Jim Ratcliffe and the 9th Durham Light Infantry
I joined the 9th DLI just after the Primasole bridge battle in Sicily, I was previously in the Loyal Regt, most of us in our draft seemed to go into C Coy. Three of us had got together on the troopship…..a Corporal Ted Cowell….a Pte Bob Lord and myself.
Bob was a real tough nut, he had served most of his service in detention barracks, in fact mention a military prison and he had been in it, we took him on board at Liverpool in handcuffs, but once he realised he was stuck with it he was no trouble and he seemed to appreciate that Ted and myself had befriended him, so when we joined C Coy we kept together, Ted was section commander I was his Bren gunner and Bob was my No 2.
When we entered Catania jerry had just pulled out and we must have been a bit to close on his heels because an armoured car suddenly appeared at the end of the street, I dont know who was more surprised them or us, I know at the time I was busy smashing up some Italian rifles when there was a shout for all Bren guns to the end of the road, there was a wall at the end and across this open hillside we could see a few troops running about so we rested our guns on the wall and had a high old time having a go at them, Bob was at my side jumping up and down with excitement saying “let me have a go” which I did.
The powers that be decided we had come the wrong way so we were formed up in three’s and marched back down the road when all at once there was an explosion amongst us, I cannot remember hearing a whistle, I was blown off my feet and when I got up I dashed into a doorway a few yards away somehow managing to keep hold of the Bren, Ted also made it to a doorway, at the same moment a women who was screaming her head off carrying a baby which was bleeding very badly came rushing into the same doorway as me.
There was a pile of bodies in the roadway with blood pouring from them, the ones who had survived had to march off and leave the wounded behind, two or three men were detailed to stay behind to tend to the wounded, my mate Bob Lord was one of the wounded he had a large piece of flesh torn from the back of his thigh, Tommy Cooke, one of the men detailed to look after the wounded, and later to become my mate, told me that Bob had asked “is Jim OK” after being told that I was, he said “thats all right then” and died. It was my lucky day because most of the men around me got hit.
The following day we had to go and give cover to a section of RE’s who were checking for mines at a cross roads. I had taken off my pack an undone my belt so I could lie down behind the Bren without the magazines and my pistol sticking in my ribs, just then there was a shout from over to our left, it was an old Sicilian chap he was waving his arms and pointing to a file of jerry soldiers who could have cut us off, me and my No 2 both jumped up I grabbed the gun and we ran like hell back down the road with tracer bullets passing either side and over our heads, I made for an archway and as I entered a burst of fire shattered the stonework just above my head, even through that mad dash for the archway I can remember the pain of the magazines and pistol flapping about and hitting my body, It was fortunate that they did not trip me, and I fastened them back up pretty rapidly when I stopped. We were both lucky because it seems that they were shooting at a group of lads on the left of the road and two or three of them were hit.
Memories on Tour
My husband and myself are very involved in WWI, but in 2006 we felt it would be good to increase our knowledge and understanding of WW2.
To get the most from our trip to Normandy we thought it wise to book a guided tour,which we did with Leger’s.
It was great, the guide was excellent and I learned a lot.My favorite place of all was Pegasus Bridge, a place I had heard of and seen footage of so many times.
To stand on and near the bridge gave me goose pimples,I felt so privileged to be where those true heroes had been.
It was amazing to see how successful the glider landings had been.
I was also so very privileged on this trip to have taken the flight from Biggin Hill to Caen on the Dakota -it will for ever be the most memorable flight I have ever taken and would love to repeat it.
Family WW2 Memorabilia
Green Howards badge
Memories of World War II by Janet Molly Griffith
My memories of the War are like moving snap shots and they are as sharp today as they ever were.
My first is of my sitting on my Mother’s lap and she is sitting on a stool in the pantry under the stairs, she is telling me that everything is alright it is only a nasty thunder storm and will go away, but thinking back to this time we had never before or since been that scared of a storm, in fact we quite enjoyed them. I am pretty sure now that it was one of the first air raids on Birmingham and West Bromwich.
My Uncle and Aunt had to bring their Wedding forward because Uncle was posted overseas and everything was done in a rush. I was Bridesmaid. Uncle and Aunt only had a couple of days Honeymoon and then they were apart for several years. The photograph of Jim and pals was taken in Egypt April 1942 and on the back is written “getting towards the end of a ten day march”
Another time I clearly remember that my Aunt and Mother were trying to fit my cousin into a Baby Gas Mask and she was howling, I was playing with my Mickey Mouse pink Mask and trying it on to make the nose flap. Also about this time I can recall going down into the Anderson Shelter in the middle of night with my Aunt, cousin and Mother all dressed in our night clothes. I do not recall being in the least scared and thought it quite fun. My Uncle was out on Air Raid duty and my Father was away in the R.A.F. It was during one of these raids that my Grandparent’s house in West Bromwich had all its windows blown out and so they came to live with us. The photo shows my Grandparents, my great Grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, Mum and me all living in a two and a half bedroom semi in Great Barr, is it any wonder that Mum and I went to live with my Dad in Scorton, Yorkshire where he was stationed. Also in the photo is another Aunt who must have been visiting.
There are two photos of Dad and me and Mum and me in 1941. The dress that Mum is wearing is one that she made. She was a very good dressmaker and the family was always calling on her services. She often made me a coat out of someone’s old coat and she made all my dresses.
I remember the journey through York Station and a very crowded train with people standing in the corridor, or sitting on their cases. Mum and I were in a carriage with a lot of Servicemen and I asked one of them if they liked Mum’s hat, it belonged to my Auntie. I bet that went down well with Mum. We had a bus journey after the train and I was very sick on the bus. Poor Mum she must have been fed up with me by the time we arrived.
We all lived in one room for a while and I can remember getting a good hiding one day and Mum’s being very cross with me. It could have been the time that I cut the Landlady’s daughter’s hair with my Mum’s scissors. We slept three in a bed – Mum, Dad and Me! I don’t know how long we were there but eventually we moved to Rose Cottage and shared accommodation with another R.A.F family with whom Mum became great friends. The cottage was owned by Mrs Flint, a lovely little old lady and Mum seemed much happier there. Impressed in my memory is the night that an aeroplane came back in trouble and a lot of people started running towards the airfield, but as the ‘plane crashed all its ammunition started exploding and everyone turned tail and ran back. While we were there Mum used to help in a “hostel” type place serving tea, I was not supposed to be there so I had to sit under the counter. I think she may have been helping the WVS.
There was a lovely village wedding where they threw pennies to all the children. I started school up there and came back to the Midlands with a lovely Yorkshire accent.
When my Dad was posted to Germany we came back home to live and by this time, my Aunt, Uncle and cousin and my Grandparents had all gone back to their respective homes and my Great Grandmother had died. The photograph is my Father with his pals in Germany with 2nd TAF.
We were at my Grandparent’s home to say good bye to my Dad and I can remember my Mother being in tears the day that my Father left for Germany, but I had no idea what was going on and must have been naughty because I got another hiding and sent to the Front Room in disgrace, not at all sure why.
So now it was just Mum and me and I had to start a new school. Mum had very little to live on as she had to pay the mortgage on the house. We were lucky in that my Grandfather owned a Grain Firm and received eggs and poultry and Sausages and Pork Pies, probably for a little extra Grain. Anyway no one asked. Every Saturday evening Grandfather would “divvy” out the eggs between Aunt, Mum and another Aunt. We were very lucky that Grandfather helped us out a lot.
I have very fond memories of sometimes coming home and finding my Dad unexpectedly there and running into his arms for lots of cuddles. I used to creep into Mum’s bed sometimes at night and once did it to find my Dad there! I bet they were pleased.
The Day War ended I danced up and down the garden singing “The Wars over” well it seemed the right thing to do, the grown-ups were all “shouting it from the tree-tops.”
Mrs Janet Molly Griffith
Letter from Frank – dated 1943
Dear Ma and family,
Just a few lines hoping this finds you in the best of health as it leaves me at present.
Well Ma it is Wednesday 3rd January as I am writing and I am feeling a bit worried over things with not having any mail for over a week, maybe it is with the holidays. Well I had a very nice time and I hope you had the same.
My friends and I started the ball rolling with having a grand party about two days before Christmas and we wasn’t sober until after Boxing Day. I did one foolish thing and that was getting drunk Christmas Day morning consequently I didn’t enjoy my Christmas dinner. I was that drunk that I can’t remember having any. Anyway the lads put me to bed and I slept until 11 o’clock that night. Then I decided to go down to my mate’s place where a grand party was in full swing with plenty of wine but believe me I dare not face it after what I drank that morning.
By the way Ma, how if your Len keeping these days is he still in the Middle East or has he gone to Greece. I don’t know what you think about the situation out there but I think it is a very bad show and believe me you want to hear my mates talk about old Churchill and his cronies and they seem to think that they are to blame for it all. I give you to understand how they feel about things is that they are both Communists and believe me they know what they are talking about.
Well Ma we are settling down to training once more after another grand party on New Years Eve in which I managed to keep sober and we finished off with forming hands with Old Lang Syne at 12 o’clock.
By the way Ma we have been out of the line just over two weeks and we are in a small town by the sea. It is very cold but apart from that we can’t grumble about the weather. We had a small fall of snow the other day but it soon cleared away.
Well I will close now so here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year Yours Truly
Letter from Len Chapman to family dated 1st December 1943
Dear Mother, Pop and Family,
Just a few lines hoping it finds you in the best of health as it leaves me at present. Don’t forget to let our Lil and May now this address and tell our Wag to let Herbert know as well because I have wrote to them just before I got my new address so don’t forget if you write straight back I shall have a get it in about 8 days and I haven’t had one yet. I don’t know whether you will have got the photo which I sent you before this letter but I have sent out Lil and May as well and I have told them what to do with it so if you take them altogether and get them done then taking them one at a time.
How’s Pop keeping these days I don’t suppose he has started doing what I told him to do first thing in a morning but tell him to look after himself I know you will look after yourself.
Sunday night I saw a picture with Judy Garland in Lily Mars I enjoyed it. Well I keep on telling you that it is very cold out here and windy. We’ve seen snow for the first time this year. I read the Eighth Army News yesterday and the news in it was very good. I don’t think it will last too long now and I shall be glad when I get a good pint of beer. The grub here is very good but you ought to see the mountains out here. I went to see Waldini again before he went to another town. This stuff they drink out here called veno I can’t stand it and some of the blokes sup it just like water. I hope you have a good Christmas and a happy New Year and there’s one thing don’t start thinking about me because I shall be having a good time. How’s Wag getting on with marries life and how’s Kath and the baby getting on what do they call it. And how is Lucy getting on it’s about time she wrote me a letter once in a while and how is Ernest getting on. It’s just started to rain, hail and snow there’s only one difference we don’t get rain off. Well don’t forget enjoy yourself at Christmas have you received that money I sent you.
Well I am signing off good morning and good luck
Tom Tateson, Private soldier in the Green Howards
On Monday 5th June there was an announcement over the ship’s Tannoy System that we should be sailing that evening for the coast of France. What had seemed somewhat unreal, almost as though we were in training manoeuvres, now became a reality.
No-one slept much, if at all, that night, many of us being up on the deck watching the flashes from the coast where our bombers were attacking the coastal batteries. I remember thinking that I ought to be frightened and that instead I seemed to be detached and observing myself as though I were watching a film. The feeling of unreality, the sub-conscious thought that “this can’t be happening to me” was in some way a calming influence.
Reveille was sounded at 3.15 am and we hastily went for breakfast. This being an American ship, the galley was equipped with the multi-course indented trays which I had not encountered previously. In one indentation was porridge and in another must have been surely the most unsuitable of meals that could have been devised. We were served with minced liver. (We were to see this for a second time after we had been at sea in the small assault landing craft for a few hours.) We were also given a rum ration. For many years after the war I could not bear the smell of rum, since in spite of the thoughtfully provided vomit bags and the fresh sea air, there was a pervading stench of retched liver and rum in the boats as we approached our encounter with Jerry.
At 4.20 am we began getting into the assault craft, and by 5.30 am we had left the ships and were on our way towards the shore. 7th Battalion had about eight miles to go and were due to land at “H + 20” (20 minutes after H hour). I was attached to “A” Company of the 7th Battalion along with one other member of the Signals Platoon, Ted Russell, one of the desert veterans. The 6th Battalion Green Howards was the assault Battalion of the 69th Brigade, with the 7th following up.
The assault landing craft held about thirty men tightly packed. They were low lying, flattish boats and we were seated so that our heads were below the level of the gunwhale. We were ordered to keep our heads down as we approached the coast to avoid enemy fire. However, our landing craft was disabled by some underwater mine or other obstacle and it became impossible to steer. One of the other boats was brought alongside, and although it was already fully loaded with a similar number of men, we had to clamber aboard and abandon our boat. We were now exposed to enemy fire as well as being grossly overloaded. From this position I was able to see more of the action, and one image which remains with me is of the rocket ships sending off volleys of rockets, very large numbers in each flight, at an angle of about forty-five degrees. Although there is of course no recoil from a rocket, there was, to me, an optical illusion of the ships, or barges, moving backwards as each flight of rockets was fired.
In the confusion of the hordes of other landing craft of various types, and due to the fact that some of the land-marks on which the Battalion commander was relying had been destroyed by the bombardment, we landed about four hundred yards to the right of our planned beach position at 8.15 am, forty-five minutes after the leading troops.
The beach was in a state of organised chaos, with tanks, guns, jeeps, trucks, personnel carriers, in fact every type of army vehicle. Some had been hit and knocked out; some were on fire. The heather or grass just off the beach was burning and clouds of smoke prevented a view of what lay beyond. Wounded men, including some Germans, were sitting at the top of the beach, and stretcher bearers were carrying others down to the boats from which we had landed. We walked along the top of the beach to reach our intended landing place, which was the road leading inland from La Riviere to Ver-sur-Mer.
(Copyright Mrs M E Tateson)
Letter from Len Chapman to family – dated 2nd November 1943
Dear Mother, Pop and Family,
Just a few lines to let you know I am still looking on the bright side of life and I am expecting to receive a letter from you at any moment now and shall I be glad.
I have just been reading the Eighth Army News and I see the Russians are still gaining strong. Well since I have been here I have seen some sights and can say Germany must be in a state with the bombing. We getting some grub now and it is the best I have tasted since I came here.
It was Sylvia’s Birthday in September wasn’t it. Tell her I will see what I can do about it. I moved again on Saturday and this place where I am now is a lot nearer England. We came by train and what a railway service the trains are very slow and the Italians are always jumping on the trains and getting free lifts and nobody ever says anything and they are always selling something mostly watches.
I suppose you are having some rum weather over there now and here it is ok. I haven’t seen a picture out here yet and it would be a change to have a good pint of beer. Its 6.45 at the present and I am lying full length on my bed and we have got a candle. We have been in bed for 7 o’clock nearly every night because we have nothing to do. In the same tent as me there is a Sheffield lad who lives in Shiregreen and we have been talking about old times when we have been drunk and what pubs had the best beer.
I have put my mind on learning Italian language I have bought a book which says Italian and then tells you what it means in English so when I have wrote a few more lines I’ll put a bit of Italian so you can learn for if you come out here for a holiday in Italy you will be able to know what to buy because the Hawkers at Dixon Lane are Angels at the side of the Italians talk about Block Market they would rob your eyes out if you let them. You have to bargain with them with everything you buy.
Well I hope you and Pop and the family have a very good time at Christmas because if I get the chance I shall and shall be thinking of you all the time.
Well I am signing off. Goodnight and good luck
A Winter’s Tale – Anthony J Booth, May 2009
A Winters Tale
December 3rd 1944 is a date that sticks in my mind as it was our first major battle on Dutch soil, having left our CDL tanks in Normandy we now had a new role that of an armoured personnel carrier regiment. Our objective was to liberate the town of Blerick and clear the land of German soldiers up to the river Maas.
The Dutch town of Blerick lays on the west side of the river Maas with the City of Venlo on the other side and this attack was to be a set piece assault with armour from the 79th Armoured Division in support of the 15th Scottish Infantry Division. The town was surrounded by a wide deep anti tank ditch with extensive mine fields either side of the ditch and out task was to cross the ditch and drop the infantry on their objectives in the town.
I was a driver of a Kangaroo, which was a Canadian Ram tank with its turret removed in order that a section of infantry could be carried inside to the objective with some protection. The Royal Scots Fusiliers had boarded our vehicles at night and at first light we were to advance. On the morning of the 3rd December 1944 the artillery barrage opened up with rockets adding to the din and I wondered how it would be at the receiving end, The Flail Tanks of the 22 Dragoon Guards started to move forward to the anti tank ditch and started flailing when they reached the mine fields. Churchill Bridge Laying Tanks of 81st Assault Engineer Regiment laid six bridges over the anti tank ditch and we were given the order to advance. I moved forward to the bridge and at that stage we came under heavy mortar attack and artillery air bursts which gave cause for concern as we had no over head protection. I was on bridge 2 and as I crossed the ditch I saw a Flail Tank in front flailing through the second mine field so I followed him. I was driving closed down using periscopes to see the ground, but with a fine falling rain they kept steaming up, so I opened my visor and propped it open with the stay. We were moving along the high ground with the town of Blerick on our left front. My Commander was Sgt Bracewell and my Gunner was Cpl Johnston and we were carrying Company HQ of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. As we approached the end of the high ground the Flail Tank commander, put his head out of the turret and waved me on, indicating he had finished flailing. I overtook the Flail Tank and the infantry commander asked Sgt Bracewell to take him to a row of cottages on the outskirts of the town; in front of me was a steep slope, I slid down that and accelerated toward the cottages. About half way to our objective we hit a large mine that not only blew our track of, but removed the left front suspension unit and blew the escape hatch into the interior of the tank. (The escape hatch on a Ram tank is under the gunner’s seat) The infantry dismounted and attacked the row of cottages I looked around and saw my commander on the floor of the tank and the gunner badly injured. I looked out and saw another Kangaroo knocked out some100 meters away, but there was no sign of the crew. As we were still being mortared I decided to get the crew out of the tank into a shell hole in front of my vehicle being outside with the protection from the tank seemed to be the best option, as a mortar inside would not give any one a chance.
After a while the mortaring eased so I decided to get the crew into the cottages where we would have some shelter. I carried my commander into the nearest cottage and went back for the gunner; the commander was paralysed and passing in and out of consciousness, the gunner was badly injured in both legs and was in a lot of pain. I went back to the Kangaroo and collected the first aid kit and a couple of tins of bully beef as we hadn’t eaten since early morning. I took out the morphine syringe and injected the drug into the gunners arm and eventually he became more settled. During this period we were in the cottage, although there was a cellar, the stairs were too steep for me to negotiate with two wounded comrades. At this stage I realised what little first aid training we had received and I felt powerless to do any more to ease their suffering.
About 3 o’clock in the afternoon the battle had moved on and I was able to locate help from Headquarters of the Royal Scots Fusiliers who arranged for my crew to be evacuated by jeep ambulance to a Field Hospital. I remained with the RSF for several days and was able to rejoin my regiment when the fighting eased. In those days there was little de-briefing and no counselling, one just got on with it. Two days later I was at an Armoured Replacement Squadron in Belgium collecting a new Kangaroo, returning to my regiment in time in time for the Ardennes Offensive.
I met up with old comrades long after the war to find my gunner Cpl Johnston lost a leg, but lived into his late 60s, but I was unable to find any information on my commander, Sgt Bracewell, who I am sure shielded me from the blast as he was standing next to me and I was in the driving seat with my feet and hands on the vehicles controls.
When I retired from Local Government in 1987 I wrote to the Burgomaster of Blerick asking if any person remembered the liberation and what had happened to my Kangaroo and was fortunate to link up with a Dutchman Gerard Kuipers. It was him and his son Henk who were instrumental in finding the site of my mining and that story is on the BBC World War 2 site under The Perfect Battle of Blerick. We have become good friends and I have been back to Blerick several times and even this event took place many years ago, the people always welcome the veterans back. Today; even with the years past, I am in touch with several members of the regiment that was formed in Normandy and disbanded in Germany the friendship formed in battle is a special kind and long lasting.
Anthony J Booth May 2009
This is a Kangaroo and troop members in Germany April 1945. I am the one sitting on the top on the right.
This was taken in February 1945 in the German Town of Kleve and we were carrying infantry from the 15th Scottish Division.The operation was called Veritable and our task was to clear the ground up to the river Rhine, it was a very difficult and dangerous time as the Germans were fighting for the first time on the father land.
Recollections from World War Two
Recollections from World War Two by Jean Garner
I was born in Birmingham only coming to Kent in 1997. When the war first started I was three and three quarters. My first memory is going underneath the stairs with mum and dad, that was before we had an Anderson Shelter. I can still see dad digging the big hole – we shared it with the next door neighbours. The man was in the auxiliary fire service as he was too old to go to war. He worked during the day and went to fires as and when. He used to report and then come pounding on the shelter door crying for sal volatile, terrified.
Birmingham suffered many air raids – November 1940 a raid by 350 bombers probably made up my parents minds for my mother and I to go to Wales to stay with a Welsh family in a tiny cottage. We spent Christmas and my 5th birthday there which was at the end of January. I used to fight with the son of the house. We were snowed in and couldn’t go to the well, so snow was melted for water.
Dad was called up in 1941, he had the choice of learning to drive or go in the forces, he chose the forces. I did miss him. When he went back off leave I broke my heart as I watched him walk down the road.
Mum took over the allotment and went from 12 stone to 8 stone. We had six chickens in the back garden and when a landmine was dropped at the corner of the road a lot of folk had to go to the local school while the bomb was being defused. Mum had special permission from the police to feed the birds, quite an adventure, the bomb could have gone off!
One of my mum’s sisters was expecting her first baby and when the raids began she had hysterics (she lived by the B.S.A Birmingham Small Arms Gun Markers). Her husband put her into his car (the only one in the family) and came to our house, where he took me out of bed, wrapping me in the elderdown putting me into the car, mum following, and drove us along Stratford Road towards Stratford-Upon-Avon we were stopped many times the most frightening thing was when an air craft crashed in the field next to us.
My cousin Winnifred was married in 1940 when I was six years old. She and her husband sang on the radio, workers playtime, they also sang and danced for the troops at the barracks in Acocks Green. She married at 20 years and died at 21 years. She was buried in her wedding dress and the soldiers were pall bearers at her funeral.
We had war workers billeted with us, two sisters from Grimsby. One was light fingered, eventually mother got rid of them only to have that drank too much. I remember water mains being fractured and soldiers working to put the right.
I wasn’t too happy seeing German prisoners of war, later on, working in gangs with diamonds or squares on their uniforms to identify them.
My father went into the Pioneer Corps and went over to Normandy in the second wave. Fortunately he came safely home. He used to tell us about things, flies, horrible sights.
There was an incendiary bomb dropped next door which damaged our roof.
The war ended when I was 9 years old. We had a bonfire in the middle of the road. A policeman linked arms with a woman to dance around. She was singing ‘Roll me over, roll me over in the clover, roll me over lay me down and do it again’. I never forgot the sight.
There is more bombed out buildings, mum in tears, not much food! I remember the queues would go round, we all joined the queue.
Where has the chocolate with bubbles gone? The Kraft cheese triangles have gone as well. Being young I was sheltered from many things but I still remember when a convoy of trucks pulled into our road. It was the first G.I.s I had ever seen. Got any gum chum? I was given a box which my mother shared with the other children.
The sirens were a necessary evil, the noise! My mother crying when Vera Lynn sang ‘We’ll meet again.’
The D Day Landings. That day my mum painted the kitchen walls to keep her mind off things. Dad’s word to her when he went into the forces was guard Jean (me) with your life. She did. I live through it, what memories!
Soldier of Misfortune
This is a story that has been told to me by my Grandad, Patrick Rafferty...
“If any one life epitomises the for-tunes of war it is that of my grandfather Henry ‘Harry’ Marston.
“The Royal Warwickshire Regiment soldier survived the Battle of the Somme in the 1914-18 conflict, but became a rare casualty of enemy action in Warwick during the Second World War. Harry, by then a reservist with the regiment, was 50 years old and worked as a metal polisher. He was walking on St Mary’s Common on May 17, 1941 when a Luftwaffe aircraft dropped a stray stick of bombs. He was killed instantly along with his friend, James Height. Both are commemorated on the town’s war memorial in Church Street, just off Warwick town centre.
“I still remember this tragic event. They were walking along the path about 200 or 300 yards from Linen Street; they were coming home from a nightshift. There were just a couple of bombs. The plane must have just jettisoned them after an air raid. I don’t think they were trying to bomb Warwick town as a target. The tragedy was the second war-related loss to be inflicted on my grandmother. Her first husband, Sgt Cadmore, died of his injuries not long after returning from the First World War.
“I heard of my grandfather when I returned home from school my mother and grandmother were both crying and they told me that grandfather had been killed. But, I was ten years old and it did not really sink in.
“This was not to be the only time I had direct experience of the human cost of war. My 13-year-old friend Stanley Llewellyn was killed in the same year after picking up a live mortar bomb at Wedgnock Rifle Range, then a military site. Many of us as children would go up to the rifle range to pick up bits of shells, bullets and parachute flares. Stanley picked up a bomb and he hid it up his sweater, later it dropped out hit the ground and exploded.
“I have researched my family’s military connections for several years. Both my father and grandfather served with the Royal Warwickshire at its Budbrooke Barracks. National service allowed me to follow in their foot-steps and I served in Germany. I remain very proud of this link and I am keen member of the Royal Warwickshire Regimental Association (Leamington Spa branch), which meets at the Royal British Legion Club in Leamington Spa.”
The Remarkable Woman
The Remarkable Woman - © Bernard J Denver 2005
The Remarkable Woman is a fascinating life story of courage, romance and survival from a war zone.
The Remarkable Woman is one Rogelia Odo Denver whose determination and strength overcame devastation, military rules and strange new countries for the sake of true love, truth and family.
ROGELIA ODO DENVER
8th December 1910 – 16th March 2005
Born into a family of two brothers and two sisters, Rogelia was always the baby and her small stature (being only 5ft at best) confirmed that position. Her maiden name Odo can be traced to Scandinavia and thence to Central Europe/Southern Europe before an unknown ancestor went to Gibraltar. In fact a Bishop Odo was largely responsible for the Bayeux Tapestry.
Gibraltarians were always known as Rock Scorpions and Rogelia Odo soon proved this description to be true of her. Rebellion started at an early age resulting in many clashes with authority in the form of her educators, the nuns. If she thought an injustice was occurring, she acted verbally and physically. The result in simple terms was being thrown out of all schooling. That meant that she could not read or write as we know it.
Later in life the disease of glaucoma was discovered which doctors thought might have started when Rogelia was very young. This could have been a major factor in her inability to concentrate on lessons in the classroom, however, it was not the factor defining her nature. This was one feisty child who would express her thoughts verbally without consideration resulting, as you can imagine, in many problems throughout her life. Yet because of her absolute faith in total honesty (never even capable of telling a lie) her words and actions always resulted in producing something good. Her generosity in giving knew no bounds right to the very end.
It was during her growing-up period in Gibraltar that she developed many friendships and an extra-ordinarily close relationship with one of her sisters, Ernestina, which lasted through many privations and forced partings until Ernestina’s untimely death in 1988 aged 83.
Rogelia was disciplined in everything she did, spotless to the nth degree and it was this part of her nature that was used to produce a living. She took to washing officers’ clothes and it was probably this act that brought her into contact with her one and only love – her future husband Bernard Steven Denver, NCO Sapper (Royal Engineers).
How they ever got married is beyond my ken. In fact, it was beyond everybody’s ken. Here was a man equal to Rogelia in all her beliefs about life and yet opposite in the way to express them. He hardly uttered a word that was not absolutely necessary. When he did, that soft Scottish accent was listened to with intent as, like Rogelia, everything he said was always just right.
Peacetime life for a soldier in Gibraltar was one of early starts and early finishes. It was this fact that brought them together. Every day Rogelia would take her finished articles of clothing back to the barracks and every day she would pass Sapper Denver reading his book on a bench in Alemeda Gardens – and the bench is still there today.
Well, true love always finds a way of overcoming all obstacles and somehow Sapper Denver started to talk to Rogelia. Even though Rogelia was the most vociferous, I doubt it was the other way around because soldiers, generally speaking, were to be avoided. Anyway, the relationship developed and they were married in 1930 – Rogelia was nearly 20 and Bernard was 25.
Rogelia continued with her washing until the inevitable happened – a move to Blighty was ordered. They moved to married quarters at Borden, Hampshire where the Royal Engineers had their own railway line. This was to be a happy period thoroughly enjoying the long British summers. There were visits to Scotland during this time to see what was fast becoming an impoverished family. Bernard’s father, Dadda as he was called, although an ex-officer, Royal Engineers, and now Clerk of Works for Glasgow Corporation, did not have enough money to live on.
The return to Hampshire from these visits always meant empty pockets. Little did Bernard’s parents realize their support came not from army pay but from Rogelia’s continued washing of officers’ clothes.
It was now the rising of Dictators time and the army did not like the sounds of El Duce. Despite whatever the politicians were saying, the army was preparing in many small ways – just in case. The only common border was the Libyan/Egyptian one and the army needed specialists there to set up defences. So it was that Bernard received orders: move to Egypt. This time no specified period was allocated and Rogelia was not allowed to accompany him for this secret work on the border.
Rogelia, on her own, went back to Gibraltar. As the months went by, her family and friends said, “We told you so – soldiers are all the same”. Nevertheless, Rogelia’s faith held up without wavering. She knew Bernard’s love (like hers) was complete and one day they would be together again. It took one whole year before a letter arrived saying Bernard was being posted to Malta and asking her to leave Gib immediately.
Once in Malta, life once again became as settled as it could be with war clouds gathering. They moved into married quarters in what was the old Admiral’s House in Floriana overlooking Grand Harbour. At the time service families had to leave pets behind if posted elsewhere and one such family had to leave a Maltese terrier named Stupid. However, Stupid was soon adopted by Rogelia and Bernard. This wonderful animal became a much-loved part of the family, especially as Rogelia was having trouble conceiving. Eventually, after an operation she became pregnant but unfortunately lost the child.
Now it was 1939 and Bernard, having started his army life in 1918, had done his enlisted 21 years. It was time to see the CO and say goodbye to the army. The plan was a ship back to Blighty and thence to join two of his brothers in New York. The CO pointed out that war was now inevitable and the Empire would need his services with his specialist knowledge of electrical work, bomb disposal, cabling and the like. In any event there were no ships (because of the war footing) going to Blighty for the foreseeable future. Rogelia was offered a ship to South Africa where she could wait until hostilities ended – she refused outright.
1939 came and went. Italy joined in the war and the bombing of Malta started. Stupid, like most animals, had to be “put down” – a very sad time. The siege began to have more and more effect as each month went by although Italian bombing could be tolerated because much of it missed target. This soon changed once Germany based its Air Force in Sicily. Malta became the key to the whole Nazi war effort. As long as Malta could hit back, no easy route was open for the vital war-winning lubricant of oil. After the huge losses to German troops during the invasion of Crete, Hitler was unsure about doing the same in Malta. Goering came to his rescue and promised to bomb Malta flat. This promise coincided with Rogelia becoming pregnant again. The baby was born in the middle of the nine-month, 24 hours a day bombing in March 1942. She was taken by car during a raid to the hospital. The driver stopped some distance from the hospital and so she walked to her destination with the raid continuing – completely on her own. A normal birth ensued and baby Bernard (myself) was born.
Then three days later when Bernard was visiting his wife and son, and despite a massive red cross painted around the building, there was a direct hit. Rogelia’s bed was now on the edge of what was the ward on the upper floor. She was wrapped in sheets and lowered through the rubble to safety. The baby, rescued by his father, was taken to safety. Some days later an ambulance was taking Rogelia and the baby back from Imtarfa Hospital to Floriana when a raid stopped the ambulance. The driver ran leaving mother and child in an unknown area. Once again Rogelia’s character came to the rescue – no panic, just find a shelter. Luckily an officer saw her plight and showed her the way to a shelter. The officer then went in search of the driver who was never seen again.
Life became harder with many dieing from malnutrition as well as the continuous bombing. On one occasion, Rogelia had had enough and she walked to Valetta Harbour with the baby to see Bernard. She found him at his workshop overlooking the Harbour with the comment, “I’ve had enough of this”. Bernard looked in total astonishment at them and quietly said, “Look around you woman”. Stacked all around them were unexploded bombs. He continued, “Just one bomb here and we all go up”. Rogelia went home and never let it get to her again.
The old Admiral’s House was flattened with two precious items still in it – one was chocolate bars given by submariners to keep the child alive and the other was nappies, now flying on a washing line where the flat roof had once been. Bernard retrieved both and the day was saved. The island was on the point of surrender when at last vital parts of a convoy got through. The siege was lifted.
A move to officer’s quarters in Sliema proved a good one until the American Officer’s Mess moved next door. The noise was terrible. This caused drastic action from Rogelia and quieter times were had by all. It was at this time that she met Churchill and the King on their visit to the island.
The army promised the family a move to South Africa until the end of the hostilities. One day Bernard came home, packed his kitbag and was ordered onto a troop ship bound for Blighty. Later in life he became very bitter about having to swallow this pill. The only outward sign the army knew was when he refused to be put down below decks onboard the ship.
Rogelia and her son were alone. All the friends were either dead or moved away to places unknown. One day she was offered a ship back to Blighty. Everything was packed into one box and two suitcases. The ship was an empty oil tanker with wooden bunks made in the dry hold around the bridge area. The convoy took six weeks zig-zagging through the Med and Atlantic to get to Liverpool. The journey was not without incident in that U-Boats were still active and the many Maltese ladies on board, who had married British troops, caused panic situations on a regular basis. They, it seemed, could see the U-Boats attacking us all the time. Of course, Rogelia put them in their place, although it only worked for a while.
Bernard’s only home was Scotland and since Dadda’s death before the war, his mother had moved into a Corporation flat situated in Knightswood, Glasgow. It was to this two-bedroomed flat that Rogelia and son were heading after landing in Liverpool. This rather straight-forward journey was not what it should have been. After the massive traumatic events of Malta, another reality soon hit Rogelia. Nobody was going to help her – our brave troops used their money to ensure taxi drivers took them first from Liverpool Docks to whatever destination. Eventually, a kindly taxi driver delivered the family to the correct railway station. Once the Glasgow train arrived, problems again ensued. The troops yet again refused to help or give room on the overcrowded train. It was soon apparent that here on relatively safe home soil and without an officer in sight, our brave warriors showed their true worth. Eventually a space was found in the corridor and so Rogelia and son arrived in Glasgow where she was left yet again without any way of getting to her destination. It is at times like this that a Good Samaritan often appears out of the blue. Somebody saw them sitting on the two suitcases and somehow organized a car.
The new home proved to be a safe, stable base (with only minor problems) to live in. Rogelia soon established good relations with the locals and what could be called a normal life ensued. Meanwhile,
Bernard was preparing for D-Day. He was on the Isle of Wight working on one of the war’s greatest secrets: Pipeline Under the Ocean - or PLUTO as it was known. It was only in 2004 that the details of this action were released to the public. In June 1944 Bernard was given leave just before D-Day. This brief leave resulted in Rogelia becoming pregnant once again and in March 1945 David was born.
From June 1944 to March 1945, Bernard was on the front line. After landing at Port en Bessin (between British and American landing zones) he was laying fuel pipes through France. In late March 1945 he was given compassionate leave to see his new-born son. After that it was back to the war and the front line and (on at least one occasion) in front of the front line, strange as it may seem, working almost side-by-side with German Sappers who were clearing up after their army whilst our Sappers were laying the fuel lines. Neither side wanted to know what the other was doing and so the secret work remained just that. Bernard’s war continued through Belgium and Holland with many near misses – especially in Belgium where some V2s were used on certain cities. On one occasion he witnessed the completely silent disappearance of a crossroads with traffic, a controlling policeman and many buildings. It was only after a few seconds when the immense noise of the V2 came that the realization dawned on him.
As we all know, VE Day came in May 1945 and Bernard, having served 27 unblemished years, was sent home to his family. At last, Rogelia was to have all her most cherished possessions around her – her own family. Bernard started a career with the GPO – he served as a telephone engineer until retirement.
It was obvious that the family could not stay forever in Mother’s two-bedroomed flat. It also became obvious that the two sons were not very healthy – whether or not because of the war’s traumatic events, nobody was sure. In any event, the doctor’s advice was to go south – as far south as possible. The better weather would help to make the children stronger.
This advice brought about a joyous reunion because during the war Rogelia’s beloved sister, Ernestina, with her own family was evacuated to Coulsdon, Surrey. Gibraltar’s mental patients were sent to Cane Hill Hospital in Coulsdon and, along with them came the nurses. One of these nurses was Ernestina’s husband and in Coulsdon they remained. Two trips from Glasgow with all the family showed Rogelia that Surrey would be ideal. Ernestina was renting a small house and in 1948 the Denver family joined them.
This started the happiest period of Rogelia’s life. Four more moves took place – all in Surrey, before her death. The family unit was very strong – Rogelia continued in the same vein, always fighting for what she believed to be the right way, which it usually was. She continued working as a cleaner through to her 70’s. It was simply amazing to watch her in her 70’s going to clean houses in Chipstead, Surrey, walking every morning through narrow lanes with no footpath and modern traffic passing inches from her tiny body.
Rogelia maintained some very close friendships right to the very end and particular thanks should go to her neighbour, Mrs Palmer, for always being so close. Of course, as already said, Ernestina and Rogelia were always together – what more can be said.
Eventually, old age took hold and her one true love Bernard died on 15th March 1991. For anybody other than a strong woman, this would have summoned the end. Not Rogelia – she still had her boys and by now the grandchildren had grown up and, of course, there were the great-grandchildren to watch over. Her loyalty to family was paramount in her life. Even if she did not see the family as often as she would have liked, she always kept up to date with what was happening to them.
There is not a soul on this planet who after meeting her will ever forget this extraordinary person. The last days of her life were spent in the care of a home and two hospitals. Every member of staff in these institutions have said, without knowing her past, what an exceptional person she was. I know she is saying thank you to all of you, once again.
In another time, Rogelia would have been a world leader without doubt. In her world she achieved just that – this world is now poorer without her. However, her riches deposited in us will go on for generations. We will never forget you. God bless and keep you until we meet again.
Bernard J Denver
A few more details about Malta: Extracts from James Holland’s book, Fortress Malta (2003).
21st March 1942 (three days after the child’s birth).
‘Bombs had also been dropped on the hospital, both in the morning and afternoon. Two people were killed and three seriously wounded. Two sections of the hospital were badly damaged ‘A’ and ‘H’ Block.’
‘Malta’s suffering at the hands of the Nazis is a story of tears and loss. But James Holland is a mastercraftsman. Fortress Malta is both compelling and heartwrenching. His account of the siege leavens devastation with hope, despair with courage; and, most important of all, celebrates the humanity of individuals against the forces of evil.’ Amanda Foreman
‘Superbly engaging history … The sea and air battles around the island are also vividly depicted, but the real value of this book lies in its rare, intimate description of the Maltese perspective on the siege. Turning the last page, one understands why the island of Malta was collectively awarded the George Cross, the highest British civilian award for heroism.’ Publishers Weekly
‘James Holland has put together a detailed and humane account of human endurance and resolve. Told through the voices of those who were there, we learn about their everyday lives … It is all told with a warmth and general affection that truly brings the people and those extraordinary times alive for the reader’. Waterstone’s Books Quarterly
‘Holland … wins full marks for accuracy and for his effortless prose, following the story by using survivors’ testimony as well as the letters and diaries of those who perished … Fortress Malta is a tribute to the fighting services and the Maltese civilians whose fortitude and courage helped to turn the course of the war in the Mediterranean and North Africa and enabled freedom to triumph.’ Christopher Scicluna, The Times (Malta)
‘A loving, enthusiastic account that focuses on the first-hand stories of combatants and civilians, setting them in the context of the battle being played out across the Mediterranean. He steers clear of politics and concentrates on the breadth of personalities, on the hopes and fears of the extraordinary, ordinary people caught up in the longest siege in British history. Will Cohu, Daily Telegraph
‘Fortress Malta turns out to be an excellent example of an almost abandoned form – steadily patriotic narrative history, balanced and fair … Holland not only pays tribute to the skill of the German pilots who made Malta, at the height of its siege, the most bombed place on earth; more unusually, he illustrates how important was the contribution of the Italian air and naval forces to the Axis effort on the Mediterranean … James Holland was given a grand old tale to tell – beyond carp, beyond attire, beyond revisionism.’ Jan Morris, New Statesman
‘In this full and well-researched book the reader is told one fact that embodies the horror of the island’s siege: more bombs fell on Malta in March and April 1942 than fell on London throughout the entire Blitz … Mr Holland has made extensive use of interviews and archives at the PRO and the Imperial War Museum, along with other museums and personal manuscripts, to give the fullest account yet of the siege. By concentrating on individuals and their stories he has made this not just the story of an island but of the individuals who lived, fought and died there.’ Contemporary Review
‘Iwo Jima stands as the most bombed spot in the Pacific War. Malta stands as the most bombed spot in history. James Holland brings alive this harrowing and heroic World War II story through the eyes of those who struggled and won. Journey back to a time when, as FDR said, “Malta stood alone but unafraid in the centre of the sea”.’ James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys.
A Child’s Tale of WW11
Mrs Jackie Clark
I was born in Liverpool in 1932, my father died two months before I was born and was buried at sea off the coast of Peru. My mother, with my ten year old sister, returned to live with my grandmother and two unmarried sisters. My ancestors, on both sides of my family, were all old sea dogs, sailing out of Liverpool and unfortunately, were involved in the slave trade.
When the war started I was seven years old, my sister decided to go into the WRNS. I don’t know what my mother and her sisters did to help the war effort but I was left at home with my grandmother, she taught me how to knit socks and we spent many hours making hundreds of green woollen socks for the troops.
At one point I was evacuated to Herefordshire but I was so homesick and not used to the unfamiliar life on a farm that I returned home, my family deciding that it was best for us all to be together. Soon after that the May blitz started and Liverpool was under attack night after night. The German bombers used to fly up the coast of Ireland, when they saw the lights of Dublin they know it was time to turn right and follow the coast which would lead them to Liverpool which was in darkness. We took shelter in the cellar of our Victorian house close to the city centre and the docks. There was no electricity and I know as a result of living in fear and in darkness that I have suffered from claustrophobia from being in a confined space for the rest of my life. My mother was terrified and spent the time with a pillow over her head, my youngest aunt sat with me on her lap and encouraged me not to be scared, telling me, that in time it would pass. There were no men in our lives and we struggled as was the case for almost every other family, with men who were away from home and at war. They were tough hard working Liverpool matrons, used to being on their own because their men had always gone away to sea and they were left to cope with bringing up their families on their own, usually in an extended group, similar to myself, of several generations living under the same roof.
What I didn’t understand was why somebody was trying to kill me, what had I done to bring about such devastation? I know this was the time when I made up my mind that war is basically wrong and I have been a Pacifist for all of my life and will remain so until I die. There is no justification for war, although what would have happened to me if Hitler had won the war, would I be sitting writing this article today? I would not have had the life that I have had. I feel an enormous respect for the people who gave their lives for me and you and everyone else reading this article. When we see war on the television what does not come across is the awful smell of burning buildings, the sense of decay, being aware that there are people trapped in the buildings. I lost two of my school friends who were my age, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose (named no doubt after the two little princesses) they were killed by a bomb which totally destroyed their house. The continuous blast coming from the ammunition ships being blown up in the docks. There was a sense that the whole community was in it together and that we were united to fight the enemy.
My sister brought home a very handsome sailor, there were young people coming and going all the time, I was just an onlooker and too young to have so much fun, there was a sense of urgency about the whole thing. She married him and he was sent, almost immediately, to join the Russian conveys and he didn’t come back for three years. My sister gave birth to a very premature baby weighing in at four pounds, she had a black bottle brush hair do and a bright red face, suffering very badly from jaundice. I was horrified and thought she was the ugliest thing that I had ever seen, and so the next generation joined the family.
My married aunts also had husbands who were way in the war, their children didn’t see their fathers for more than three years and the men found it very hard to integrate back into family life when they came home as virtual strangers. I remember staying with one aunt at the height of the blitz and looking down on the city of Liverpool and seeing the whole thing lit up in flames, something that I’ve never forgotten. One cousin (born in 1944) did not see his father on a regular basis until 1948 because he was still in the army and was away in Germany working on the Nuremburg Trails, so in one sense it did not stop, there were so many repercussions to follow in the advent of piece.
I won a scholarship to the all girls grammar school, my uniform consisted of a cream tussore silk blouse, woollen gym slip, navy blue bloomers and black woollen stockings. The teachers were all spinsters of a certain age, most of them had lost their fiancés during the first world war and they seem somewhat embittered, looking back they were probably all around forty years of age but they all looked and behaved like old women. I never really got to grips with maths because every term we had a new young man who would be whisked away to go to the front and so it went on. Life continued to be tough and hard even after the war, there was still rationing, clothes were drab and awful, the country was virtually bankrupt. Feral teenagers didn’t exist. There was a great respect for older people. And the good news is having only had carrots and apples, and no sweets I still have all my own teeth, much to the surprise of dentists I’ve had over the years.
Towards the end of the war I had a pen friend in America called Gene Marie from Texas, she sent me parcels of pretty things and they were very gratefully received.
Last year I went back to Liverpool after an absence of many years and I was pleasantly surprised to see what a fine city it really is. I find it hard to believe that it is the place that I left at the age of eighteen to seek my fortune in the world.
I sailed out of one of the docks on the Tall Ship ‘Tenacious’ as many of my ancestors had done in the past. As we sailed into Liverpool Bay I thought I would be filled with a sense of nostalgia for my past, but there was nothing, that was then and this is now and this is the way it should be.
Infant Memories of World War 2
Mr Chris Bowley
My story is one of infant memories. I was born at home in my parents bungalow near Arundel in August 1941 in a zone designated as the ‘first line of defence’ for the South coast of England. It was an area within the sound of RAF Tangmere and its satellite airfield of Westhampnett (now Goodwood Aerodrome). As a small boy I remember my father being a member of the local Home Guard Platoon (Dad’s Army). He was a Lance Corporal and as such would have been the popular Corporal Jonesy in Dad’s Army. As such he was an honoured member of the platoon and trusted with a ‘Sten’ submachine gun — a rare piece of equipment for the Home Guard who had traditionally trained with broom handles and pitch forks. I remember this gun being stood in the corner of the lounge of our small bungalow next to the front door when he was not on duty.
Duty for my father was normally night patrols on Climping beach — a strip of sand between Littlehampton and Bognor where it was felt Hilter’s forces might land ashore should he decide to invade. During the daytime he worked in the forests of the country estate where I was born and brought up and during the summer season he would assist with the harvest on the farms. It was a busy and tiring life often working 18-20 hours a day. I remember the members of the Home Guard Platoon being exactly like the TV series Dad’s Army. There was Captain Vernon Barrran (Capt. Mainwairing) who was a gentleman farmer and businessman who lived in Madehurst Lodge. Sergeant Pitman (Sgt Wilson) was the head gamekeeper on the estate. My father was his lance corporal. There was also the equivalent of Private Pike, his name was Keith Looker or ‘Loo Loo’ who apparently changed character with the phases of the moon! Our bungalow was alongside the A29 Bognor Road which carried much wartime traffic as it led to the coast and also to Portsmouth Harbour. Portsmouth was a strategic launching point for D-day and I vividly recall the build up of the landing forces prior to the launch. These comprised mainly Canadian troops who were based in Dale Park, part of the estate my father worked on and our bungalow was the gate lodge to Dale Park House. This had been commandeered by the War Office for a battle school during WW2. One night there was a knock at our front door (my father had returned from Home Guard duty) and a drunken voice said, “I’ve got something for you mate.” My mother who was too frightened to have the door opened requested my father to tell him to go away. My father duly did so but in the morning there was a quart bottle of beer on the doorstep for him — the drunken soldier was being neighbourly to the Home Guard! As well as the Allied Troops I distinctly remember German prisoners of war. These were housed in a POW camp at Billinghurst in Sussex after capture and were bussed each day to Dale Park to work on the farms or in the local saw mill cutting up timber. The German’s have always been industrious and good with their hands. Those in the sawmill would make me mechanical toys from pieces of scrap timber, which they were allowed to salvage. I remember having a ‘feeding chicken’ toy where a heavy weight beneath the hand board with the model chicken on enabled the chickens neck to peck up and down by strings when swung by hand.
Another favourite was a model windmill with revolving sails that rotated swiftly in the wind when mounted high on a pole erected by my father at the top of our garden. I remember two of the prisoners in particular; one was nicknamed ‘Curly Pipe’ as he always smoked a curly pipe. The other was ‘Otto’ as I think this was his Christian name. He gave me his Germany army corporal’s stripe from his uniform as a souvenir. I still have it somewhere. They hated Hitler just as much as we did since they were conscripts and had children at home in Germany just like me. That made me special to them which is why they made me toys. They did not hear from their families and I don’t know if they ever saw them again.
Living so close to RAF Tangmere I well remember the sight and sound of fighter aircraft as they defended the country. In particular I remember crashed aircraft being recovered on ‘Queen Mary’ transports. These are long low articulated vehicles designed to transport the wings and fuselage in sections back to the airfield after they had crashed landed. I used to cry, “let me see the smashed bits!” Our garden wall, which faced the Bognor Road, was about 4’6 high and therefore too high for me to look over and see the traffic. My father therefore constructed a platform with steps up which I could climb on and see over. I spent many hours viewing the traffic which kept me amused. It also enabled me to talk face to face with my friends the German prisoners.
During 1944 when the Germans launched the VI flying bombs (doodlebugs) on London we were beneath the flight path as they headed from Northern France toward the Capital. One day one cut out over Madehurst. This was always the sign that it would fall to earth and explode. Fortunately, it fell in the middle of a field just below the Parish Church. It blew out all the stain glass windows on the south side of the Church which have sadly never been replaced. They are all now in clear glass. The only remaining original is above the altar. In the next field I remember there were a group of workers hoeing turnips so it must have been springtime. They flattened themselves on the ground but none were hurt. The remains of the bomb was removed to the hedgerow and remained there rusting for many years after the war ended. I also remember food parcels. I had an aunt (my mother’s sister Edith) who lived in India as she was married to a British Army Officer who was serving with the Indian Army. She would put together and ship to us in England the most wonderful packets of dried fruits and sugar, which was rationed or not seen in the UK during the war. These were a real treat and were received with much excitement. They were also a surprise as we never knew what would be in them until we opened them. They were great fun as well as nourishing.
Getting a good diet during the war was always a problem but living in the country had its advantages. We had a kitchen garden to our small bungalow that my father used to tend and grow fresh vegetables. We also had room to keep chickens that provided us with fresh eggs and a bird to roast for Christmas. Also, during the war it was permitted to catch game if it was available. I remember my father preparing snares to trap rabbits or hares in the field around. Fresh rabbit was often on the menu and I developed a taste for it, which I still enjoy today. I will always buy and cook rabbit if it is available as it provides excellent fresh meat.
These wartime experiences left me with a love of aircraft and all things military. Whilst at grammar school in the ‘50’s I joined the Combined Cadet Force (RAF Section) and spent many hours flying. At the age of 16yrs I joined the Royal Observer Corps and trained in the monitoring of nuclear fallout should the Cold War have resulted in such events. Later in 1970 I joined the RAFVR(T) and eventually became squadron commander of No 1015(Horsham) Sqdn , Air Training Corps.