om Gore, 6th Bn Devonshire Regiment, drafted to 9th Bn Cameronians, 15th Scottish Division

Moving off all was quiet, out of the orchard into a long grass field, it was a fine sunny day this could have been a manoeuvre somewhere in Devon, the terrain being very similar. An automatic rifle fired to break the silence, answered by one of our Bren guns.

A dead German soldier slumped in a heap against the edge, his steel helmet slipped forward covering his face. Evidence that a lot of others had been here judging by the empty tins, rubbish and smell.

Moving on to the edge of the wood, to our front then it started! With the incoming swish, whistle, noisy bang. Shells, shells and more shells fell amongst us “Stretcher Bearers” was the cry. Dig in, it's surprising, how fast you can get below ground level when there’s a few, or a lot of shells about. Having dug deep enough to sit in and keep your head down, the sergeant shouted for myself and the platoon runner, to move down the bank into the woods, report back anything we heard or saw.

There was a path along the bottom of the steepish bank, the trees thick and dark, on the far side, sizing up the situation, when some shells exploded, hitting the top of the trees, shrapnel falling like rain. Scraping a hole each in the bank, I said the first of a few prayers that day. Shells, shells and more shells, making the hole a bit bigger, dig or die, the roots in the bank didn’t make our task any easier. I had no watch, time meant nothing, except to dig a bit deeper, try to stay on this earth, a bit or hopefully a lot longer.

An officer came down the path, from a company on our right, passing us with blood coming through his left hand fingers, that held a wound on his right arm. Shouting to him, if he wanted help, saying nothing, just passed by down the path. A lull in the shelling, a wounded lance corporal was passed down the bank, with a foot wound. Told to take him down the path to a road, there was no blood so we left his boot on, he couldn’t walk. It was a cumbersome job, almost carrying him, on coming to a farm after some time, in the yard six or so dead cows that had been caught up in the shelling. There was a wheel barrow amongst them, putting our comrade in it drove down the path.

Dangerous duty

One of the most dangerous duties was detailed to fetch the rations, as the road behind us was under constant shell fire, from heavy guns firing from across the river. The stretch of road from our positions to the next houses was very exposed, the shelling fell into a sort of pattern, so the thing to do was judge the lull and make a dash in the breaks.

Now this was alright going, because you only had a rifle and ammunition bandolier to carry. The return journey was more cumbersome having also to carry two round vacuum sealed containers each, about 30” tall, a foot around, so it was a slower journey … many a container was dropped, left to be shelled, if it was an important one like the tea, to be rescued by a Rifleman, dashing out risking his life for the tea.

After turning right, facing us was a large mine field. Mines on the surface as far as we could see, a narrow path taped off with orange tape around it. In single file we moved on, all the mines that had been cleared, stacked in piles in the path. Stepping with great care over them, not daring to go around them, trying to step into the same footprints as the comrade in front. Moving deeper into the field. The concentration was broken by an explosion from behind us. There was a mushroom shape of smoke rising into the air. Some poor infantryman must have put his foot down in thee wrong spot. Stretcher bearers were trying with difficulty, because of the narrowness of the cleared path to get to the dead or wounded.

Abandoned gliders

Moving on, passing fields of crashed abandoned gliders, Parachutes hanging from the trees, left over from ill-fated Arnhem offensive. Passing a red and white border barrier from Holland into the Fatherland, to welcome us in a ditch were some bodies busting out of their German uniforms. Blotted and greenish faces, the sort of thing that only gets one look, then you look away, not looking again, but you already got the picture.

We had apparently run into an enemy counter attack, being forced to retreat, our first section had disappeared … The charred bodies of the enemy that had been caught in the flames of the flame throwers.

German long range guns fired as if in defiance from across the river Rhine, shelling the road to our rear. Four German soldiers taken prisoner, sheltered in a dip next to our slit trench … One of the prisoners had been wounded in the leg, swollen up so bad, bursting the seam stitches of his trousers, split up to the his thigh, he must have been in great pain. They could not have been prisoners long because one still wore a watch, I liberated it from him, another had a ladies cocktail watch in a small pocket at the waist band of his trousers. That made three I had now.

It fell to me to take the prisoners and wounded back to HQ, setting off back down the path. The two fit prisoners carrying the wounded on a branch sat between them, he should have had a stretcher but there was none to spare, further down the path I picked up two more prisoners with a stretcher, carrying on his stomach the rifleman that had been wounded.

Stopping for a rest and cigarettes all round, cigarettes always plentiful 50 free each week, with 70 cheap from the Naafi each week, on top of this various charities sent us presents cigs.

Turning a corner in the path, a Battalion of Canadian troops, moving up, so help was at hand. The path at last lead us out of the woods. A red cross jeep was waiting, we put our wounded aboard, the rifleman and his enemy laying side by side. Their fighting days over, if they survived. The jeep dashed off up the road, still being shelled.

Shells whizzing above

Finding HQ up the road, thirty or so prisoners in the front garden, adding my batch to them. Finding myself the only rifleman present, everyone else taking cover, the shells whizzed over exploding up the road. The prisoners kept ducking and throwing themselves to the ground. Approaching them, searching some, saying “watches” but they had already been liberated from them, to my surprise one of them said in good English “I had only one watch”. The RSM appeared from the house. Ordered me to take the prisoners to Brigade HQ, not expecting this, always obey the last order. Getting the prisoners to their feet, in three lines, set off up the road, it wasn’t a nice place to be, never knowing when the next batch of shells would arrive…

About to return down the road, seeing a queue, with mess tins at the ready, it didn’t take me long to take out my tins from my pack, joined them. Pork chop, mash spuds peas, and thick gravy. With half a tin peach with custard, a full mug of tea.

No questions asked, as brigade was made up with a lot of the three regiments, good nosh (food) better than stew and hard tack…

As it was late, I decided to stay the night, after a search, I found a spare spring bed, no mattress, but it was the first bed I had seen for some time … After taking off my kit and steel helmet, it must have been at least three days since I had taken off my steel lid proper. My hair was cut infantryman short, but still a bit tangled, so running my fingers through it saying I had lost my comb. Then one … signalman did what I thought was a great show of comradeship, me being a stranger, taking out his comb he broke it in half, giving me one half to keep.

Next morning after breakfast, a sergeant, started asking questions, so I thought it was time I left, in case I got done for eating another man’s rations…

Intending to report back to my platoon, but something entered my head. I’m not going back into that woods again, where so much had happened, reluctantly I turned right away from the front, the rumble of gunfire in the distance, walking away from it all. After walking for some time, thinking I looked conspicuous, there being no Scottish troops about, and all the ammunition I was carrying. Taken the tassel off my hat and my conspicuous badge. Carrying a sten gun, I had borrowed off Cpl Grant to take the prisoners back.

Throwing away the bandolier of rifle 303 ammunition in a ditch also two mills bombs (hand grenades), after taking out the live detonators, pushing them into the soft earth. After a while a vehicle came up the road, it was a Buffalo river crossing vehicle, thumbing a lift. Only the driver no questions asked. Taken me all the way to Nijmegen, dropping me off on the outskirts of town. Going to the nearest house with a garage, knocking on the door … With signs I indicated I would like to sleep in the garage.

Turning she consulted her husband, indicated that I could sleep in the house, signalling for me to enter, it was very homely. Taking off my equipment by the back door in the kitchen, watched by my hosts who turned out to be good friends. Taking my sten gun apart, showing the husband, putting the firing pin in my pocket, dismantling the gun. Agreeing with what I had done, nodding, saying “good” one of the few words we both understood. Perhaps it was just as well, not too many questions asked…

Returning to the house, my new friends greeted me with a cup of substitute coffee. There was an old lady that lived there, don’t think she liked me very much a scowl in her wrinkled face. But I was wrong, coming back one night to find she had knitted the fingers back on my gloves, that I had burnt off back on the Maas river. Showing me to a bedroom, it took me by surprise, double bed, white sheets etc, it was nothing but first class. Making in the now common sign language, to my host, that I would sooner sleep on the sofa down stairs, they wouldn’t hear of it…

Planning on one more night between the sheets, then I intended to turn myself in to the military police (Red Caps) take what was coming to me. Eating my rock buns in the Naafi, someone touched me on the shoulder, it was a chap who had been with me in the Devonshire Regiment … Joining him and a corporal in the same Regiment. After a chat about what had happened to others … telling them not to tell anyone, but I was “on the trot” absent without leave. Replying he said “Don’t tell anyone but so are we”. I was not alone…

Blessing in disguise

The next day turned out to be the same routine, except in the canteen a military policeman came and sat in a spare chair at our table. After a chat, I showed him my three watches, asking if he was interested, as we were all getting short of cash. He turned out to be a blessing in disguise, bought one and showed interest in the ladies cocktail watch. Saying he would return tomorrow with the (ackers) money to buy it…

It was with caution that I watched the policeman approach, never trusting them, of course they had their job to do.

Pulling up a chair he produced the guilders, wound the watch, put it to his ear, with satisfaction he left. My associates had decided to move on, try to get to Brussels, asking me if I cared to join them. Now this was a new turn of events, I hadn’t intended to stay away so long, so against my better judgement I agreed to join them.

Next morning I bid farewell to my kind friends, the woman shed a few tears. Waving as I went up the road … I hope I hadn’t offended them when offering them some money, that they would not take…

Thumbing a lift on an empty tank transport as far as Einover, it was full of troops…

Making our way back to the main road, we hadn’t gone far, when a traffic blue cop passed on a motorbike … Asked us what we were about. Telling him the truth, think we were glad it worked out this way … Taking us to the local nick that was a school that had been taken over. After taking down our particulars, taking away our hats and boots. Putting us in an upstairs classroom, there must have been thirty troops from different regiments, all infantry men, all AWOL … Three days later my escorts from A Company arrived, two of my mates and a lance corporal, filled me in with latest news…

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