David Christopherson: “Well John, just a bit on background. This is a project initiated by Jonathan, who has over the last few years has got Daddy’s diary’s all transcribed, into reasonable shape so there are… I think three thousand and sixty five words that he in amongst everything else managed to record, from Palestine through to the very end. James is a good friend of mine, we met seven years ago on a battlefield tour on D-Day and I showed James the diaries. James has had a number of books published based around the second world war and to cut a long story short, James has very kindly going to work with the diaries, because we are going to look to get them published and James’s publisher has very kindly agreed to publish them, because they feel that they are a not only a unique account of someone who went to war at the beginning and went right through to the end, but it also is the most remarkable insight into the most remarkable regiment. I think Jonathan is keen to get almost the final piece of the jigsaw now that 2:06. It would just be fabulous, we started to talk about it on the phone, and it’s just to get your perspective on it really.”
JH: And to hear your story.
JS: Well I hope you remember that there are some things that go into diaries that ought not to be published; there are a number of instances in war that I don’t think ought to have been you see. A man’s diary is a sort of an escape lull, and he says a lot of things in them which he wouldn’t liked to have published, so just keep your eye out. I mean for example, when he published the diaries of Churchill’s chief of staff….
JH: Oh yes, Alanbrooke.
JS: Well Churchill was a very, very difficult man to work for and not unnaturally, this chap used to let off steam in his diary which I don’t think he would liked to have had published. And then again, I remember George VI’s doctor, after his death, his son, told the press about the King in his last hours whilst the man was dying, and then agreed with the queen to give him a lethal injection, which he did in order for him to die for the morning papers. I don’t think that’s something that ought really to be told?
JH: No I agree.
JS: But there we are, that’s the way that things go. And Stanley was a very, very wonderful man and he was also very sensitive and he left that streak of brutality, which a commanding officer really needs, for his own protection. How that man wrote all those letters of condolence in the extreme without tearing his heart out, I just don’t know, because he was a very sensitive man. Every commander does feel the casualties, you did suffer very deeply. The regiment had a very, very rough passage.
JH: Well you were saying yesterday, that he did feel it very keenly didn’t he?
DC: He had very dark periods after the war, I remember talking to the padre and him saying that they spent an awful lot of time together, during the war and after the war and to his grave. I think he felt terribly guilty about it all.
JS: Well I know the terrible things… and he was really a wonderful chap and the regiment of course had very bad luck because it started off with the first cavalry invitation, out in Palestine as such, engaged in this police work, policing that ghastly country. And then what happened was, France fell and all the troubles in Palestine ceased, because the Jews decided that they would rather have us than Hitler. So the first camp team was left without a job and it was then dismounted and two of the rangers in the first regiment to be dismounted to the dismay and disgust of the forces, and some really lightened men! And after months of coming and going and then months in Gibraltar the regiment first of all after dismounting went on guard duty. We broke up into batteries and of course we were going to be artillery, then we were going to be localised infantry. And then of course we were sent off to Greece to Crete, Benghazi and Tobruk. And then all the people in Crete were lost when German paratroopers overran it. Rommel arrived in North Africa and the people in Benghazi very smartly were brought back to Gibraltar, becoming part of the siege of Gibraltar. Stanley gained the siege by having charge of the organisation for spotting the mines that the German air force dropped. His troop used to identify the spot and then reported it to the navy who then dealt with them. We got a letter from the admiral! Although we went back to Palestine, and were now tenth armoured division. First camp div became tenth armoured div and we fought as such at the battle of Alamein. Now, I can’t remember the name of the general, but he incurred the diaries of Monty.
JH: It was Lumsden wasn’t it? Or was it Gatehouse? I can’t remember.
JS: Gatehouse. He was said to have belly ache through the conference before the battle of Alamein. Anyway he was marked for dismissal. As soon as the battle of Alamein was over, he didn’t just dismiss Gatehouse, he dismissed the whole of his staff, and he disbanded the tenth armoured division. And we were left as the eighth armoured brigade; an independent brigade and we continued right until the end of the war. The trouble with that was this, not belonging to any division, we came directly under corps, so I don’t know whether that mattered much in the desert, but when we came to England and Europe, it mattered one hell of a lot, because the eighth armoured brigade was corps made of all work and whenever corps was fighting we were fighting too. And the curse of it was, we were used really as an armoured brigade, but usually in support of the infantry. This is why Stanley worked such a lot, because every battle that the 30 corps, he was engaged in, we were sent off to support the infantry. In the cause of that campaign we supported every infantry division in the second British army and three American divisions as well. We were simply never at rest. The result of this ghastly support of infantry business was that Stanley wasn’t running his own regiment, he was acting as a temp supply agent and we were always out ranked. He would always go to the infantry General or an infantry Brigadier at least, and I as a squadron leader had to cope with a Brigadier or a Colonel.
JH: And of course, we weren’t under command, we were in support and not under command, one had to remember that and try and prevent them from requiring you to do dreadful things. When I arrived at lieuterrian headquarters, the first thing they asked me was; “How many tanks have you got?” With a view to dividing up one tank to one platoon, that sort of thing. I used to say that I had four troops, which baffled them, as they didn’t know how many tanks there were in a troop!
JS: But this infantry support business was fatal, you see. Really where tanks were in support to the infantry, tanks ought really to have been in command with the infantry in support, because they really are the senior partners. The way, in which a battle always went, was that we would all set off at HR, and this would start with a great barrage with the guards! And the infantry would advance and then the enemy would fire arms and the infantry would go to ground. Once they went to ground, they weren’t very enthusiastic about getting up again. The result was that the tanks had to take the objectives, which was only natural. If you are lying on the ground with a rifle and you see a bloody great tank with two machine guns that were capable of carrying god knows how many rounds, and a gun that is capable of getting three rounds in the air and knock down a far fourteen pound shell and all sorts, we used to think “God let them get on with it!” And also the state of our infantry in Europe was pretty pathetic, they were quite untrained and terribly young. All the re enforcements that we had got were under twenty. In my squadron all the re enforcements and officers were all under twenty, I didn’t have any officers who had reached twenty-one.
JH: Incredible isn’t it? Well the manpower shortage was a major, major problem by that stage wasn’t it?
JS: It was. Well by the end of the war, at the last stage of the campaign, Stanley was told frankly that the infantry’s moral were such that they were incapable of even holding the line without taking the force. So we were caught up in this right the way through. There were periods where Stanley had command of his regiment instead of having to parcel it out. One occurred.. I have a book over here with various divisions in it…
JH: Can we get it for you?
JS: No, it’s all right. I don’t know whether you know this book?
JH: Right no, I don’t know this one. I shall make a note of it.
JS: It has all the divisional sides in it.
JH: Oh it’s wonderful isn’t it? Eighth armoured brigade….co-signed
JS: Well the first major battle…. After D-Day you could only do support on fifty div and you supported them in the early battles at 17:23 and then Monty’s first major battle… I forget what it was called. It had a bloody awful name.
JS: You felt that when they started sorting a name for the operation, which was generally unusual, you felt that they had exhausted ingenuity! I can remember I went into headquarters and greeted 18:16. I hear you were in engaged in a terrific party? Well when you have had two or three pals killed, you don’t think of it as a terrific party? I just walked away. What happened, in this first battle, we were supporting a division, which had a polar bear as their divisional 18:59. On the third day, there was a place called 19:08
JH: Was it forty-nine?
JS: Their time came and they told Stanley that the infantry were played out and we should have to take the objectives. He now had command of his regiment and we went on and we took the objectives, in what was subsequently described as a 19:41 advance and we knocked out five German tanks and we captured a couple of tigers, because we overran their workshops in a place called 20:03. Stanley had his regiment in command then. 20:18 and the break through came and seventh armoured div drove up the centre and we were on the left bank, we then went right up to Brussels and right onto the Albert Canal to Geel. During the whole of that time we were fighting as a regiment.
JH: Geel was a tough one wasn’t it?
JS: At Geel, we had the worst casualties we had since ending in the desert. We had a terrible war there. Again we were in support of infantry.
JS: We were supporting the Durham Light Infantry, I think, fifty div.. Yes. It all went 21:22, but then we found ourselves actually in Geel, tanks a no damn 21:33 in built up areas. More over, we were overtaken by dogs and our tanks were being knocked out by nineteen. Consequently it was terrible. After the battle of Geel the padre was away for a solid week, burying the dead. He ultimately rejoined us, absolutely black from head to foot from the soot, from the tanks there was a particular bone they used to look for, there is only one in each body, he got five of them.
JH: I’ve seen footage of a Sherman, done recently by the US of it brewing up; I have got to say it is not a pretty sight.
JS: In that book, there is a picture of the three stages. Anyway our progression was, first there were horses, then the guard duty then the 23:19 where we were very heavily re-enforced, Ronnie Hutton and all that, Keith Douglas and a few other people joined us at that point. I have got a photograph somewhere of the regiment outside the Mess.
JH: Do you mid me asking you about how you came to join the regiment and your background? Where were you born and brought up?
JS: Well it all began with the inter corps regiment, which was a territorial regiment with it’s hall in Lincoln Inn.
JS: And it had three sections, infantry, machine guns, and horse cavalry and I and Stanley and Lawrence, Bill and a number of others, were all in this horse cavalry section.
DC: Did you know Daddy before the war?
JS: No, I joined only just before war broke out.
JH: So you obviously volunteered?
JS: Yes, I enjoyed the Territorial Army, I think I was eighteen. We mobilised just as the war was being declared, the next day we were all sent off to Edinburgh, to the whole of the Royal Scot Grey’s. We were converted overnight into an 25:32. Of course you see, all the chaps in the corps were barristers, solicitors, or chartered accountants, they were from the city and all very able people. We were converted lock stock and barrel into a 25:56. We went up to the Royal Scot Grey’s and our officer’s were replaced by regular officer’s, who undertook our training and the regiment was organised in troops according to their service with the inter corps. 26:25 and of course he didn’t want the responsibility. Anyway, they were commissioned off; every month one crowd was commissioned off according to their service within the regiment. They were warned before they went that they mustn’t expect to be received with open arms by the regiment to which they were posted. Stanley and Lawrence reported to the Sherwood Rangers up in Nottingham where the whole regiment had been mobilised with their horses on the private estate of the Earl of Yarborough, commanding the regiment.27:47, he said to Stanley and Lawrence “ Don’t know why you were sent here, the Colonel thinks it is for him to choose the officers! As the war office has sent you, you better stay for the time being anyway.” The time being anyway proved to be set. I think their reception from the rest of the regiment was about as enthusiastic because, you see they were Londoners.
JH: Not Yeoman stock!
JS: They weren’t Yeoman’s or they weren’t county people!
JS: They worked for a living and didn’t keep hunters and hunt twice a week. They hadn’t been to either Eton or Harrow, so they had nothing to talk about and they were pretty roughly treated. Nobody ever put Lawrence out of a 29:14 and very much resented the treatment of the regiment in those days. That was the year of 29:26 and of course the regiment itself was pretty unhappy because it had been very heavily re-enforced with reserves all from regular regiments and instead of being sent back to their regiments, they were sent like yo-yos, coming from the regimental army which they didn’t regard as proper soldiers anyway! Much worse was to follow because through the bitter winter of thirty nine/forty, they were sent with their horses through France, out to the Mediterranean, 30:24. When they arrived there, having of course been on low prospect of not seeing their wives and family again for three years, no leave etc, what do they discover upon arrival but Lady Yarborough and an entourage of officer’s wives! They had travelled there privately and had discovered from the war office where they were going and had gone there. Anything more tactless is difficult to conceive of, but I mean they didn’t realise that at all, rules were rules for hoypoli, but of course they weren’t hoypoli, so rules certainly did not apply! Anyway, that was the regiment that Stanley joined. There was no doubt that it was very uncomfortable. When France fell and the trouble ceased, the regiment had acquired a very ill reputation as stampede rangers and were the first to be dismounted, at that time with the 32:25, a very different wind began to blow through the whole country. Churchill took over and an air of realism began to work everywhere.
JH: Where were you at this stage? Were you still up in Edinburgh?
JS: I had been commissioned in April, and was having to wait in England.
JH: April 1940?
JS: Yes. I went on a signals course to fill in time, waiting to be posted back. When France fell of course, the Mediterranean was closed, I had to then wait to be sent round the Cape and didn’t arrive until the autumn. By that time, the Yarborough era was over. He had been sent home together with Lady Yarborough and all her ladies, and his second in command, 33:29, one of them jumped ship at Cape Town, turned to her husband; I will remember his name in a minute. Ranfurly. He wrote a book, To war with Whitaker, which gives some account of life with the regiment and war with the war office. Anyway, the result was that Flash Kellett took over the regiment and he commanded it for three years, and by this time, Stanley was well established in the regiment, I think he had been promoted to Captain during the siege, they came back to 34:37. We were told then that we had been armoured for the last six months and had better start training. We were then very heavily re-enforced with all these officers.
JH: So you were in Tobruk then?
JS: When the regiment was dismounted, we were sent off to do all sorts of odd jobs. 35:10 was sent to train Jews and Arabs, he then went to a long-range desert and I was sent to replace him. So I was training Jews and Arabs when the regiment was sent to Gibraltar.
JH: And that kept you busy for most of forty-one did it?
JS: Well it kept me busy for the summer of forty-one.
JS: And the whole pattern changed when Hitler invaded Russia. I got back to the regiment just as they got back from Gibraltar. I became single officer responsible for training all the regiments and the wireless operators. The order of the day for the next many months was train tests. Everybody was being trained for tanks; I was responsible for training all the operators for the assessments.
JH: Was that a difficult job?
JS: Life was really quite comfortable, because all these new chaps had come in and they had nothing to do with horses! There was old Keith Douglas amongst them, Kit Graves, and Ollie Hutton. A whole pack of them! I have a photograph of them outside the mess on Christmas day, if you were interested to see?
JH: Yes, I would love to. What radio sets were you using?
JS: We went through a succession or wireless sets; it ended up with the nineteen set, which had an A set and a B set and a hand to tail.
JH: And you were the signals officer because you had done a signals course back in England?
JS: That’s right. And really life was very comfortable now, because the county crowd were still in charge, I don’t know when Stanley took command of the squadron, but it must have been round about. B squadron was commanded by Mike Laycock. C squadron was commanded by Steve Mitchell. Lawrence Middle was adjutant; he had been promoted and took commander of 38:37 squadrons. We spent hectic months in 38:54 training like mad. Then we were shipped out to the desert, a desert camp called 39:03. We spent the summer there in a tented camp and in these terrible dust storms we had. I was 39:30.
JH: Were you still signals officer as well?
JS: No, I had ceased to be signals officer when the troop 39:39 to B squadron.
JH: And in B squadron where you on grants at that stage or where you still in Crusaders?
JS: To begin with, you see, when I first trained, we received American Honey tanks, they sent not only the honeys, but the American NCOs’ to train us, they trained particularly our fitters, on how to maintain these things. And then when we were moved to 40:28, we had honeys for a while, but then the squadron I was in, the B squadron, got grants.
JS: That meant that we all had to go off on courses about the use of artillery and the fact that they were capable for being used for shelling for a rang of two miles. Anyway, the weather started 70, 80, 90, 100 and the 105, we had these terrible dust storms and yet they were the happiest months I spent in the army. I was in a tent with three other chaps, Ollie Hutton, Ron Hill and Ken Graves. We laughed from morning to night. We used to stop work at midday, due to the dreadful temperature. We used to spend our time in the tent with our feet in a bucket of water, singing songs. If the chaps subsided to talk, somebody would always say “Thank God for the Irish!” And that would set us off again! In the army, you have to have a pal. If you had a pal, you could stand anything. Stanley’s pal was Steve Mitchell. They would share the tent together.
JH: So was Ronnie your pal?
JH: Who was your pal, was it Ronnie?
JS: My pal was Ken Graves. We moved off from 42:55, we moved up progressively until we found ourselves out in the eighth army, with an assortment of tanks. First we went up in great haste forming a composite squadron, we hadn’t got enough tanks for more. Then we were told to give up our tanks, and the City of London Yeomanry were pretty much annihilated, we were returned to the delta. And it was at the delta that Flash Kellett was summonsed to Cairo for Churchill’s visit, Churchill flew out there, to summons him in response to the vitriolic dispatches which Flash Kellett had been sending as a diplomatic bag from Cairo. Afterwards we moved out bit by bit until we found ourselves as part of the eighth army.
DC: Why was Flash Kellett so vitriolic? Why was he so animated in his dispatches?
JS: Well, that was just his nature. He was a very ambitious man, and he didn’t approve of what was going on in the desert at all.
JH: With good reason frankly. Can you remember the fall of Tobruk and the flap and all that? You would have been slightly removed from it wouldn’t you, but you must have heard rumours and talk about it?
JS: Well we joined the eighth army when it got back to 45:17, we went forward, then we were sent back to the delta, then we got some tanks and we went back. Step by step we got ourselves included, probably as a result of Flash Kellett’s influence. We got dispatched into the eighth army just about the time that Churchill arrived with Monty.
JH: In August forty-two?
JS: Flash Kellett, got Churchill to inspect the regiment, I have a photograph of him just there!
JH: Do you think Flash Kellett was instrumental in making sure you got mechanised?
JS: Yes, his whole concern was to get the regiment into the war, and to get rid of the stamping ranger really. He commanded the regiment for three years.
JH: Did you like him?
JS: I wouldn’t say like him, you respected him. He was a guards man, came from the guards. All his hats were in the mess to remind us that he had been in the guards. Only the guard’s wear there hats when in the mess!! He was forever popping off to Cairo to pull some strings. That was what upset him during the siege of Gibraltar, he couldn’t pull enough strings! As soon as we got back to 47:18, he was off to Cairo. As I was saying, I think he was certainly instrumental in Churchill going out to Cairo; certainly he was summonsed to meeting immediately. He took charge and got him to inspect the regiment, anyway Flash was very much in the fore of getting us somewhere with the regiment. Then Churchill arrived with Montgomery. Now it was about the same time as we were shuffled of into a reserve. The effect of Monty was dramatic. He was really beyond all phrases. When he joined, the moral in the eighth army was absolute rock bottom. We had been kicked back almost to Cairo 48:42 rather ignominiously, people depending on us for months. General Goff was sent to command the regiment and was killed in an air accident; one got the impression that the eighth army was being run by a committee. Then this little man Monty arrived! And he summonsed the Colonel’s of every brigade and regiment in the eighth army and were all collected in a mission hut, the door was open 49:32 trousers were too big for him, half marched in. They didn’t know whether to stand up or remain seated, the chat slowly subsided and then Monty said, “ You will not smoke and you will not cough” God you could have heard a pin drop!
JH: He said that to 50:10, the first time he met him, can you put that cigarette out!!
JS: Anyway, I didn’t come into it until 50:17, he said, “ I have given instructions for all plans to withdraw, to be abandoned. The enemy will attack, if he attacks, before the full moon that will be very difficult. If he attacks after the full moon, we shall beat him.” I watched through those last days of August, and the Germans didn’t come and didn’t come, the full moon was on the thirtieth! The point about the full moon was that a full moon doesn’t set; you don’t get a period of darkness before the North. The full moon came on the thirtieth and Rommel attacked on the first of September. We who had been in reserve, moved up and the German’s were in danger of penetrating our line and we were sent to deal with it. We so got incorporated into our first battle, the battle of 51:49 which was a disaster. We made every mistake in the book, but fortunately the battle only lasted for two days, we then had six weeks in which to sort ourselves out and re organise, re train and learn from our mistakes.
Who organised that? I mean who would have been instrumental in thinking about what went wrong?
JS: Well I played a part, because I had been in 52:25 with second command and I was is in his tank, together 52:44, I went to the battle of 52:50, in this tank with Donny. The received wisdom at that time was that one officer was rear link, he communicated with his commander with the B set, which was a range that had about, two hundred yards, a sort of house telephone. The establishment in 53:34 was that the squadrons had a major and two captains; one captain was second in command, and the other rear linkman. Well this was crazy! What happened was, we went into this battle, and we did a sort of double charge, going right and left, 54:02 climbing up the side and tearing over the lid to let people get out, because we in our ignorance used to close down for this battle, we thought he meant to have the sights closed down, of course every tank had a periscope in the lid, but of course to do that was death, because if the tank gets hit, it goes up in fire in a few minutes, and then after about five minutes used to blow up. So this chap was dashing round tank to tank tearing open these lids to let people out, he didn’t realise of course how terribly dangerous it was.
JH: In Keith Douglas’ book, Alamein to Zem Zem, he talks about the radio code you use which has references to horses and crickets and things, was that true?
JS: Oh yes, bloody silly! You didn’t say you had broken a track, you said you had lost a shoe!
JH: Who decided on those, was that Flash Kellett?
JS: I don’t know, it was meant to be very secure, but in fact it was the absolute opposite of security, each regiment had its own idiosyncrasy, which identified its own….
JH: But when you had been signal’s officer, your job was to teach people how to use the radio between the tanks not the code they used, presumably? You had the codes you were given I suppose?
JS: Well our wireless procedure was being constantly changed;
JH: Was it?
JS: They realised that if you simply had a code name, the enemy direction finders would move in on that number.
JH: Who was issuing the code’s to change? Was that coming from Brigade or higher than that?
JS: Oh I don’t know; it came through from high and we were given lists of words that we had to use, we couldn’t talk about commanders, we had to talk about sun rays! It was all a lot of bloody rubbish! But anyway, when the battle of 57:17 Brigadier Blashford, bless him, he was a good chap. When he saw this balaclava, 57:29, disaster, he ordered us to withdraw. This message was received by Donny 57:42, second in command and successfully transmitted over his B set, to Flash Kellett. Flash Kellett called the regiment back and crawled down the slope from the artillery and they were saved. Afterwards Blashford was still on the RHQ for a little why. I went back my squadron, he used to wag his head and say, “Donny Player”, and he had no opinion of Donny Player at all. Donny Player was about the only chap who was scared of Flash Kellett; I tell you the other who was scared of Flash, was Lawrence Middle.
Why was that John, was it just personality?
JS: He was a very able man, he ended up as the most experienced Brigade Major in the army, having never been to staff college and 59:04 sent for him and said “ This is ridiculous, the most experienced Brigade Major in the army and you haven’t been to staff college, you must go to staff college immediately, this war isn’t going to end for some time, so you can 58:24 be a Brigadier 59:26 and Lawrence Piddle said that he wasn’t a professional soldier, that he had come from a family firm of solicitors and that he would rather stay with the horses! So he stayed where he was until ultimately he was pretty badly wounded in Normandy.
DC: You get the impression from certainly reading Daddy’s diaries that one of the things around, was that they continually learn from their experience, and change and evolve. Was that unique to show a range?
JS: No it wasn’t. You see the important thing in War is information about the enemy and his weapons and everything about him. In fact the Chinese classic work on the art of war; if you have full information about the enemy, you may get what you want without going to war at all. The great strength and the great weakness of the British Army is the regimental system. Every regiment is a completely sealed unit, nothing comes out from inside and nothing comes in from outside. Intelligence simply didn’t exist. The importance of intelligence was to realize that top rank, the radar without which we couldn’t have won the Battle of Britain. At regimental level, no information came in from outside. The Germans were always producing new tanks. We got no information about them at all.
JH: Did you not, never? So you never saw the training pamphlets and stuff like that?
JS: No nothing at all. We captured a couple of tigers in Europe and sent them back to 1:02. Well we never heard a blind word back. Every weapon had its special EC and so did the tiger. But nobody knew what it was. I know more about the tiger now, than I ever knew during the war, they taught us nothing. They developed a terrible weapon called Panzerfaust, which did us the most dreadful damage.
JH: A bit like bazooka’s?
JS: Yeah. David Render picks up one of these in a place called 1:03 and we sent it back to Brigade, well again we never heard a blind word back. Nothing, not a whisper. What somebody should have been doing was finding out about it.
JH: See the Americans analyzed all this stuff and even by the second half of forty- four were producing huge great manuals on German tactics and German kit everything; they just took it to pieces.
JS: Well there was nothing of that sort in the British Army at all. Every regiment as I say, was a sealed unit, and every regiment had to learn the hard way.
JH: Just to go back to the desert, personally, did you find it OK? I mean the living conditions; you were saying that it was hot and you needed a good friend to chew the cud with, but you managed to cope with it OK, the rations and the deprivations?
JS: Yes. I didn’t have a bath for five months, but we lived on our tanks.
JH: Did you sleep underneath them at night or beside them?
JS: Beside them.
JH: What did you do, wrap yourself up in your oil cape of something?
JS: No, I had a special bag, which when you pulled…
JH: Sort of a bivy sack?
JS: Which was designed by Jack Holman, who got it made by a sale maker. This was a splendid piece; because it was wrapped over and kept you waterproof and it had a pram hood, which you could put up.
JH: So it was like what they would all today a bivy sack?
JS: Yes. And this was on the tank, and the chaps had a tarpaulin on the side;
JH: That you would pull out from the edge of the tank?
JS: Yes. I used to take my load off and unroll it and get into bed that way.
JH: What would you do? Scrape away any stones, that sort of thing?
JS: Well the trouble was it got riddled by the shelling. My great asset was a camp chair, and my other great asset was I had a bag full of books full of Collins classics. I used to get this transported by an ammunition lorry. I remember reading the tales of Robinson Crusoe!
JH: Oh really did you?
JS: During the fighting. Well anyway to continue about 1:6:50. The message got through; we never had any of that nonsense ever again. Each of the command tanks had two wirelesses and an extra operator 1:07:13 and one was onto the regiment and the other was onto brigade, so that the Colonel could speak to brigade direct, and also electronics, inside the tank were modified; you had a microphone and you had a switch, now this switch would switch between the A set and the B set and the inter communication… well bugger that. The tanks were re-wired, that the thing was permanently on A set, which was then fed into the communications system within the tank, so everyone in the tank heard everything that was said on the A set. Then to transmit, you just pressed the transmit button. You had to be very quick about it because if two were transmitted at the same time, of course they crashed and it was a disaster. We very soon got used to this.
JH: So communications between the tanks improved did they?
JS: No, we simply used the A set all the time. And the result was, Flash Kellett commanded the whole regiment and spoke to everyone the whole time. Keith Douglas said in his book that Flash Kellett had said that our wireless discipline was good, which meant nobody interrupted him! But he interrupted everybody else!
What kind of man was Keith Douglas as a personality?
JS: Well he was a pain in the neck! You see, my only complaint about him was that he didn’t give your Father his due at all. I think he described him as Peter in his book, and Keith Douglas had a nasty habit of getting of his tank and going off. In his first battle he was out of his tank 1:10:19 German prisoners out of flip trenches, he would pick up the rifles, which didn’t work. He constantly calling him on the air, and he would never answer. When he got back into his tank he expected to be instant service. He was a great lad, he was very brave, but a pain in the neck.
JH: Was he a bit chippie?
JS: Well yes, he did have a right chip on his shoulder; he was always at war with everybody. If you want to know anything about Keith Douglas you only have to read his book and look at it from the other side, not his side.
DC: What do you think Daddy would have thought of Keith Douglas? Daddy was always very polite about people and I just wondered what he would have thought?
JS: Well he… Keith Douglas; your Father used to read adventure stories. In the desert everything had a series of attacks and then you had a great pause, where not a track moved, while resources were built up over the huge distances, ammunition, fuel and so on. During that time, we just sat on a patch of desert and talked. Keith Douglas regarded your Father with complete content because he used to read adventure stories. He tells in his book of how he read what he thought was proper literature too; he wasn’t in the least bit interested, which he thought was poor show. Keith Douglas was a trier, but I don’t think that in his book, he gives your Father anything like the credit he ought to have had. Your Father was commanding A squadron; they lived with regiments right across North Africa. They were equipped with Crusader tanks, which were quite unsuited for the desert; Stanley used to set off every morning with fourteen tanks and used to end up at the end of the day with four tanks. He was always in one of them, he would move from one tank to another if they broke down. The dust you see, used to clog their calling system. They were all scattered right back and then they would slowly re-join during the night and then set off again. There is no doubt that Keith’s book is a very vivid picture of what fighting was like.
JH: But did you like him despite his obvious shortcomings?
JS: I liked him, I got on with him for about three years, he could be very tiresome, and it’s true. But he was a good lad.
JH: Certainly courageous?
JS: Oh yes, the story got about that he had a premonition of death. I don’t think he had a premonition of death, before an invasion, he told me that he thought he was pretty well played out and that he wanted to go on the invasion so he could write about it. He wasn’t proposing to write about it hereafter was he!! Anyway, he was killed in France, again up to his tricks.
JH: He was killed outside his tank wasn’t he?
JS: If your tank commander leaves his tank… useless! He used to get out and bugger off. In the first days when the invasion landed on 1:16:37 two squadrons, which had these DD, tanks which were capable of swimming in the sea.
JH: Can I ask you just one thing? In Stanley’s diaries, he said that each troop had three tanks, but I thought that by D-Day you were all equipped with four a troop? Three seventy-five mm and….?
JS:I made that change in A squadron. I found that these seventeen pounders never got used you see. So what we did later was to distribute one to each of the troops and the seventeen pounder they used to tag along behind because no troop commander or troop leader would ever have a seventeen pounder, because it was a very inconvenient tank, this bloody gun used to stick out and the point of balance was in front of it and it had to be anchored before you moved it. You had to either turn it around to sit on the back or you had to put an iron strut to anchor the breach to the ceiling.
JH: So it was a bit of a palaver. So did you have three of four tanks a troop?
JS: Well we had three tanks plus the seventeen pounder.
JH: I see.
JS: I made that change, because I found that they were being used as a squadron’s leader’s bodyguard. These four seventeen pounders were just sort of sitting behind me collecting the shells but not really doing any good, so we distributed them one to each troop. The troop leaders never had a seventeen pounder, as they were very un-handy.
JH: It must have been an amazing sight thought, to be part of the invasion fleet going over.
JS: I had never seen anything like it.
JH: The amount of aircraft flying over?
JS: That’s right.
JH: Did that give you confidence?
JS: No. Everybody was always told that there would always be a bombardment at the landing point in Normandy and that there wouldn’t be a beetle living there would be so much going on, with the aircrafts and battle ships, with rockets firing, it would obliterate everything! Well when I landed, I encountered a Frenchman that came out of his house and greeted me, he complained, that we had broken one of his windows. The first rule is put no trust in bombardment!
JH: But John, can I just ask you about the training before D-Day. Was most of the training directed at the assault on the beach? How much was for in -land training in the 1:21:21?
JS: None at al. As I would say, you had to learn everything the hard way. We weren’t assisted by the fact that Flash Kellett was promoted and killed; Donny Player was killed at the end of the fighting in North Africa. Then we had an interregnum; a succession of Colonel’s from outside the regiment. First was Lord somebody or other, I forget his name now. Nice chap, but he went away to Command his own regiment which was the City of London Yeomanry, he was captain with them and then Hughes followed by Ian Spence who had been, a court chap and he was a chartered accountant to his very finger tips! He commanded us for part of the end of the war, in North Africa, the regiment had taken a total collapse, no one was ill during the fighting. As soon as the fighting stopped, sick parades went up to seventy a day, the doctor was ill and had to be specially nursed, I went to hospital with sand fly fever; the whole regiment was in a state of total collapse, for weeks afterwards, we just spent our time lying on the beach and bathing, stark naked of course! Much to the great inconvenience of the nurses, of the hospital who had moved into the area. Then slowly we covered ourselves and were reinforced with a lot of officers. I think that chap who wrote that book that you mentioned…
JH: Stuart Hills?
JS: Stuart Hills. He went with your Father to South Africa;
DC: Yes he did.
JS: And when you spoke about his memorial service, I said well, Stuart Hills should do the address, because he had known him after the war. Stuart said that there would be no point, he couldn’t do it. If he had tried to do it, he would simply have broken down. There are not many people who in general have that sort of affection.
DC: They were very close; he was a lovely man, Stuart Hills.
JS: And so was your Father, he was a wonderful man.
DC: I am just interested, when he took over the command, after D-Day, are you suggesting there had been quite a lot of change at the top of the regiment?
JS: Well what happened was, we had three commanding officers in three days.
JH: Was it Johnson? That went into D-Day? And then it was Mike Laycock.
JS: They sent us one bloody Colonel after another. Ian Spence they sent us, who was the chartered accountant and he commanded us for a year. After dinner he used to play cards in the mess, and I don’t think Colonels should do that because they used to play poker; and with poker you have to play for high stakes otherwise bluffing becomes a façade. People, some of who couldn’t afford it; lost quite large sums and I think it is quite wrong of a Colonel to be involved in this anyway.
JS: He was with us for a year, and as soon as we got back to England, he buggered off and went to the staff, joining Monty on his staff and instead of him; they sent us a chap called John Darcy Anderson.
JH: Oh yes.
JS: He had been second in command of the Fourth light armored brigade in the desert and he had never commanded a regiment to do battle. So it was said that he couldn’t be promoted to Brigadier because of that. He was reduced from Colonel to Lieutenant Colonel and he came to command us, well to give you some idea. I was technical adjutant, I went to see him about something; he said to me “Ah yes, John, you are technical adjutant, now tell me, what does a technical adjutant do?” Commander of an armored bloody regiment who didn’t know what a technical adjutant is! His first step was to have something welded onto the side of his tank to enable him to climb into it! He used to address his driver on the A set, so the whole regiment would hear; “Pull into the side George, I want to pee!” This was John Darcy; On D-Day he landed in terrific form, and the gold beach became utterly choked; as the tide went out it got bigger and bigger and more and more vehicles and men arrived on it, and they couldn’t get off, because of the sea wall, its not like any sea wall you get in England, was like the battlements of a castle! The RE’s, who were meant to blow a hole in it, couldn’t do so. They had to hold up the side, which was heavily lined, and some of those 1:28:37, God they are brave. They had these flail tanks and every flail tank that I ever met, I had used them twice, and on each occasion, they set off making their avenue, through the tanks and then they would hit a mine themselves, and blow off a track and then they would block the bloody tracks! These chaps were having to dig for these mines with bayonet guns. Anyway it took about five hours to get off that beach. In the end we did get off and got fifty div onto their objectives and then we found ourselves by midday on land and it hadn’t occurred to us really that for five months we had been worrying about how we were going to land and what would happen if we couldn’t, and there we were landed. We hadn’t really thought at all about what had happened.
JH: Do you remember a bunker at the end of the beach; A German bunker at the end of the beach?
JH: Which was a long the beach rather than out to sea?
JS: Yes indeed.
JH: I think someone in the Essex Infantry took it out?
JS: Monty Hawley, knocked out several of their tanks.
JH: Was it A squadron tanks that were knocked out?
JS: Monty Hawley, I think, was in B squadron, one of the DD tanks. They have one of the DD tanks at Bovington Tank Museum.
DC: So when Daddy took over, Laycock was killed…
JS: What happened was, that we ultimately… he was still commanding A squadron, and A squadron got through pretty well, but then he got fifty div onto their objectives, and then we had the incident with the horse! We were meant to join up with the battalion of the Essex regiment. You can’t go looking for people in a tank, and we hadn’t got any wheels vehicles at all, so it was then that we saw a police horse anchored somewhere; He got on this horse and rode off with his map case under his arm looking for the Essex regiment! I think they were greatly surprised to be discovered by the horse cavalry! The horse cavalry had its merits in the end. Of course the miracle of D-Day was the secrecy as such, the Germans did not know when or where we coming. At the time we landed, Rommel who commanded, was away in Germany celebrating his wife’s birthday. When the cats are away the mice will play! None of the trenches that had been dug overlooking Gold Beach, when we landed were manned. The only division in the area was on the wrong side of the river. If they had known that we were coming, then it would have been different. We got through, and your Dad took the squadron through with the Essex to Bayeux and at the outskirts of Bayeux, the Essex, didn’t want to go through these close streets to this ancient town in the dark; we were glad of the pause.
JH: And were you a troop commander at this time?
JS: No, I had been technical Adjutant and just as we were all ready waiting to move to our areas. I was sent for by John Darcy, and he said “ Oh Stanley is not happy about having Keith Douglas as his second in command,” His second in command had been a chap called George Jones, who was jolly good, he had been taken as Adjutant. That left Stanley with just Keith Douglas.
JH: George Jones was killed the same time, as Michael Laycock wasn’t he?
JS: I don’t know what it was, that broke the camel’s back, but something happened. Probably Keith was away in London, when he shouldn’t have been talking to his publisher. But anyway, I was sent for by John, having heard that Stanley wasn’t happy about this. So he was going to send me to A squadron as second in command. Well I was flabbergasted! I asked him who was going to take my place, as it was a very important role; he was going to ask me whom I suggested. This is the Colonel of the fucking regiment! I suggested somebody and anyway I was sent as second in command of A squadron. I reported to Stanley and he said “Well I am jolly glad to have you, but I am afraid I don’t have a tank for you!”
JS: All the tanks you see had to be waterproofed first to be capable of wading in six feet of water. They weren’t DD tanks, but they had to be waterproof. He just hadn’t got one, so I landed on D-Day in an ammunition lorry!
JH: But you were technically second in command of A squadron?
JS: I was, now second in command of A squadron. But they didn’t have a second in command because there was no tank for him! It was Keith Douglas who was still second in command when they landed. Anyway, John Darcy Anderson the Colonel landed and there was this terrible congestion on the beach there. He said, “ I must do something about this;” and started to climb out of his tank. Adjutant George Jones, tackled him and landed in the bottom of the turret and said, “Don’t be fucking stupid, you will get shot;” “Its alright, “ said John Darcy “I will put my tin hat on!” So he put his tin hat on and got out and was shot. He spent the rest of D-Day lying on the beach waiting to be evacuated.
JH: What happened to him in the end?
JS: I will tell you what happened to him; he ended up as St John Darcy Anderson. Deputy Chief of imperial general staff. Well that’s what half of our in command assured rangers does for you! Well that was our first Colonel gone, Mike Laycock took over and he did very well. He had one incident; he was a very short-tempered chap Laycock. He was in a scout car. The word was “Press on, press on!” And they got onto the railway line which leads from Bayeux, his driver got one wheel on one side of the track and one on the other, and he couldn’t get off! So Mike said “Oh for God’s sake get the bloody thing off!” So this chap wrenched this car, whereupon the Colonel that he had gone to meet rose up out of the hedge and roundly reputed him for damaging government property!
JS: His reply is not recorded! Anyway, the battle went on and we went on through 1:39:43, with the fiftieth.
JH: You must have been just absolutely exhausted?
JS: Oh completely.
JH: Did you find when you were that exhausted, does adrenaline sustain you or do your sense start to dull?
JS: It doesn’t sustain you very much, what happened was, we landed on the Tuesday, and the regiment wasn’t called out until Wednesday the following week. I wasn’t in commanding A Squadron. Keith Douglas was killed on the Friday, I climbed back into his tank, and I was therefore an effective second in command. Then on Black Sunday, our regimental head quarters was wiped out, Laycock was killed, George Jones was killed, Lawrence 1:41:08 was killed. The head quarter operator was wounded and the whole thing was simply not functioning. I forget the name of the chap from B Squadron who sorted things out. The doctor came up and gave Sergeant 1:41:49 and injection so they could wake him up; in order to find out what frequency it was to talk to brigade. They were out of touch with the brigade, out of touch with the regiment. It was in a disastrous state. I think it was the 1:42:11 division who was attacking? That night of course, somebody had got to take over the regiment. Strictly speaking it ought to have been Steve Mitchell, because he was the senior, but he had been knocked out in his tank and he was in no fit state to go on anyway. He and Stanley went off to the gate together. In the days that followed. Stanley and Steven were found commanding the regiment. He was promoted to Colonel and Steven became his second in command and that worked very vey well.
JH: And Steve was happy about that?
DC: How do you think Steven reacted to that? Do you think he wanted that?
JS: Well he wasn’t in a fit state.
JH: So OK, he had turned down the opportunity?
JS: When you are knocked out of your tank and you find yourself on the floor with the remains of your crew, who you have got to get back to the doctor, a terrible reaction sets in and you are not fit to command anything. Anyway the result was that Stanley took over and Steven was his second in command. These two were always together like Flanagan and Allen; always chipping each other along, always laughing. When somebody visited the regiment, I can’t remember who it was, and reported us as being the most cheerful he had met in Normandy. This was entirely the work of Stanley and Steven together, they were always together. This affected the whole regiment.
JH: In a good way?
JS: The top does effect the regiment, it pulled us all the way through. We had a terrible commander from that, in the infantry division, which we were constantly called upon to support. General Thomas; who was a lump of shit. He would sack a man as soon as look at him. I was present on one occasion; he arrived and sacked the Brigadier on the spot, because he hadn’t been pushing on fast enough. He was absolutely hated. This permeated the whole division. If you talk to David 1:46:03 about his experiences with forty-thee div! He used to think it must be a curse, that they were always outranked. David 1: 46:23 had an up and downer with a company commander! There was another occasion when we were told to pull out, you see as soon as we got the infantry onto their objectives, we were pulled out and then sent off somewhere else. Because of this process, I had troop leaders ringing in and saying that they had been commanded by the Major not to leave. I said that they better speak to him. The infantry you see, were being constantly re-enforced, by chaps under the age of twenty, untrained, no experience. Training in the British army was bloody awful, this chap wrote a book called eighteen for two.
JH: Oh it’s amazing.
JS: Have you read that?
JH: Yes, he was in the Somerset Light Infantry.
JS: The men who trained us, were innocent of all knowledge of what to expect from the enemy. And so it was, these kids arrived hardly strong enough to carry their bags and kits and entrenching tools, eighteen/nineteen years of age, frightened out of their wits with no one telling them what it is like. One battalion baled out at the sound of their own artillery, we were told flatly in Europe that the moral of the infantry was such that they couldn’t be relied upon to even hold the line without tanks. This was our life supporting these kinds of infantry and always out ranked. They coped with all of this and all these Generals and Brigadiers, he was always laughing always gay, and within the regiment he had green fingers. People thrived, chaps would arrive and they were happy in the regiment.
JH: The 1:49:18 levels are just amazing aren’t they?
JS: Unceasing, what was so bloody awful about it was, that an armored regiment with numbers about eight hundred, but all hits were taken by about two hundred and out of those two hundred the real risks were taken by the tank commanders, that were only fifty strong. Out of eight hundred the real risk in the regiment, was being taken by fifty people. These casualties were absolutely 1:50:03 of course tanks were shelled mainly, shelling did most of the damage, and they were shelled very accurately.
JH: Do you ever wonder how you managed to get through it?
JS: Well, it was crazy really; I always used to say that we were living on borrowed time. Before the battle of Alamein, we were given three days leave.
JS: I went off to Carlisle with a chap, a pal of mine, called Ronnie Hill, we had just completed our period, we were in a Gary going down the main street in the car. You would never have thought that we were on one of the eves of a big battle in history? Ronnie was absolutely convinced, that whatever happens to anybody else, it won’t happen to you. This was recalled to my mind, on the morning of the first day at Alamein, he was in A squadron, I was in C squadron and he came over in his Crusader, and talked to me, climbed up and sat on my turret chatting. Then he was blown to bits all over me. I was drenched in his blood to my naval. I thought, so much for being convinced that it wouldn’t happen to you. The fact is that when the time comes, you have simply to depend upon your courage. That isn’t forcible either. It is just gets terribly wearisome. But there we are, we got through. The strange thing is that the only thing that made life possible is sleep. You knew if you were going to be at battle the next day but we always used to think “ Never mind, to sleep first!” Sleep made all things possible.
JH: There must have been moments where you got that bottle of wine or that bottle of cider, and there’s Stanley and Steve laughing their heads off and being jolly, brief moments of a bit of lightness and relief. Or was it not really like that?
JS: Well, it kept going, David 1:53:29 will tell you that when he joined the regiment and came to A squadron, having discovered to his astonishment for the first time in the army he was being treated as a human being! People called him by his Christian name and this sort of thing.
JH: Did you all do that? What was the difference between you as an officer and a trooper? Was a trooper Vex or was it Bob or whatever?
JS: Well, yes, it was Bob really. You see we lived on our tanks, we didn’t have a regimental officers mess, from the time we left England until the end of the war.
JH: You were just on the go the whole time weren’t you?
JS: Absolutely unremitted.
JH: In Normandy, would you just be sleeping where you levered your tank? Was it the same thing as it was in the desert, just with t different landscape?
JS: Yes, that’s all. The days were the longest. It went on from four in the morning until eleven at night. We would then get about three or four hours sleep. The battle of Normandy went on unceasingly, it went on through the month of June, July, the third week of August …..
JH: Seventy-seven days.
JS: At one stage, we were in it unremittingly; we were never off for less than two hours notice. At one point, the doctor went to the Brigadier and told him that the regiment was suffering from shear exhaustion, and were no longer fit to fight. They canceled the next day’s operation and we slept. We went on through D-Day right through a terrible Black Sunday where we lost 1:56:10. I found myself in command of A squadron on the Monday; we got through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I was called for a conference with Stanley, he was as bright as a button and said, “ Well chaps, we have just got to do another balaclava charge and then we will pull out”, this was received with total silence; there wasn’t a response from anybody. He then said“ Alright we are pulling out tonight as soon as it is dark, so go back to your squadrons and get ready to pull out.” I went back to my tank, everybody was asleep. I got on the air and couldn’t raise anybody in the whole squadron! I had to dig out one of my tank crew to go round with a hammer and wake people up. As soon as they were told that we were going to pull out as soon as it was dark, everybody felt better. Then I remember we pulled out that night and it took us about seven hours to cover three miles. We pulled into a field beside a regiment of medium artillery and slept the rest of the night and the following day. We heard not a thing from all the guns firing repeatedly
Was there any resentment that you were always at the sharp end?
JS: Well, that was it, there was no choice about it, that was the nature of the army, and I remember that a German officer gave a talk on television. He told us what it was like to return to his regiment in Russia after leave. He said that they had trained parts, that you had to breath in turn, it was so packed. They fell away and fell away until arriving at the railhead; the only people left on the train were the driver, the guard and him. That was what it was like; as soon as you went back into the rare areas, you could breathe from the people. But it was mighty lonely at the front I can tell you. Day followed day, we were never pulled out you know, that was a terrible thing, because the German’s, used to rotate their additions to re-train. That never happened to us, throughout the war, we were always on tour without notice and we moved through…..
JH: Did you know that the average day casualties were higher in Normandy than they were in the Somme or Passchendale or even Verdun?
JS: Oh no they weren’t.
JH: There were more casualties, but the daily rate was higher in Normandy than Passchendale and Verdun…. Longer battles
JS: I don’t know, we did have a lot of casualties. Particularly amongst the tank commanders; and this was our problem, because they were extremely difficult to accept promotion too, the prospect of ever being a tank commander, because that’s where the casualties were. The tank commanders were vital. The tank controls everything, directs everything. He also had to understand about maps and map reading and all that. The infantry of course were all together. The private soldier learnt as much about battle as the section commander within a tank. Those chaps below, they don’t know what’s going on at all. The driver would be playing cards with his buddy, the gunner would be making bully beef sandwiches to hand you at some awkward moment. They don’t know where they are or where they are going. It is only the tank commander upon who everything depends.
DC: What do you think… two things for me, the show of rangers from what I have read, were very distinct in their culture. Seeing and obviously had a very extraordinary war, what do you think was the reason for this? What was the culture like? What made it such a special selection of people?
JS: Well it’s just the regimental system that things were learnt the hard way. You’re in it together up to the neck, that’s all about it. Of course, casualties, they do tear the heart out, but it just went on and on.
JH: John can I just ask you where you were born and brought up?
JS: I was a Londoner, my Father was a solicitor. I was a solicitor’s article clerk. I joined the inter corps regiment as such. Then of course I was immobilized at the outbreak of war.
JH: So where did you live in London?
JS: I lived in Mill Hill.
JH: And did you have any brothers or sisters?
JS: I had a brother. He was in the navy, he was an engineer, and so he spent his war in Portsmouth degaussing ships enabling them to go over mines.
JH: And did you go back to law after the war?
JS: Well, I went through various stages. I came out and instead of going…. My father had a client who said I ought to go into the bar. Anyway I went to college, after the war, qualifying as a barrister. I practiced for about five years and then I came to realize, that I didn’t really like the bar, I didn’t like the constant litigation the damage, so I went off to the home office. I was in the home office for many years, ending up as legal advisor to the home secretary.
JH: How fascinating.
JS: That’s how I got the CB. Fortunately I was the first legal advisor to the home office not get a knighthood. That was the most fortunate thing in my life. It’s one thing having a knighthood when you are in post, but as soon as you retire, it’s a dreadful thing, because you get invited to people’s cocktail parties. You’re a marked man! The greatest gift from the fairies is a cloak of invisibility! You are able to go where you like. I realized this, when I was first released, I was walking down Regent Street, in my civilian clothes, for the first time in seven years I didn’t have to watch out for people saluting me. It was a great sense of relief, I was now completely anonymous. I didn’t have to keep up appearances in shape or form, you see we wore uniform for the whole of the war.
JH: What was your kit in North West Europe?
JS: My kit?
JH: Was it overalls?
JS: I think we did have overalls…
JH: Or did you have denim battle dress?
JS: Battle dress really.
JH: And over the passing years, have you spent a lot of time thinking about the war? Or do you put it out of your mind?
JS: It isn’t possible really. I have had occasions, where I have thought of your father. In the war, I had a great store in A squadron called Sergeant Trim, he was a hunting man and hunting people have an eye for country. They see things that townies don’t. And he put rock against which the waves beat in vain, he knocked out more tanks than anyone in the regiment, probably more than anyone in the army. He got a medal and was recommended for a DCM. And after the war, he sold his medal, he wouldn’t go for a walk under any circumstances and it was a years before we induced him to come on any of the trips we took back to Europe for the commemoration days, so they we are you see. That is the way…..
DC: And you were thinking of my Father?
JS: Your Father had this terrible burden too. I think that the probably accounts for a lot of his drinking.
JH: What happened to Steven Mitchell?
JS: Steven Mitchell’s story, while Stanley had Steven, he had support. Steven acted as his second in command throughout the battle of Normandy, and I think after that I remember a day came…. Now the second in command has to be recommended for command. Brigade kept writing in saying to send Mitchell for recommendation for command. Steve, because he had refused the regiment initially, refused to let Stanley send it in. The result was that one horrible day, he was posted away and instead we were sent chap called Lord Lee, who I think had commanded the Yorkshire Hussars. He was a joke. He brought with him, a chap called 2:11:06 who was splendid, Stanley took him as adjutant to. But he wasn’t a Sherwood Ranger, neither of them were Sherwood Rangers. Nobody about Stanley had been in the regiment for any length of time, they didn’t know the men. The only shoulder he could weep on was either the doctor or the padre.
JH: It is insane isn’t it? just leave him where he was.
JS: So he lived through all of this, completely isolated, coping with all these bloody infantry Generals and Brigadiers. I remember the end of the battle of Normandy, we were in horrid place called 2:12:14. One of the squadrons 2:12:16 and anyway it was over. The German army and Normandy beaten. The Brigadier came and visited us and said “ Well Stanley, your rid of forty three div.” That was bloody….
JH: General Thomas.
JS: “You wont have anymore to do with them until the crossing of the Seine.” Well the Seine was miles away. We started in thinking of terms of organizing cricket matches, we crossed the Seine ten days later.
JH: Amazing, can I just ask you one last question and that is what you thought of the Americans?
JS: We got on extremely well with the Americans. We first encountered them in on this.. you know the rush up to…
JH: Market Garden?
JS: For six weeks we supported Arial divisions of the Americans. We got on with them extremely well. Stanley did, well we all did really. One of our problems with the yanks was that they were great men for passwords, they demanded on a password and if you didn’t give it, they just shot you. I held happy with having to meet up with these yanks and I said to one of them, what about this bloody password business? We never know what your passwords are. He said “Don’t even think about it; nobody is going to shoot anybody who talks about you!” Well anyway we got on splendidly with them and that was our own doing. The result was, we went for the battle of 2:15:13, thirty corps were sent a complete American Infantry division to get what they called the 2:15:24. Who of course got sent to support them, but the Sherwood Rangers. I was sent of for a week to live with one of their battalions. I was sent for by a Colonel in a hell of a state, he said “Your General is coming to inspect us, what are his hobbies? Every General has a hobby, this General, it is all the corners and neat and clean, that General, all the cook houses were full of stock pots.” I said don’t worry about that he just wants to check over and then he will pass on his way. Later when we moved to our assembly point, before battle, I had been told a black map reference which was a patch of ground that was drenched because it never stopped raining. Once I had found them I said that I was glad to find them undercover, and he replied, “Yeah, your General said that every man gotta be under cover until the last possible moment!” I said that later on I would bring my tanks down the night before battle, so we could form up in the dark, and your chaps can attach themselves to my tanks and we can al go forward in the dark together and he said “Well that’s a good idea, but I cant do that, your General said everybody has gotta be undercover until the last possible moment!” On the third day of the battle things had been going pretty bloody badly and I went back to their regimental head quarters, which was in a cellar under the road and there were steps down with a German corpse. I asked him whey he hadn’t buried this fella? “ Well I’ve kinda touched the passage.” So we had to step over this body in order to get down. I couldn’t get any sense out of anybody. I said Look, what the hell is going on? “Your General has been on the phone, he wants to know whether every man has got his blankets or a great coat, and when he last had a hot meal, and we didn’t know, we asked the Jeep driver to come in for a message and he hadn’t got his great coat or his blanket and hadn’t had a hot meal since the battle began.” Well there were cook’s lorries going this way and that way, and the whole business of fighting the war was abandoned because “Our General had said that every man had gotta have a hot meal!” So they did at last discover what armies were!
DC: Amazing, John you have been fantastic. Amazing to hear.
JS: I lost my touch at that battle, we suffered terrible casualties. That was my last battle, after that I was finished.
DC: I now that Daddy looked at those final…. Its interesting now, I hadn’t thought about Steve Mitchell going, because Daddy I know always wanted him back… he found it very challenging.
JS: Well he had no support.
DC: But now I understand that.
JS: No support at all.
DC: He often told the story about the dog. Picking up a little dog …
DC: And everybody hated it!
JS: Oh yes! Yes he did
JH: Apart from your Dad!
DC: Typical, a funny little stray.
JS: I have a photograph of it somewhere, if you are interested?
JH: Do you have a photograph of you from the war?
JS: Well I have some.
JH: I am sorry that we have made you go through some painful memories… it’s been fascinating.
JS: The other thing you were asking about… I think you were asking me about the stampede, well, in that white book, that I have put a marker in, there is a photograph there of horses on a horse line. You see when we got to Palestine, the regiment wasn’t in barracks, and the horses weren’t in stables, they were on horse lines, you can see them there, the horse line was anchored to ground and the horse was tethered to this line. Well if they panicked of course, they could tear that up easily. But if they did stampede, it was bloody dangerous.
DC: I wonder if Daddy was involved in some way with that?
JS: Not as far as I was aware, but I was waiting to be transported out to the regiment at that time. There is a photograph there, of the regiment on Christmas day after we got back from Gibraltar and had been re enforced. There is a picture of your Father there…. In the brown thing.
DC: I was admiring this wonderful picture of the line of horses as well.
JS: Have you got Lawrence Piddle’s letters?
DC: I have just seen them, but I haven’t got them no, I was talking to Jonathan about them last night, and I must get a copy of these. I look forward to reading them.
JS: He was Major and wounded the brigade was overrun on that Black Sunday. Afterwards, General Hubbard, wanted him as his Brigade Major and he made enquiries and everybody else said for God’s sake have nothing to do with Hubbard. So he refused and resented us terribly.
DC: I can’t say how lovely it has been to see you again after all these years. And thank you so much. It has been very special to hear your story really. It’s been lovely, I didn’t speak to Daddy a lot about it because he didn’t really talk about it.
JS: I should think not, I think it was really rather… there was no doubt; he carried a lot of terrible burdens from it.
DC: He certainly did.
JS: After all those letters of condolences he had to write, he was a lovely man, a very great man. A very, great gentleman.