• Richard Pelzer ,
    Swansea, WalesMORE...

    My name is Richard Thomas Pelzer. I was born in the village of Llansamlet near Swansea on the 20th of May 1924. I'm the third of four sons and one daughter of Mr. John Hubert Pelzer and Margaret Pelzer. In senior school I excelled in science, metal work, and woodwork so when I was fourteen I left school to begin learning trade. I was attending night school instead and learning trade with director Rosser, a builder and undertaker, until the bombings occurred and interrupted my education.

    I was in town when the first bombings came. I was living in Llansamlet and going to technical college in Swansea. To get home you could either go out pass the docks or go the long way, by the police station. It was a new narrow street, and there used to be a barbershop with a large window there. When they dropped the bombs the window fell completely, and it dropped against the wall. I was leaning right against it. If you go past the old police station in Swansea you can still see the wall. It's got big lumps in it from where the shrapnel went.

    I had been a volunteer guard for the past eighteen months before I received my calling up of papers from the army. I was nineteen years old and I entered on my birthday, May 20th. After primary training and then engineering training I was posted to a port maintenance company that worked on underwater demolitions. Because I couldn't use my mason trade here I took up another trade as a diver. The underwater demolition dealt a lot with recovery. When a ship was being loaded we had to go pick up any site EODs, or explosive ordnance devices in the water. We also had to inspect all locked gates that went down in the water because the lockets might have been booby-trapped by Germans frogmen or even the Japanese. So it was kind of like port clearance, making sure the ports were all clear.

    After the underwater demolition we were sent to Scotland to work on the secret Mulberry Harbour project. It was an artificial harbour to get supplies. We were the number 9 port-operating group, and our role was to put the anchorage down, otherwise the tide or storms could carry it away. The British had a Mulberry Harbour and the Americans had theirs too. It was a secret because if the Germans were to find out, they'd bomb it and then the invasion would have collapsed because there would be no supplies to get to shore. When we finished up our Mulberry harbour my squad and I went down to a place called Marsh Ward in Southampton to work with the Americans who were a little bit behind with theirs. From there then we were briefed on our trip to France.

    I landed on Juno beach in Normandy, France on June 6th 1944. We had a specific job: make clearance for the rest of the people to come up to the beach. We were the boys to lead the way and to get the other boats in. Everyone was equipped with a mini-set of tools; we either blew up the obstacles or cut them up. When working we were fired from everywhere. Matter of fact, we were even shelled from the French boats. They were trying to shoot at the Mulberry Harbour, but a couple of shells dropped short and wiped out a whole company of engineers. We were on flat ports at the time. They're just ports you lift the sides up of and drive with a little motor and propeller. We drove these onto the beach. After D-day we spent the night in a little garage. It was part of the ledger on Juno beach in the Nan section.

    I lost my best friend on the beach one day while we were doing a job on one of the invasion fortresses. He was a corporal, corporal Ray, and we had a bulldozer pulling this big fortress out of the way. We were all in a circle, about nine of us, and he was standing the furthest away when this explosion happened. He went down and I got peppered with bits of metal. Once my hearing came back I turned and said to him, "Come on corporal, it's all over." But when I went to him he was dead. The explosion had left a mark on him, blew his lungs out. We were all there, in a circle, but no one else had gotten hurt.

    After August our job was to go along the coast, capturing all of these inland ports so that the German army couldn't be supplied. We did this until we got up to Bourlon. From there I returned to the UK until I received orders to go to Burma. But when I got into Kalyan, India, instead of going to Burma we were ordered to stay there and prepare for the invasion of Singapore. The code name for the invasion was Operation Bow and Arrow, but it ended up not happening because of the atomic bomb. We were in the Malacca Straits when an announcement was made that the Allied forces had released a secret weapon on the Axis. We didn't know what it was at the time so we remained in the Malacca Straits for about three days before we went down into Singapore. Our job there was to secure the release of all prisoners of war. I was supposed to go home in May 1945, but they told me I was being kept on for the emergency. So I was kept on duty for eighteen more months.

    I was in Singapore from August 1945 until May 1947. We didn't do any engineering work, just general duties and training. The company I was with did undertaking, so we mostly did ceremonial work. There were so many British prisoners of war that died when they were released from the camp. So we were responsible for giving the bodies a funeral. Our job was to more or less police in Singapore. We would get the prisoners water and see that they weren't abused. I gave them a lot of food because there was nothing on them. I spoke to a couple of them. They were very grateful. In the Changi jail there was once a Japanese commandant who would not surrender his sword because the officer, now a prisoner of war, was I think either a captain or a major. So this major got promoted to a brigadier to accept the sword from the Japanese officer and have him surrender. Funny thing is I knew him quite well, but I didn't know of his promotion till after his death.

    When I was selected to go to Japan to take some readings on the atomic bomb my captain at the time said to me, "You've done eighteen months already; I'm leaving you behind in Singapore." He went instead and this officer, he only lived about two months after. He passed away with leukemia. They reckon he caught it when taking samples from the atomic bomb.

    So in May, instead of going to Japan, I boarded for my six weeks journey back home. Once home in July I took a week off from work. If I had taken off all of my leave from work it would have been two hundred and ninety six days because I hadn't been home for all five Christmases. Those were the worst moments of all during the war - Christmas time. But on Christmas in 1947 I got married to my dear wife. We've been married now for sixty-six years coming this year.

    At the end of July I went back to working in construction, and I worked in that till 1953. I was working with a local builder once, doing small jobs, when I fell thirty-four feet and damaged a muscle in my right leg. I fractured my coccyx, and fractured my spine too. I had to give my trade up so I sought a light job with the local authority as a janitor and handyman. I lived on the premises while I was there; my wife was employed with them as well. One day they asked me if I knew anything about photography and I did because I had done some underwater photography with old cameras before. They turned around and asked me if I'd more or less be the official photographer for them. While I was there, for thirty-two years, I shot every royalty you can think of including the Prince of Wales.

    I gave up that job when I turned sixty-five years of age, but in the meantime I've been associated with many organizations like the Royal Engineers Association. I was the secretary of our chapter for twenty-six years. And back then we lived in a flat, right on the sea front in town. But we've come into the accommodation here where my daughters live just down the road, and my granddaughter lives just around the corner. So my wife and I, we're quite happy.