• Ken Smith,
    Portsmouth, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Ken Smith. I was born on April 12, 1922 in Portsmouth. My parents were very religious. I was in the dockyard choir. I left school at thirteen. I worked on houses. I used to make flights of stairs until the war, when timber became so scarce the government commandeered all of it.

    I remember the day the war broke out. I was in church that day. At eleven, Chamberlain was going to make an announcement. I ran home. I remember him saying, "We are at a state of war." We were told to be ready for air raids. The first thing I did, I went down to the bottom of the garden and dug a big trench about eight food long. I was there the whole day, expecting an air raid that night. But during the night, it rained heavily. I couldn't stay there. The next morning it was filled up with water.

    I loved football and a friend of mine said, "Join the Royal Marines, you'll get plenty of football." I joined when I was eighteen. I did six months of training near Dover, where we expected the invasion to begin. Every night we used to stand on the beaches. When the invasion didn't happen, I was moved to Plymouth where I did a naval gunnery course. I passed two naval gunnery courses, and was sent up at a ship in Newcastle, HMS Manchester.

    We used to go around Iceland looking for German weather ships. Those days they depended on their weather ships to forecast the British weather. We'd live on the upper deck in the bitter cold. We'd live around the guns. We pulled into Scapa Flow for supplies and I was on the meet party to our biggest battle cruiser, which was the HMS Hood. I went aboard to get supplies to take over to our ship. The next morning, I received a telegram that said my father was dying. I tried to get leave to come and see him. And I put in a request to see the commander. Because I was a gunner, he said no. I asked for the captain of the ship, he said no. So I said, can I see the admiral? He was on the Hood. I put in to see the admiral. I had to dress up in my best uniform. While I was doing that, they spotted the Bismarck coming out. The bugle went and we shot out of Scapa Flow. I was dressed in my best and had to go down to help hoist the ship's anchor.

    We went looking around the north of Iceland, up the east coast. The Bismarck went around the Denmark strait. The Hood went along the south. The Bismarck sunk it, blew her to bits. We chased the Bismarck until we ran out of petrol. We were lucky enough that the Bismarck was sunk about a week later.

    We took a convoy down to Malta, stopping at Gibraltar to organize a larger convoy. We were near Malta when we got attacked by torpedo bombers. The stern of the ship was blown away, we had a lot killed. The ship was heeling over and I fired. I tried to aim uphill where we were tilting, where the deck was covered in blood and oil. There were bodies all around. Anyway, we managed to make it back to Gibraltar and we were patched up there, but they weren't equipped for all the repairs we needed.

    Those days, when you left port, you never knew where you were going. You were zigzagging all the time, avoiding U-Boats. And after all those days at sea, where we were living around the gun, I said to the gun crew, I wouldn't be surprised if we were going to Canada or America. Shortly after, the commander of the ship said over the radio, "The ship is bound for the United States of America." Within ten days we approached the American coast, then up the Delaware river to Philadelphia. It was marvelous, seeing it all lit up. Hundreds of workmen came aboard. Right away, they started to repair us. They weren't in the war at the time. This was hush-hush because they didn't want to be involved. We spent months there. It was a lovely experience, traveling around, playing football.

    In December, I was playing for the ship's football team, against an American representative team in Camden, New Jersey. I was on duty that day, so I had to go straight back to the ship after the game. I was at a bus station in Philadelphia, where there was a news office with these big, glittering lights flashing the news. I looked up and saw "American Battleship Sunk" with various names. I couldn't believe it. It was only when I get back to the ship that I learned what happened. The Americans joining the war was a blessing for us.

    Once we were repaired, we went down to Florida, then to Bermuda, where we met one of the worst storms I've ever encountered. I thought, oh no, we'll never get out of it. We pitched and tossed and rolled. We eventually arrived back in England and I left the ship so the repairs could be completed. I was sent to another ship, the HMS Penelope. The Manchester was sunk the very next convoy.

    Right away we went to the Mediterranean. We were known as HMS Pepperpot, we were hit and blown up so many times. The Germans were about to invade Greece in 1941, so we left Algeria and bumped into a German invasion armada on the way. We sunk most of it. While leaving, we were hit with a bomb. We had a lot killed on the gun deck. The Sergeant Major asked me if I would like to be a commando. I said, "Anything to get off this ship." They were forming a special air service, which was top secret. I was sworn to not to tell anyone. I joined the unit and left the ship. The Penelope went out shortly afterwards and she was hit with three torpedoes and 417 men went down with her.

    We boarded a train in Alexandria, to Cairo, then caught another train to Palestine. That's where they had their base, in Haifa. I continued doing raids after my training. I did ski training, I did a parachute course. I took a gunnery course in Jerusalem. I got sent to Cairo to do a few days sniping course. I went to the pyramids where they had a range. I was a patrol sniper. We were sent up the Dodecanese islands. I was attached to the special boat section, on two man canoes. During the training, we would go to sea every night and get out and we'd have to swim back to shore. If we didn't make it, there was only one punishment - return to the marines. Luckily though, I was very fit. I was sent to Italy. From there, to Albania. We lived in the mountains for a couple months.

    We did commando raids on various islands. I got a bullet in the arm in 1944. It's still there now. We did one raid where we landed at night on the island of Lusin, in Croatia now, and climbed the mountain with a guide. He knew we were going to blow the place up and he wouldn't show us. We tried again another time, but the Germans had taken over from the Italians and were waiting for us. They opened fire. I got hit then. We got under a tree. It was dark and I said to the sergeant, "I think I've been hit." My hand was all sticky. When we heard the whistle to evacuate, we got about forty yards and the house was on fire.

    Later, we discovered a German in the bushes. He had a stick grenade. I took it from him and lifted him and slung him on my shoulder, dragging him along. Then I heard this bang in my ear. This prisoner had gotten his gun and shot himself. I heard it drop and I thought, I'm going to have a souvenir.

    I was at the back as we were going up the mountainside. I lost a lot of blood and I could see that I was in trouble. So the officer came and took over for me and said, "Go up front." One of the marines was guarding a prisoner, and I was going to take the prisoner from him and escort him back to a ship, on the other side. The prisoner was older than I was. He was badly wounded and mumbling. I told him to shut up. It was getting to be dawn.

    They sent a few sailors to shore to help and they paddled us back to the ship. The German soldier had messed himself, he had his trousers down.
    Smothered in blood, resting on the deck. They helped me up and told me to go down to the mess deck. Just as I was about to go, I collapsed.

    I came to in Yugoslavia, on a cruiser. There were a lot of sailors there. Around me, a lot of other people in stretchers. I was flown back to Italy. The hospitals were so full with the wounded I was laid on a stretcher in the corridor. From where I was, I could look out and see all these badly wounded chaps with legs hanging up in the air, all wearing awards. I wasn't a serious case.

    After a few days, I was sent back to the front line, to Lake Comacchio. It was my birthday. We would be out in our two-man canoes, marking the way across the water for the fleet to come through. Then I heard the Germans going on the roadside. It was all horse and car then because they had no petrol. I could hear the Germans singing as they walked and I was fascinated. As they approached, they started firing. I said to the officer, "I'm twenty-two today, sir." He replied, "Everybody paddle for your bloody lives!"

    We zigzagged, paddling until we got out of range. A few hours later, the officers sent for me and congratulated me on being awarded with the highest award, with wings over my medals instead of my arms.

    When the war ended, I was sitting on the roadside watching hundreds of thousands of prisoners go by. The Royal Marines in this SAS unit were ordered to return. I was on the first boat back to England. I got a couple of weeks leave before I was sent to China, to fight the Japanese in Hong Kong in late 1945.

    After that, I was recalled to Malta. I had to teach young marines arms drills. But I dropped the rifle when a pain in my shoulder was too much for me, where I was shot. I was sent back to England and discharged. I was considered disabled. I took up building again. I retired at 65. I had nine children.

    My only hobby is growing chrysanthemums. I love growing them. They're so expensive, but so rewarding. I live for them. First thing in the morning. I spent all my time sifting the soil, getting a nice mix.

    I'm still here. And the only reason I'm still here is because I was a choir boy. I was brought up in the church and that's the only reason I'm still here, I think. The years are hard to remember, but I can recall the exploits like they were yesterday.

  • Sid Kenrick,
    Warwick, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Sidney Owen Kendrick and I was born in Birkenhead on September 3, 1917. I had two brothers and one sister. I went to Park High School and left when I was sixteen and took a job as a post boy for Buchanan's Flour Mills in Liverpool. I delivered mail to various corn merchants we dealt with. Eventually, I was given a job in the sales department. One year, my girlfriend and I walked across Wales, using youth hostels as we went.

    When war broke out on my birthday in 1939, I tried to enlist. I was in Birkenhead. I went to the Naval Recruiting Office because I thought I would like to be in the navy. When I got my call, I went back to the office and said, "Look, I don't want to be a conscript. I volunteered on the third." I told my girlfriend I was joining the Royal Marines. She was concerned about the fact that I would be going to sea. She started to knit me a nice blue heavy pullover. When I got to Portsmouth, I discovered when I went through the gate, that they were all in khakis. So I wrote her to tell her I wanted a khaki one instead. I was sent to Portsmouth in early December, 1939. I joined 19th Squad there.

    I went to the gate and they took me to the company office, where I saw a sergeant. And he said, "What's your name?" and took all my details. He said, "Do you want to go home for Christmas?" I said, "Yes sir." He said, "You don't call me sir, you call me Sergeant." I was there for a fortnight and I got leave over Christmas. I was in a marine uniform then. Next time I went, I was in officer's uniform.

    It was a rough time because all the other newly appointed officers had a three month course to prepare them, but I was just thrown into the deep-end. I was given charge of the 13th Platoon in B Company, under Major Phillips. The battalion formed on April 1. The next month we were put on a twenty-four hour notice to go on an operation. We weren't told where we were going. We were only told to take care not to upset the natives. It turned out to be a takeover of Iceland. We set sail up the North sea in two cruisers and it was a rough passage; there was a gale blowing. Only some of the chaps had ever been to sea before. There was a great deal of seasickness. The Icelanders were pleased to see us. Denmark had just been taken over by the Germans and they were worried about what was going to happen to them.

    Together with the Company Major, we were fifteen platoons. We set up a camp in the cow shed. There were three marines to a stall. We worked in the night and slept at daytime. It was the only way we'd be warm enough to sleep. We spent three weeks there putting up positions. The Company was given the task of going to the Germany Embassy to ensure that the German Embassy staff were taken prisoner. But the ambassador was not there. One of the chaps that went with Major Cutler said, "There's smoke coming out of that window, sir!" So they broke the door down and found the ambassador's wife and daughter burning papers in the bath. They stopped that. Then they found the ambassador elsewhere. He was at a hotel with a girlfriend and they found out which room he was in, and being a gentleman, Major Cutler said, "Stand back, we'll wait until he's finished before we arrest him." Of course they arrested him and took him back to England and he became a prisoner of war. We were able to control the island, and had we not done that, then the North Atlantic Convoys bringing food and munitions from America and Canada would not have been able to work. So the people of England would probably have starved.

    We returned to England after a few weeks. Three months later we were on orders. This time we were going to Dakar because General de Gaulle had persuaded Churchill that the people of West Africa would be delighted if he appeared. That would mean that quite a big portion of Africa would be on our side. We marched through Liverpool with our pith helmets on. Everybody knew we were going somewhere where it was going to be sunny. Some of the doctors said, "Oh, yes, you're going to Dakar." The doctors always knew what was going on. But it wasn't until we were halfway across the Atlantic that we learned exactly what we were going to do. We left Liverpool in July of 1940.

    We got to Dakar in August, ahead of our tremendous fleet of several cruisers and lots of destroyers. The theory was that we would land there and the Vichy French would realize that we were a very strong force and there was no point in them not allowing General de Gaulle to take over. Unfortunately his ideas weren't right. They sent a boat in with a flag of troops, with two officers, and they were fired on and came back. There was a thick fog so the French could not see this armada of armed ships that we had outside. After about two days, they decided that General de Gaulle was not going to be welcome in that area and so the operation was cancelled. We went to Freetown.

    Two of the battalions went to England and two remained in Freetown, ready to deal with a possible attack on the Cape Verde islands. One of my jobs there was to censor letters the lads had written. We couldn't write home and say "I am now in Freetown." It was not allowed. Each letter had to be censored by an officer to make sure that they hadn't disclosed where we were.

    One of the amazing things that happened while I was there was that my father was in the merchant navy and I recognized his ship coming into port. He used to trade down that route. He was surprised to find me there and I was surprised to see him. I spent the night on his ship. He went and sailed down the west coast of Africa to the various ports. About a fortnight later, they came back. My father was welcomed into the officer's mess by the colonel and he had a good night. The next day, his ship sailed from Freetown. He stood on the deck and waved to me and I waved to him. That was the last time I saw him. His ship was bombed by German aircraft just short of Ireland. He was one of the unfortunate seven that were killed.

    After six months, we went to Gibraltar. We formed a rugby team there and challenged the army to a match. We thought that because they were tough lads, they were going to beat us. But we managed to beat them. Some of our chaps were suffering badly from malaria, but they got sorted out. We spent some time putting up barbed-wire fences on the slopes of Gibraltar. In case the Germans or the Spaniards decided to have a go. We stayed there and I was made a Captain. Second-in-Command of B Company. On the way back, we took four Free French nurses onto the ship. The French of the various officers improved considerably on the way back to England.

    I got married in a hurry on December 4, 1941. I was due to be married on a Saturday, but I was told on the previous Monday that we were going on an operation. I had to ring up my fiancee and say, "Can we get married on a Thursday?" So she scurried around and we managed to get ourselves organized. We went to Edinburgh for a short honeymoon. On the Saturday morning I rang up the battalion and said, "Am I due back?" And they said, "No you're all right. We cancelled the operations." They were always cancelling operations.

    I was appointed CO of a beach group gathering in Hampshire. I spent probably a year retraining them and loading ships. Putting out beach roadways. Being able to use landing craft. In 1943, the beach groups were disbanded because they were too small for what was intended in the D-Day landings. I was transferred and I was reduced back to Captain. We did landing craft training. We learned all sorts of things about calculating, dead reckoning, etc. Eventually we were all well qualified. I was at Iceland Camp and our job was to train men in landing craft and taking off again. Shortly after that, I was drafted to HMS James Cook, which was in Scotland. After a three week course, I was retained there as an officer. I was in Scotland during D-Day. My wife was with me. We managed to find some digs up in Scotland and my son was also there. I got the signal to report in as soon as I could. We got to Glasgow, during Fair Week, which wasn't easy and returned to Liverpool and set sail. Many people I trained were at D-Day. Some were killed, some got back. But we spent our time training how to navigate and how to land troops. That was my contribution to the war effort.

    At the end of July, 1944, after the invasion had taken place, I was drafted to HMS Prince Baldwin, which was a Dutch ship that'd been taken over by the Royal Navy. A fellow captain was in charge of the flotilla that worked from HMS Princess Beatrix. We set off and sailed down to the Mediterranean. Our job was to land the first battalion of the American Special Forces on the two islands which were in a position to threaten the main landing in the south of France. We did a few exercises in Corsica. The Americans would be toed towards the shore in rubber boats. When we got to within a mile of the shore we released them and they paddled their way quietly and landed.

    I was sent to Valetta in 1945. We were told to await orders. The only order we got was to send three landing craft north of Italy to help bypass the Germans. They came back and joined us again. Four or five months passed and we decided to tell somebody that we were here. We took a trip across Italy in a van and went to the headquarters just short of Naples. We found the fleet marine officers office. We introduced ourselves and they said they've been looking for us. The next day we got orders to get back to England.

    The lads were sent to harvest, because they were desperately short of labor on the farms. In due course we were given orders to land in Flensburg, where we tried to control the Germans trying to get across to Sweden. After four weeks, we returned to England. I was discharged in December, 1945 and I was granted the War Service rank of Major. I had been a Major several times during the war.

    I went back to the firm that I worked for and managed a small mill in Darby. I was soon made the manager for five counties. From then on, I progressed in the company. I became the general manager of a bakery, and eventually one of five regional sales managers for the whole country. From there, I was promoted to the Area Director of the Midlands RHM Bakeries. I was made a member of the Order of the British Empire for my services to agriculture and the food industry. And that's it.

    I try to keep busy. I've got children who come and look after me now and again. I play bridge. I'm a member of an organization for professional businessman who've retired. I'm a member of the Methodist church in Warwick. On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the landing in the south of France, I went there with two daughters and a granddaughter, and we were allowed to join in the commemoration. The Americans and the French were there. I was the only British officer there. And we had a tremendous time. Eventually we had prayed and the veterans lined up. One of the amazing things was that while we were in our seats, youngsters, teenagers came around and shook us all by the hand and said, "Thank you for what you did." We were presented with a certificate by the mayor, whose surname was Napoleon!

  • Claire Keen Thiryn,
    Fordingbridge, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Claire Keen. I was born in Belgium on July 26, 1924. My parents belonged to a middle class family. My father was a Belgium officer during WWI and my mother was a refugee in Britain. I had a sister and a brother who were born during the First World War. In 1940, we were occupied by the German Army. But just prior to feeling the difficulty of the German invasion in November 1940, my grandmother died leaving us a huge sum of money. The money provided us the freedom to do the work we needed to do at that time. My brother followed my father in the army and he became a prisoner of war, but he came back in November 1940. During the war, there was no organization for providing food to the people of Brussels because the Belgium government fled to the United Kingdom. My father was asked to organize an emergency rationing system for the people of Brussels.
    Therefore when my brother came back from the prison, he was engaged in working with my father. He was forming an organization for rationing, which allowed him to have a pass to go anywhere in Belgium. We had a British friend of ours who had married in Belgium. He started to get in touch with Britain through the SOE in order to inform them on the various things they needed to be informed about. My brother was asked by the British government to liaise with the various British groups to form a resistance group. It is because of my brother that I had a vague idea of the Belgium resistance.

    To begin with, the Belgium resistance was fragmented between various small organizations. It was not until 1942 that the Belgian resistance became well organized. Before that, it was useless because of very little coordination among the groups. My brother played a strong role in organization the Belgium resistance. In the process of organization we were in touch with everybody, which means that whenever anybody needed to hide, we had to protect him in our house. Prior to that in 1940, we provided shelter to my father's Jewish friend Mr. Magnus and his family. During the time they were able to go to France, it was still in the French free zone, but I believe they went to America. However, I am not completely sure what happened to them. Magnus had been an officer in the Belgium army.

    In the beginning, the Belgians were far too quiet in forming the resistance groups because the German army behaved impeccably. So, for someone who was a normal person without having a strong religious or political status, life went on quite normally in Belgium. The British didn't really like it. And there was no doubt about it: we had to create a situation where the population of Belgium should go against the Germans. This is typically called a resistance! We were secretly asked to create events as they didn't want to disturb the Germans. It was necessary to create disturbances and the best way to do it was by killing German soldiers. That was the easiest thing!
    Therefore it became important for the security of the resistance to start employing professional killers. But the professional killers wanted to get paid in return. They wanted to get paid only in gold. My brother was in charge of receiving gold from Britain. Now those who collected the gold had the tendency to keep some of the gold for themselves because there was no control in the resistance group. There was no way of stopping anybody to do anything, and it all became dependent upon the honesty of people. This meant that we were not able to pay the killers their price and they were threatening to go back. There was always this kind of uncertainty in our work.
    On November 11, 1941, my brother was arrested by the Gestapo. The Gestapo came into our house at six o'clock in the morning and took my brother. The Germans thought we had guns in the house, but we had none. At that time, most of the work we were doing was providing information to Britain. Thus he was put in jail for two months. As a result of which, he met more people from different resistance groups and that helped him in his job.
    From 1941 onwards, when the Germans invaded Russia, we also worked with the communist groups who were working for the Red Orchestra. They were not collaborating with us because they had been better organized. It was a very funny thing working with the communists. For instance, we found a woman who had lived by the railway line and it was important for us to know the number of trains coming and going through the station. All this woman had to do was take a record of the trains on this railway line, but she was afraid of working for us. Of course, this was the most important information not only for Britain but for Russians. My brother was mostly involved in all of the activities of resistance groups, and we only did what he asked us to do.

    I finished grammar school in 1942, and I started my training as a nurse. It was one year training for auxiliary nursing. It could allow me to have a job that would keep me in Belgium. So I went into nursing. But most of the time I used to steal bandages so that I could give them to the resistance. I also learnt to give muscular injections, and I used this knowledge in giving caffeine injections to men who were going in front of the Germans. The Germans used to see if they were fit to go to Germany. These are the kinds of silly little things that we did, and it was making resistance very boring. It wasn't as exciting as it is portrayed in a film.

    In 1943, the resistance became much more black and white in terms of the British, as they were ready to take over the government and liberate us. We had an idea that whatever information we could give became relevant to what was going to happen for D-Day. The Russians were becoming victorious in the field. It became easier to send messages, although the Gestapo became more efficient. But the population sensed that there was going to be victory on the part of the British. The Americans became more active too, which made a difference. The Germans were being beaten everywhere including Russia and North Africa.

    We had a little Jewish girl and we hid her for about four to five months. She eventually made it in Delaware, and I was very pleased with that. Another problem for the resistance was the fact that it was in Belgium. And the forces had to fly over to go bombing, which meant that a lot of planes were being shot down in the north of Belgium. We believed that it would be possible to establish an escape line from Brussels to Spain, which indeed was possible. But there was a cost of many people getting caught. We also had two English and one American pilot in our house for about six months from August 1943 to January 1944.

    We had to get rid of them as they were endangering us, especially one of them. It was difficult to keep three young men in a house, in an occupied region. The only problem was that in every situation, you always have some people who try to take financial benefit out of the situation. In my situation, there was a Canadian named De Zitter, who gained knowledge about the resistance and provided this information to the Gestapo for financial benefit. De Zitter also offered to take these pilots to Britain, and so he came to our house.

    After the war, this man went to work for the Americans. He made a fortune, as he was a very clever man. My brother was also arrested because of De Zitter in May 1944. I found out about De Zitter after the war was over, when I was in the American Army working for G-2. I found out that the Americans were also looking for him. I think you have a De Zitter in every country!

    Thus the resistance was kind of very secret work. I had a best friend of mine who I met regularly every day. I found after 20 years, after the war, that he was actually working for the same group of the resistance as I was. It was this secret! You work in a vacuum and you had all the dangers of working in a vacuum, but you also had the security of working in the vacuum.

    When the war ended, we were liberated. I was 21 and it was fun. However, the question of freedom was no longer relevant as we had lost what we have fought for! My brother had died after being in the prison in 1944. We realized that quite a lot of the resistance was political. The work we did with the Russians and the communists wasn't anymore such good work because of the Cold War. Our approach to the communists, who we loved, became somewhat a dirty action. After I came to Britain, I went to an art school in Brussels. I was free to do what I wanted at that time. So I went to France and stopped at a youth hostel and met my husband that way. I started training as an art teacher and came to Britain. My husband left me with a child. I needed to earn a living, so I was offered a two-year training course as a teacher. When I accepted the offer, I was forced to take English as a subject. So I became an English teacher.

    I started my training in 1954 and became a teacher in 1956. I have taught English ever since. I taught in Brighton, Bristol and eventually I retired. I also did some tutoring after retirement. And I was asked to teach in a Madrasah, where I taught English to Muslim students, and I loved them. I have four grandsons and I see them often. One is in Brussels, the other one in London and two of them are here in Fording Bridge. Accidently, my eldest grandson's wife was offered a job in Brussels. She is very qualified, so they moved to Brussels. I keep myself occupied, as it is very important. I am a spinner and I spin wool, as well as do crochet. I also belong to the University of the Third Age where I give seminars on the EEC. I am a firm believer in an United Europe!

  • Leslie James Ranson,
    Woodmansey, EnglandMORE...

    My name Leslie James Ranson, and I was born April 5th, 1922 on the outskirts of Hull, England. My father died when I was one, but my mother remarried when I was five, and my stepfather was good to me. I had a big family, with two brothers and three stepbrothers. We were a big farming family, and owned a farm on the near Hull.

    My family moved to Woodmansey England in 1932. I was in school until the age of 14, when I entered the workforce. I was first an errand boy at William Jacksons, then I worked for a dairy farmer for about six months. From the farm, I began working with my stepfather as a tractor driver. I got another job as a driver, which I maintained until I was called up for duty in March 1942.

    I had my basic training in Glasgow, where I stayed for six weeks. From there, the military transferred me to Sheffield where they "taught" me how to drive. I was already driving for years, but they insisted I learn things their way.

    For a year, I was posted to a holding company in Halifax. In early 1942, Winston Churchill created an Airborne division of his military and called out for volunteers. This seemed like an intriguing opportunity, so I signed up to join the infantry. The military send me to a base in Wiltshire, where the 250th company was stationed. I remember we made two shillings a day, which at the time wasn't that bad.

    It was here where I first learned to fly gliders and become a parachutist on a nearby airfield. For two weeks, we flew and glided through the sky. It was an exhilarating experience.

    I remember one particular time, we were in a fog, and our glider ended up stuck in the trees during an emergency landing. We landed in a field and jumped out of the air raft, but the toe rope got caught on a tree. Our sergeant told us to guard the glider while he got help, but we ended up leaving and telling someone else to watch it for us! We had a good time there. Every night we would go out on the town or find some fun to get into.

    After three weeks of training, I went to Royal Air Force Ringway in Cheshire, near Manchester to get my wings. There were eight jumps we had to nail to pass the text: two light jumps, four air jumps and two jumps out of a balloon. With my newfound expertise, I passed all of them easily.

    In March 1943, when the army command felt the division was ready, we were deployed to North Africa. The Allied Forces were already having great success with Operation Torch, and our division was brought in to continue the efforts. Our army, along with the Americans was successfully fighting off the Italians and Nazis throughout the region.

    We landed along the Mediterranean coast. Our superiors ordered us to drive a convoy of vehicles and supplies from Algiers, Algeria to Tripoli, Libya. Once we got to the coast of Libya, we drove our vehicles and supplies onto a ship. In October 1943, we were sent to invade Italy. My infantry was put on an American destroyer, and we set out to sea. I can recall they had fresh bread on the ship, which was the first cooked bread I had seen since leaving England. I enjoyed that with some corn beef.

    Once we got to Italy, I noticed there was nobody there. The Italians must've known our impending arrival. I can recall seeing a train with a Beretta Revolver stuck in the rear. When we pulled the gun out, the train started to spark, and then exploded! That must have been the Italians "thank you" gift for invading their country.

    Further enraged, we traveled to Brindisi, Italy. The infantry came across what had to be about a thousand Italian soldiers in a fort. Our power, combined with their relative weakness at the time made them vulnerable. We barged into the fort and asked them bluntly "are you going to surrender?" And they all surrendered. It must not have been a hard decision with guns drawn.

    The experience in Italy was pretty memorable. I remember once an Italian tried to sell me a watch on the street. I told him I wasn't interested, but undeterred, he dropped it in a bucket of water to prove it's durability. Then slammed it up against rocks! It was impressive, but I still didn't want the watch.

    Another time a couple soldiers and I were enjoying downtime with some lady friends on a balcony in Rimini. We saw a Fiat 500 pull up, and who was in it but Victor Emmanuel 3rd, the King of Italy! We watched him and his entourage for a bit, but ultimately it cleared up.

    After the bombing of Foggia, we left Italy. We left Sorrento and set sail for England. Unfortunately, an engine died on the boat and our trip was delayed. On Christmas Day, 1943 we finally got back to England. Upon landing, the infantry was sent to a Naval establishment in Boston, England, which was a valuable port at the time. After three weeks there, we were sent to Branston, Lincolnshire for more conditioning and practice in the air.

    I remember once, another soldier and I left for the weekend, but coming back we missed the bus in New Holland and had to walk back to camp. Fearing punishment for being late, we snuck back into camp from the back.

    One day in September 1944, the division was doing an exercise near Hadrian's wall. We were then called back and given a briefing about future deployments. British Field Marshal Montgomery was attempting to force his way into Germany, and to do so he needed to seize a significant part of the region near the Waal and Lower Rhine.

    We were to be deployed to Arnhem immediately to assist in that mission. So many soldiers were deployed that there wasn't enough aircrafts for everyone, and some of us had to take gliders. It took three whole hours for that cavalcade to travel.

    It was dusk when I arrived in Arnhem. I immediately found myself in the midst of combat. There was a machine gun on top of a building, shooting. I ran down a slick way to protect myself from fire and watch the machine gun from a safe distance. I later climbed up a wall, and saw three more Germans. I managed to get away.

    Walking along the street, I saw a burning building. It was a police station! I walked further down the street and ran into some of my platoon. Since I was in charge of them, I told them we were going into a nearby Council building. There was a soldier named Len Evans who I asked to guard the door. He was a bit shell shocked, and perhaps scared a little, but I told him he'd be alright.

    We went upstairs and in the restroom. Suddenly bullets started flying. Someone was shooting us from a nearby Bell Tower. Some shrapnel landed on the back of my neck, but I was OK. We stayed in there for three days and three nights. There were only three of us at that time.

    On September 21st, 1944, after four days, we decided to leave the building. The area was overlooking the Arnhem Bridge. I jumped over a guardrail and walked down a passage. When I walked into the street there were Germans standing right there! One of them asked me if I spoke French.

    They immediately took our weapons and snatched our uniforms off. Oddly, they didn't take my wallet.

    The Germans took us into a big theater, and we sat there for what seemed like a week. They didn't even feed us. Eventually, a German came in and told us we were to march to Apeldoorn to be interrogated. As we marched along, I saw the German tanks and soldiers patrolling the streets and taking photos.

    Once we got to Apeldoorn, the Germans told us we were prisoners and interrogated us. They asked us for our name, rank and number. The Germans didn't ask much else, and we weren't going to give them any more information anyway.

    After about 20 days, we were put in cattle trucks and driven off to a prison camp. They had taken our boots off, so we were all barefoot. There was a German guard on top of every boxcar, and we heard them shooting at the Dutch to scare them.

    We soon got to Lindbergh prison camp. I can recall big tents, but nothing to lay on inside but the grass. It was a terrible circumstance. There were 2,000 prisoners, and those Germans only had the water on for two hours a day. You'd be lucky to even get a drink of water. And on top of that many new prisoners were coming every day - mostly Russians.

    After awhile, we were put in more wagons and taken to Stalag IV-B near Dresden, Germany. This was one of the biggest POW camps in the country.

    While we were there, the Germans would sarcastically play Bing Crosby, "What a Beautiful Morning" every morning. There was a German officer who would come in with a billy club and make us get up. We would have to wake up at 4AM to go to the repair depot, where we did odd jobs. I worked as an electrician most of the time.

    They treated us pretty awful, as one could imagine. There were about 20 of us in my individual area, and we were given just two loafs of bread a night. Every night a different person was assigned to cook, and you can believe there were 19 pairs of eyes on him to make sure he didn't try any funny business.

    On February 13th, 1945 the Allied Forces began bombing Dresden. After the bombing, the German soldiers placed us in a general area while they decided their course of action. I can remember, a shaken German officer, all trembling and dirty. He told the Sergeant in charge of us he wanted some of us to helps salvage the area. When he said "all my family is gone" my fellow soldier Chucky White laughed. That officer was infuriated, pulled a luger out and stuck it in Chucky's ribs. Chucky was terrified. Luckily, the Sergeant made the officer to stand down.

    We were then sent out to attempt to clean up what had once been one of the world's most beautiful cities. We went into houses, all the people would be dead in the bunk beds from asphyxiation. It was one big killing field. I can recall being in the street one day cleaning rubble when an Englishman walked right up beside me and said "Sheffield". I had no idea what he meant.

    Another time, I went to see other British prisoners at a Slaughterhouse. I had a two-way cart, and was there to pick up food. Suddenly, another British soldier and I resolved we had had enough. After a brief discussion with a German officer, we decided "we're off." We walked off across the field in broad daylight. He told us to come back or he was going to shoot us. I said "well, shoot then!" At that point there wasn't much worse they could do to us.

    I guess the trauma of the war had softened him, because he didn't shoot, or chase behind us. We kept walking until it got dark. About a mile up a road, we were captured by German guards. Luckily, they took it easy on us. They gave us soup, and took us back to a barn the next day.

    The next day, we continued walking again, and came across a village full of Germans. We knocked on one woman's door, and she looked like she saw a ghost when she opened the door. She was terrified to let us in, but let us sleep behind her house in a pigsty. They next morning, when we woke up the Germans were gone.

    Along our journey we spotted a wagon with three lugers inside. Now we were armed! The word was out that Germans were shooting all escaped prisoners, or "werewolves" as they called us. There were dozens of people fleeing from the camps after Dresden started burning. We would need to be able to protect ourselves along this journey, because being caught was certain death.

    Soon, we reached Czechoslovakia. We knocked on another door, and a woman answered again. We told her our story, and she let us stay in her house for a couple days.

    Around this time there was a rumor that the Allies had made peace with Germany and were fighting the Russians now. One day, we saw a German washing his feet by a stream. He told us "you beat us but you got to fight the Russians back", which was nearly true.

    We were listening on the radio one day and suddenly a broadcast came on: "RAF save us! RAF save us!" The US had accidentally bombed Prague. Soon after, a German Tank came through the neighborhood with people on it. They yelled, "we're going to Danzig, the war's over!"

    We set off on the road, and there were German convoys all over the place full of dead bodies. Soon, I heard a sound off in the distance. I knew that sound and would recognize it anywhere: American GMCs. The entire US convoy passed us before we were able to talk to the last one. He said "Who's your guys?" We told him we were Britishers, and he said "hop on!".

    At last we had some protection, or so we thought. The soldiers dropped us off at an airfield, because they were off on another mission elsewhere. They saw that we weren't critically injured or wounded, just a little thin. Perhaps they figured from there, someone else within the Allied forces could help us.

    We stayed in a control tower at the field for a couple days. Eventually we saw a Dakota plane. I ran over to the pilot, and asked him where he was going. He said Rennes. I asked him if I could fly with him, and he said sure! From there, it was all over!

    From Rennes, I took a Lancaster bomber to Wiltshire. I was so glad to be back home. After a day at an RAF base, we were given railway warrants to get back home.

    By this time the war was over. I was given eight months of leave, then went back into the Army. I had to go through all the training over at Yeovilton. There was a huge notice there that read: New intakes are forbidden to fraternize with the POWs. I thought that was hilarious!

    While I was at Yeovilton, they were about to draft some of us to go back to Germany! We got that squashed though. I went to four or five different places, primarily as a driver.

    In October 1946, I was demobilized and got married the same month. After a Honeymoon in Edinboro, I began work again. I had a daughter with my first wife, who recently died of cancer.

    I was a driver from January 1st, 1947 to 1953, then I became a pig farmer. I had 1,000 pigs at one time, which was on awful lot. My first wife developed multiple sclerosis, which she suffered from for ten years before she died. I was later re-married, and had a son and a daughter.

    My older brother was an engineer in the Air Force. He was killed in Lourdes, France in January 1943. I felt he was too old for flying. The average age for pilots was 22, and he was 32. It was his 33rd operation, but the British Army wanted more from him. Unfortunately, he was blown to smithereens by a bomb. He was married with a child. His wife didn't believe he was really dead, and always thought he would walk through her door again. After awhile, her hope eroded and she committed suicide about 15 years ago.

    I can't do as much as I once did, but I still manage to enjoy my time. Nowadays, I like to play dominoes at the pub, and cut grass on my farm. I honestly wish I could do more work.

  • Sidney James Taylor,
    Norton Canes, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Sid Taylor, and I was born in Norton Canes, England in 1920. I had a great experience as a child. I was in the Boy Scouts for a number of years.

    When I left school, I got a job as en engineer with a vehicle manufacturer. In 1939, the possibility of war was becoming a reality. My father told me "If I was you I would join a good outfit, because you could be sent anywhere."

    I took his advice and joined the Territorial Army. I started at a Drill Hall, doing manual work such as erecting portable bridges. At that point, many were deployed into combat missions to Europe, but I was merely among the soldiers sent to another training camp. I stayed at that camp until early October 1939, when I was sent to France. When the war started, no one knew what was going to occur.

    At that time, the war wasn't as serious as it would become just a couple years later, it was even called a "phoney war". I was a driver, part of an advance party. We traveled from Southampton to France, set to arrive before the rest of our party. By the time we got there, the other party was already there! They left three days after but got to France before us. We didn't how that happened.

    We went to Coutiches, a couple miles from where the Battle of the Frontiers took place. While we were there, we built pillboxes. Pillboxes were those ugly concrete structures that were used as fortifications along the defense line. We were there for several months. From Coutiches, we went towards the Maginot Line. The area we were at was essentially no man's land. We had a couple skirmishes there, but nothing serious.

    We soon got word the Germans broke through France, and were called to defend Dunkirk. 70 miles out we realized the Germans were already there. Our party was then sent Southeast. Along the way, we were doing demolition, blowing up crossroads and bridges to keep them from advancing. Little did we know at the time how far they had already advanced.

    We soon reached Lille, where we actually saw Germans in the town. This put us on guard, we had no idea they would be there.

    On June 10th, 1940 I can remember suddenly hearing tanks in the distance. We didn't have the proper ammunition to fight back so our party jumped into the cornfields to hide. We thought that was a decent hiding place, but the tanks were very tall so the German soldiers still saw us. They swooped in, "told us the war was over for us" and took us in as prisoners of war.

    The Germans put us in trucks and drove us to Holland. We were then put in car barges and sent to a prisoner camp, Stalag XXA, in Poland. I grew sick and ended up in the hospital for a short time. I was at that Stalag for four months, then sent to a second camp in Bromberg. At this Stalag, we dug irrigation ditches and performed road repair throughout the town. The Germans would gather us together and send us way out into the woods. We didn't know where we were on most jobs because we had no knowledge of the area.

    In the summer of 1943, I was moved to a farm in Marienberg, Poland (now called Malbork). The farm was so big it had three captains. I initially worked in the field. I remember once I was using a tractor and forgot to put it back in the barn. I was almost shot over that. The Germans took me off that assignment and made me work in the office. Honestly, I figured sitting down was better than being in the field anyway.

    While I was on the farm, I met a Japanese prisoner. He got a letter from his parents saying his wife had left him for another man. He kept telling me he had to escape the camp, presumably to go back and win her love. I told him I would escape with him. One day we were out in the field doing work and scurried away from the rest of the prisoners. Apparently they didn't realize we were gone until they did a head count on the truck. They eventually found us and shot us both, killing my friend.

    In hindsight, it was a silly decision. Of the 5,000 prisoners of that camp only 29 actually ended up escaping throughout the war. Those people had connections, and being in a strange land, we had none.

    Our time at the farm ended when the Germans suddenly decided to leave and take us with them. Us prisoners had no idea what was going on. I later realized the United States and Russia had invaded Poland. The Yankees came on the west end, and the Russians were coming from the East. The Germans must have realized they would soon be ambushed if they didn't leave, so they escaped fromPoland.

    It was an arduous journey through a Polish winter. There were 12,000 of us prisoners marching along, locked in threes. We would walk 25-30 kilometers a day. We had no idea what was going on or where we were going. Sometimes a prisoner would get too tired to march and fell by the wayside. We would pick them up and keep going. Eventually, the Germans just shot whoever fell by the wayside. They would beat and assault us at will. Four months later, we got to Dresden. There were only 6,000 of us left.

    While we were in Dresden, Allied Forces bombed the city. The Germans fled and left us behind. The Yanks found us and wanted to send us straight home, but were too busy with combat. They first took us to Leipzig, then flew us to Brussels. There we waited in groups of about 25 prisoners apiece. Day by day, the forces would come in with Lancaster bombers and fly us home to Dunsfold.

    In Dunsfold, we were fed and given new uniforms. We were then put on trains to Birmingham. I got to Birmingham at 1AM.

    I remember knocking on the door of my house. My grandparents shouted out from an upstairs window, "who is it?" I told them it was me. My family was so excited to see me. It had been six months since we had last had any contact! We could send letters at the farm, but once the march started there was none of that. My dad told me he was trying hard to get information on me but couldn't find anything.

    After a short while, I went back into the Army. I was in group 22, the highest group for my age and service, but not quite eligible for demobilization. I was sent to a civil settlement union. They wanted me to become re-acclimated to society. After that, I was officially demobilized.

    I didn't do anything for my first three years, but soon after I took a job as a driver. I retired in 1965. I'm now active in my community and talk to the local regiment. I live on my own, sometimes my daughter visits. Considering my experience, I'm doing quite alright.

  • Stan Bond ,
    Gravesend, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Stanley Bond, and I was born on September 9, 1923 in Gravesend, England. We used to live in the city next to the county cricket ground. I went to the Gordon School in Gravesend, which was named after General Gordon.

    When the Blitz began I started working as a fire watchman in a local building after my studies. One Saturday night I was on my fire-watching duty and suddenly all the lights went off with a loud bang. Immediately, I ran outside and saw the sides of the buildings were completely demolished--and with those first bombs dropped, the War began for me. I was a bit scared, but I carried on with my fire-watching duties.

    After that, I also worked during nights and weekends on the migration plan for evacuating children off Gravesend. There were eight pleasure boats that sailed from the city to the East Coast.

    On July 4, 1942, I received a draft that asked me to report immediately to the nearest recruiting center. So I packed my things and travelled down to the station where I spent four weeks in the barracks during my basic army training. Later, I was posted with the Royal Engineers as a sapper. We were stationed in Chatham, Newark, Halifax and then Yorkshire.

    At the time we were stationed in Halifax we had parades two times a day - in the morning and at lunchtime. All soldiers posted there who were even arriving at night, had to go to the parade the next morning. And one day I was put on the cook fatigue when the rest were on the general fatigue. If you are put on general fatigue, you have to go to the parade in the lunchtime even if you're arriving in the morning. So, they all went for the parade and later that day, they were all asked to join a company going to Italy to fight, except for me. They all took part in the famous Salerno landings in Italy and they all got killed. I was the only one from that company who survived because I was on the cook duties that day.

    In March 1943, I was posted to Edinburg where I stayed till May 1943. I travelled to various places in the UK for my training but ended up in Scotland. I was commanded at the British First Corps for work on planning for D-Day on the west coast in Scotland. At that time, we didn't know that we were planning for D-Day and it was just the basic exercises for the military. We were also told that the bridges were being demolished so as a part of Royal Engineers we would have to work for providing materials to replace and rebuild bridges after the landing. For instance, the equipment required in rebuilding and the bricks needed to reconstruct a bridge. We also had to decide that how many vehicles would be required, what would be loaded on the trucks and how would the material be transported. All of this information had to be sorted out beforehand. The army was providing us with a little information of what might be happening when we reached our target area.

    Later, we were in charge of building the famous Pegasus Bridge between Caen and Ouistreham, in Normandy, France. It would only take a certain amount of traffic, so we had to build a Bailey bridge alongside the Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal.

    After the trainings in Scotland, we were ordered to board a big American landing craft on June 3, 1944. This American ship was very similar to the cross-channel ferry boats today, which are not so big. We boarded in the evening, sailed down the coast, crossed Gravesend and reached a small town where we stayed until the afternoon of June 5, 1944. Later, we sailed from the same place into the channel where the weather was pretty horrific, and it was the only reason that D-Day that was transferred from June 5th to June 6th, as far as I know. We were then taken to the Normandy beaches, but we didn't know that we were going to be part of the fight at Normandy. We came to know about the combat when we landed on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

    The next day, we realized that an intense battle was taking place on these beaches. There were ships of all shapes and sizes, and guns and canons were being fired everywhere. It was exciting in a way, but at the same time it was quite scary. We drove in vehicles to our very first location that was a few miles away from the beach. On our first night, we heard several gun fires and shell fires, but our navy was shutting the German gun placement that was located near where we had to spend the night. There were also rumors that a Panzer division was coming towards us, and there was a moment when I thought that we wouldn't be able to make it until the morning. However, the navy fought bravely and protected us as we were not a combat group and were the Royal Engineers unit for supplying materials particularly for the bridges. The following morning we moved a little further inland where we were based for some time.

    One day we were traveling to supply materials for the bridges when we found the dead bodies of two German soldiers hanging from the trees. We covered them with blankets and waited for the morning to prepare for their funeral. We buried them and put a cross on their graves. I believe that later the bodies were shifted to a local cemetery.

    My 21st birthday came right at that time in which I received a parcel from my mother containing a homemade birthday cake, a package of coffee and condensed milk. It was lunchtime and I didn't want to cut the cake until the evening. So we all just had coffee. In the evening when I opened the box, I couldn't see the cake for the ants, and there were thousands of ants on that cake. It ruined the cake, but we had a good laugh.
    From Normandy, we travelled through France and then Belgium. However, we didn't come across any big fights as we were not a combat group. I still remember when we were crossing through Brussels, we stopped for a ten-minute break on the street leading into the central town. An old lady came out from her house in a Belgian traditional costume and asked us if we would like a drink. We all said to her, "Yes, please." So she went back to her house. When she came back, she had a lovely tray in her hands with a dozen cups of coffee. We were very careful with the cups as they looked really expensive and we didn't want to drop them. Anyway, she came back a few minutes later and collected the empty cups. We were thankful to her for her kind gesture. Later, we travelled to Holland where on one occasion when we were exercising outside of our barracks we heard German planes flying across and firing onto the ground. We stood there and tried to shoot them down with our rifles but we were unsuccessful.

    From Holland, we proceeded towards Germany. When we got into Germany we took over some Nazi barracks that they had left in haste. The local children used to congregate near the gates and fences asking for chocolates and cigarettes. In exchange they were offering their assistance in any work. Of course we didn't take them up on the offer but we'd give them treats once in a while. At those barracks we also found a stack of Calvados in the basement of the premises evicted by the German soldiers. It is a type of fine whiskey, and we had to lock it under the supervision of our commanding officer as we didn't want the locals to find it.
    My company was stationed there till the day Germany surrendered. I remember that day quite well. When we heard about the victory, we planned to reach the hotel of our commanding officer, who wasn't generally liked by all of us, to throw him into the pond. But he wasn't at the hotel. He was a strict disciplinarian and quite a few of us had a beef with him. Once, he put me on a charge because I lost a company bicycle, and it wasn't even my fault. He put the blame on me and I got several days of detention. The bike I lost was given to me by the company to run errands across the camps. One day, we were getting ready to move to another camp and I had an accident while riding it so I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for a few days. When I came out of the hospital, the officer asked me about the bike and I told him where it was left. He sent someone to pick it up from the place I mentioned, but it wasn't there and he didn't consider my excuse. Anyway, he wasn't there so we couldn't throw him in a pond. We'd had gotten in serious trouble for that, but hell, the war was over, we didn't care.

    Anyway, my rank was lance corporal when I was in Germany, but I was later made the Acting Company Quartermaster Sergeant. The commanding officer was so pleased with my work that he cancelled my release order when it first came. I was very upset as I had planned my wedding after being released from the army. However, he told me that he doesn't want me to go as he really depended on my work. He also cancelled my release orders the second time, but the third time he couldn't cancel it because of the strict military language on the notice. So he let me go eventually. And we had drinks that night, but I had to go to bed early in order to get up at five in the morning to catch the train to Holland.

    After reaching there, I travelled to the Dutch coast to get the ferry towards England, and from there I went to Halifax to hand over my military possessions to the army base. Finally, I went to Gravesend and got married. So in 1946, I got released from the army and took on a normal civilian life. I got retired from work at the age of 60 years. I also did voluntary work with various organizations including 26 years with a citizens' advisor bureau, providing advice to people. I was also very involved in the Town Training Center between Gravesend, Germany, France and the United States. I like reading biographies and non-fiction books on traveling and I have a good collection of stamps.