Army and Wartime
Somerset Light Infantry
When called up in 1941, dad joined the Somerset Light Infantry, and trained with them. After a year, he volunteered himself, and Frank Bishop, to the Airborne, with the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Called up to the Army he met a neighbour, Jasper Willoughby at Tooting Junction Station.
When moving from one hut to another, dad claimed his bed by putting his gear on it. Later he came back to the hut and another soldier was stood at his bed, and had put his blankets on it. “I’ve been in the army before,” said this soldier, “and it’s not your bed, I’m claiming it.” Despite being afraid that the soldier would have a go, dad threw his blankets across the room. The soldier just walked away.
“Lose that job!” was the advice. The Batman Job.
An embarrassing task for dad, when his was in the guard room, was to mend the beds in the women’s barracks.
The officer that Stuttered
The first time he went Absent Without Leave (AWOL) was when he was told he would get leave after being in hospital for a jab. He didn’t get the leave so took it anyway. His punishment was to spend 14 or 21 days in the Guard House, and do chores during the day.
Once a day he would run around the cap with his rifle above his head while being followed by an officer on a bicycle. The officer was Lance Corporal Rogers, who all the men called ‘Buck Rogers’. The office took a smoke break in a dispersal area, and dad would ask him about his farm. At night dad would be in the canteen dishwashing and would get stick from the Air Force corporal in charge. Dad complained to Rogers that he shouldn’t, as Army, have to take it from an Air Force man, and Rogers had the RAF man moved.
When he moved to another camp, he no longer had Buck Rogers to back him up. Dad was called by the Sergeant-Major there as one of three ‘undesirables’. One stint of 14 days punishment involved him making coal briquettes. Another 21 days punishment had him in one of four cells in the guard house block. Being the only inmate it was his job to clean out all the cells. A corporal would make a point of walking with his rubber heals over the freshly cleaned floor, just to make dad do it again. On one occasion this officer had a revolver, and dad asked what he was wearing it for. The corporal replied “to shoot bastards like you if you try to escape”. Dad said “ta-ta then”, and walked off, infuriating the officer, who didn’t draw his pistol.
Another time he went AWOL, for about 10 days, he went to Waterloo station to get the train back to camp. All the trains were packed and he spoke to an MP, who said he should just shove to try to get on. Dad told the MP that he was a ‘bit late’ getting back to camp. “How late?” asked the MP. “Ten or twelve days” came dad’s reply. “Right! You’re with us!” and he was marched off to Scotland Yard, and put in the cells there. When an officer came from his regiment to escort him back to the camp, the MP asked him where his sidearm was. The officer asked dad if he was going to try to escape, to which dad said no, he was going back to camp. Before going to the train station, the officer and dad went to the pub.
Dad had some fun while training with the Somersets. One occasion, on crossing a bridge at night he, and others, would shout that Martin would fall in, and he did.
More mischievously, dad and Frank would tease their fellow soldiers at grenade practise.
In 1943, the King visited the camp while dad was in the guard house.
South Staffordshire Regiment
He joined the Airborne regiment and was number 2 to ‘Cowboy’ Foster, a 6ft 4in Bren gunner, who was the heavyweight champion of the battalion. During exercises in the streets of Bath, dad found he couldn’t get over a wall at the end of some mews. The officer in charge, a Provo-Sergeant called Bateman, ordered dad to get over the wall. He said he couldn’t, and the two started to argue, with dad swearing. Nearby at work were two bricklayers, and a labourer, who heard this commotion. They were from London and heard dad’s accent, and so they intervened, forcibly telling the Provo-Sgt to ‘Help him over the wall’. Dad was not popular with the officer after that.
Bateman had dad on a charge and put in the cells, but dad rebelled further. Cowboy Foster meanwhile was put up as a Provo-Lance Corporal and tried to get dad, his number 2, to tow the line. But dad continued to ignore Bateman’s commands, and so he ended up in solitary confinement. A twist though was that Cowboy Foster challenged Bateman to a boxing match, the latter getting out of that by having hurt his wrist.
Dad said that Cowboy Foster died at Sicily, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) have a Private William Thomas Foster, aged 27, of the 2nd (Airborne) Bn. South Staffordshire Regiment, who died on 9th July 1943. His parents were William and Clara Foster, of Tipton, Staffordshire.
This photo included Reg Swaby, listed on the CWGC as Private Reginald Swaby, aged 27, who died on the 10th July, 1943. Others mentioned are Carpenter, Hancock, Corporal Jones, Sergeant Billy Parks, ‘Tosher’ Brown, Fisher.
Seven Days Field Punishment was given to dad, Frank Bishop and Eric Deardon, who cheekily asked “how big is the field?”. Eric was then given 14 days.
Dad told about a soldier called Harvey who had the nickname “Commando” because he was always exercising using the jumping tower that the paratroopers trained on. One day Harvey took apart a gun, but couldn’t get it back together. Dad ridiculed him for that, and Harvey deserted.
Dad went on two missions, from north Africa to Sicily as part of the Allied Invasion of Italy, and Arnhem in Holland. He was a Bren gunner, and was carried in a engine-less plane, a glider, which was towed by a powered aircraft. Around 6 miles from the landing site the glider was released, and glided down, to land in a field.
Landing in Sicily.
Listen also to his description of the difference between the gliders he flew in.
Dad’s pal Eric Deardon was killed in a Horsa Glider on the way to Sicily.
Dad told some more about Eric.
Eric Deardon on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
Dad’s mate Frank Bishop was sent to a river to get water, and when he returned he was annoyed at being shot at.
Dad flew in the glider to Arnhem, landing on the 17th September, 1944.
He describes the scene after landing. Note there is some noise from building work in the background.
On the 18th September, when he was in some undergrowth ready to fire at a group of Germans, his number 2, Lance Corporal Edward Hunt (see CWGC), who dad says was very tall, was killed by a sniper. A soldier called Fisher then took his place as dad’s number two. Dad fired at a group of four Germans, and he knew that the burst of flame from his gun would show the enemy where he was, he rolled to his right, but his face veil got caught up in the bushes. He asked Fisher for help, but he was eating a tomato, and dad had to wait until he finished!
The Germans returned fire, which went to his left.
On the 19th September, he was then shot through his right shoulder, but was fortunately near the hospital which he was able to walk into. On the 26th September the Germans took over the hospital, and he was taken prisoner.
Prisoner of War
Hear dad talking about life in the two POW camps, and his journey home.
He didn’t get a wash until January 1945, when his clothes were de-loused and he had a shower. He spoke of the state of the other POWs, including one soldier who was wearing his jacket. After his plaster cast was removed, his arm just flopped, and he used a piece of string round a nail to pull his arm up and down to exercise it.
POW camp food.