly injured. He got all sorts of medals. He had no fear what so ever, but he certainly paid for it. He’s embarrassed about how his face looks.
Were the patrols most nights?
Oh yeah to find out who’s where. And you knew when you were going on that because when you had a cup of coffee or cocoa, you got rum in it.
Did you get leave in Italy?
I had 36 hours in Rome
What was that like?
Oh nice, went to the Colisseum, and Pompeii. In 44 when Vesuvius started erupting we were camping at the bottom of that. Had to be evacuated from there.
The weather was miserable wasn’t it?
How can I say it? Sometimes you didn’t take your clothes off for a fortnight.
You must have smelt!
We’d take a tin and punch holes in it and someone would climb a tree and keep tipping a bit of water through it so you could have a bit of a shower.
Did you get lice?
Oh there was plenty about but I never had them.
Were you ever ill at all?
No, I had no time off not even when I did my shoulder or got these. When we moved from Algiers to Bone, we got there late evening and went up to this vineyard and it was by the sea and they gave us these big white blankets, and we thought great no sleeping together tonight! And 3am we had to get up and make them into double beds again it was so cold! It was unbearable that cold.
Did you ever stay in Italian houses?
Sometimes we had billets yes, but it was mainly tents and that. You’re talking about 1000 people in the infantry battalion.
You were still in HQ Company?
Yes. To start with, I was in A Company in Southampton, but I was transferred to HQ.
What were your officers like?
Some you didn’t trust as much as others.
Well, some you knew how to handle, call them Charlie or what not, but others you had to call them captain. It was supposed to be all the time of course but.
Did you lose many of your officers?
You counted on each other you see, it was comradeship.
So as long as your section was alright, that was all that worried you?
If you had your own little gang you were ok.
And your brother-in-law was still with you?
I used to see him but he wasn’t in my section.
He was in North Africa though wasn’t he?
Oh yeah. He was In HQ Company same as I was.
What about re-enforcements? Were they welcomed in?
Yeah, now and again we got made up in strength. We got sent to Palestine, just outside Haifa to rest. Our people really were to blame for that sort of position because an infantry regiment when you’re not in the fighting line and in someone else’s country..well, the Arabs were cleaning the latrines and such and the Jew boys were working in offices.
When you’d crossed the Po, you potentially had the Yugoslavians to deal with.
When we got into Austria, you had Russians walking around, Tito’s mob walking around, us walking around. The Russians were breaking into houses and for some unknown reason they were taking all the knives and forks they could lay their hands on and boxing them up. So we had zones. We were on the Yugoslav border. One of the blokes was courting an Austrian girl and they came back here and we went to see her the other day and she was saying that before we got there, the Russians were in there first, and all they seemed to be worried about was were they were going to sleep.
Do you think it was down to luck that you survived with only minor injuries?
Yeah, got to be luck.
But you had close shaves where someone close to you got killed or wounded?
Yeah, there was this bloke, a postman in Winchester, he went bomb happy.
There was quite a lot of that in Italy. Some people are better able to handle a
situation like that than others. Do you think there’s a particular reason for your ability to handle it?
Well, we’ve had a hard life and that’s part of it. We went to the 50th anniversary and I was the only army standard bearer there. D Day, they all want to go to that one.
Were you conscious of the media shift after D Day?
Yeah, but you can’t be in 2 places at once can you?
The casualty rate in Italy was far greater than that from Normandy to Berlin.
Plus they had the equipment we never had. The success of D Day was due to everything that was learnt at Salerno.
Were you ever short of ammunition?
No, well sometimes you only had 5 mortars left or something.
Were you always on the bren gun all the way through?
Yes as Section commander I had that.
You had mortar sections as well in the Company?
Oh yes. The Company was about 100 strong and you had 3 sections. Each section is about 30 and you have 3 lines in a section and a corporal in charge of each line and one bren in a line.
Looking at photos now
Do you think about those old friends who didn’t make it back? And the war in general?
Well, you think about certain ones..It says here â€˜689 men initially involved and 200 survived.’
End of first part
You could hear them tapping and that was a sure fire sign that they were laying mines. First thing every morning, the Pioneer Platoon, they were Jack of all trades, and they had to sweep. You had your trenches and stand in there one hour before dawn and one hour as it was getting dark of a night time. That was the best time of any attack.
That was all the way through?
Did you suffer much from strafing?
It never affected me. I dodged as much as I could dodge.
When you were in North Africa, were enemy aircraft a nuisance?
Oh yeah. If you were on the road, You threw yourself in a ditch til they were gone.
Which were worse, Stukas or 109’s?
Stukas. The first river we crossed in Italy was the Volturno and it wasn’t very wide but it gave us such trouble because there wasn’t any cover, all open fields.
Cover is the key?
Oh yeah blimey. We had an MT officer, he always used to call me Stinker – â€œHello Sir! â€œHello Stinker, how are you! It was always like that. One time we were on our way from Sidi Nsir to Beja and we had to dive for cover and I dived on top of him and he said â€œThere you are Stinker, you can tell people you saved my life! I said â€œIf I tell them that, they’ll kill me! He hardly spoke to me after that although he came to a reunion and came up â€œHello Stinker! He was a major. When we weren’t in the line I was captain of the football team. I had a few games in Gillingham. I was right half in them days and captain of the battalion football team.
Did you have games in North Africa and Italy?
Oh yeah when we weren’t in the lines. I was middle weight champion too. Cricket and all. I played for the Saints B team. I bowled and batted. We played the RAF down in Kent. Playing football at Herne Bay I broke my collar bone. They recommended 3 weeks leave and then I’m back in the Company on light duties but they needed an extra man and so I played and got the most runs so I was back on normal duties next day!
So you were out of the line occasionally in North Africa?
Oh yes. Normally you’d be out for at least a week, but it depended on your strength and your equipment.
Would you be billeted or in tents?
Could you get a drink there?
Well, it was mainly red Italian plonk. That’s why I don’t drink it now. That hill I was telling you about, White Cross Hill, there was a farm down there and Libby’s corned beef used to have a red and amber label and I cut this off and went to this farm and we told them this label was English money. We had this British Military Authority money and they had to present it then they got their money.
Do you have any other photos of you when you were in the war?
Oh yesI went back to Tunis. They put a plaque in the church for the Hampshire regiment. We were out for 3 months rest and the trouble started in Greece and they took us over there. Went into Sparta where the communists were. I got a medal for that 57 years later. The Greek medal for the campaign. Both these 2 got killed, in Tunisia. In Sidi Nsir, they went missing and were never seen again, presumed killed. My mum used to send me the Echo. It used to arrive about 3 weeks later. These are my medals – there’s the 39 – 43 Star, next one’s the Italian Star, 39 – 45 for 12 years from the TA, because the war counted as double. I still keep in touch with the boys. Went up the other day to Billericay to see this bloke. He was with me in that stable. When they shot that cow, he was under the next manger with me. He’s Ginger Wheeler from Shirley. He was at Bizerker, there were about 10 of them priming hand grenades, and one went off. Killed about 4 of them and injured another 6.
So it was Ginger Wheeler and who was the other one?
Just to go back to that time in the barn
We were surrounded. They’d already brought some up from the other stables and said all in there.