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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Dad's Wartime Memories - Sentimental Sunday & Military Monday

My father's wartime memories have been my main preoccupation lately of my family history activities.

 Dad always had an interest in journalism and it was a familiar sight to see him seated at the typewriter.  In later life he was a regular contributor of  letters to local newspapers and prepared talks on a variety of topics  to present  to local societies.  I persuaded him to write down his memories and Dad's own words form the basis of this family history narrative,  supplemented by letters written to my mother  in 1944 and photographs from the family collection.  It  concentrates on his wartime experiences and complements the earlier work  "Memories of A  Broseley Boyhood".    He would have loved the world of blogging!

Dad  often talked about this experiences  and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction “Not the war again, Dad”. We also used to joke about him being in the Intelligence Branch.  It was only later that we came to realise what a defining period it was in his life.  
I did send away (at some cost) for Dad's service record, but it proved to be a disappointing contribution to this story, being little more than a list of dates and meaningless abbreviations.    As the covering letter said  "The record was compiled at the time of his service and contains very little detail of his postings and movements". 

With my aunt Edith (left)
and my mother, Kathleen (right)

Dad's story began in relating how he came to be a member of the RAF Codes and Cipher Branch and then had an interview with Group Captain Fred Winterbotham where he was told  "You are being considered for a very secret job.  He  joined the Special Liaison Unit for training at Bletchley Park and the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London.

He was seconded to General Bradley's US 12th Army Group and in 1944 was with them when they landed at Omaha Beach  just after D Day.

"On the Monday morning we zig-zagged our way across the Channel  (to avoid enemy submarines)  and arrived off the beach at around 11pm, some distance off our landing point.  Sporadic  bombing went on during the night from high level German bombers. We slept where we could on the craft.  Just as dawn was breaking,  at 04.00am the captain started up the engines (there was quite a roar) and we moved in  fast to the beach.  The ramp was dropped, we drove off and we were in France!   The first night I slept in a tent  but during the night it poured down and my sleeping bag was in two inches of water.    I had a brief time off and went into the village. I saw some small bottles of brandy in a shop – and not much else, so I bought the lot (16 bottles) – they cost around 1/8 (under current 10p.) a bottle!"
Dated on the reverse
Paris - Sept. 12th 1944

Onto Paris, where Dad was stationed at Versailles and experienced a warm welcome from Parisians. 


I was stopped by a Frenchman who said in English “RAF Sir? My name is Joseph Calmy. I was the Shell agent here before the war”. I offered him cigarettes and he then invited me to a building and gave me a bag full of Chanel perfume, toiletries, powder and cream – it lasted Mum for years. I flew back with it when I got some leave in March ‘45,,,,,,,, We ended up in a café and went through some rush curtains into a back room. In a few minutes a man and a woman came in carrying a bag, which they unloaded to reveal eggs, butter, meat, grapes and champagne. I had a meal of steak with a large bunch of grapes.  When we came to leave it was as if I was walking on air – I floated out of the café!"

In  a typed letter home, Dad asked "I hope you have managed to have Baby's photograph taken".  
This was the photograph: 

From Paris Dad moved onto Luxembourg where he became friendly with a former member of the government and they remained in contact for many years. 
"It was now December 1944 and bitterly cold – lots of ice and snow. Out of the blue at 4a.m. on December 16th came a major attack on the American front.  It was pandemonium...... This was the Battle of the Bulge.  We carried thermite bombs in a safe in our operations vehicle to be used to destroy our codebooks and machines. We had rifles fully loaded with us at all times.......Anyone moving around that night not giving the correct password (which was Betty Gable), was shot on the spot......The weather did improve somewhat. We were dropped supplies of food and more important the GIs got further weapons and ammo. supplies. At one stage we  were being served up five boiled sweets for one meal!"
This meal of five boiled sweets became an , often repeated,  apocryphal family story.
The advance on Germany continued.  "
"We cracked a signal from von Runstedt to Hitler, which read, “Our troops are exhausted, we have little fuel, we are retreating”. After this we moved north of Luxembourg to Malmedy on the west bank of the Rhine...  On March 7th 1945, there was great excitement in our operations vehicle. We learned that a railway bridge across the Rhine at Remagen was still intact – the charges had failed to explode. A US infantry battalion rushed across the bridge to the east bank.
"I crossed into Germany at Trier. I recall that vividly. Patton’s tanks were ahead of us and were nearing the Rhine. His engineers threw a pontoon bridge across and we followed. I was driving our operations vehicle – there were GIs on the bridge with machine guns, urging me to push on quickly in case of air attack. We made it and an hour later drove into Wiesbaden to what had been the Luftwaffe’s former HQ.  it was then April 1945."
V-Day arrived. The GIs went wild, but we took it all quietly, with coffee and doughnuts from the Red Cross post – very very nice!”
From Germany, Dad was posted to the Far East. " In Burma things were moving to a close.  I was there at the ceremony in Rangoon when the Japanese capitulated.  I was based at the university.  We were always short of tea, which seemed odd in that part of the world, but there was plenty of cocoa.  I also had a ration of one bottle of gin and one of limejuice a month.  I used to drink that under my mosquito net at night watching the insects run up and down the wall". 
"I had a short break in Bombay before sailing on the "City of Asia" for home.  I was in charge of a deck of some 200 men.  We eventually arrived at Liverpool on Christmas Day and went to a camp at Birkenhead.  Then caught a train to Blackpool and arrived home by taxi at 2pm. 
One of the first things I did was to cradle you in my arms – you were shy – no wonder!"  MY WAR HAD ENDED!"
This has been a very enjoyable, and at times moving project to read Dad's own words and create a story of his war memories.   
I am proud to have at long last made this tribute for myself and my brother and Dad's grandchildren.
Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Great photos, and such an interesting accounting, to treasure and hand down to your children and future generations.


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