Part 3 : Into Battle

This was not the kind of battle that was being fought over in Normandy and I quite enjoyed it because I felt useful, but there were no age limits on this side of the channel and babies and children were killed along with the rest on a daily basis.

In July 44 I had been taking part in an exercise on Wimbledon common involving an assault course and earthworks and as I was having a breather as my dad used to say I heard a noise quite different to any ever heard during the Battle of Britain dogfights.

It sounded like an exhaust was just about to fall off a car and a small plane appeared seemingly on fire.

Instead of ducking and weaving to avoid the anti aircraft fire and a chasing spitfire that could barely keep up, it bore straight on quite unconcerned. Not surprising as there was no one on it.

Suddenly the nose dropped as the motor shut off and we thought it had been hit and brought down. NO SUCH LUCK !! for we were witnessing the worlds first jet propelled flying bomb as it came down into a densely populated area of London at random. A cloud of black smoke arose about 2 miles away and the dirty surprise was done.

This was Hitlers last ditch secret weapon attempt to crush the South East of England in the hope that it would stop the tide that had now turned so completely against him.

There was no real steering on these bombs and the RAF made gallant attempts to come up alongside and tilt the wings sideways with their own wings to turn it away from the London area without blowing themselves up with the 1000lbs of high explosive next to them in the process.

Many were not successful.

My detachment of sappers were ordered to do all possible to help the civilian population along with thousands of others and it proved to be a very apt training for the time when I would be sent to France.

We were put in a large air raid shelter in SW London and had to report daily to the Brixton town hall where we told to go to certain streets to do what we could. One good aspect was that the doodle bugs as they were called by the Cockneys seldom came over at night so at least we could get a nights sleep.

During the daytime there was no air raid as such as in the previous years as they just kept coming randomly, several at a time all day long.

A car bomb in London today would give the effect of just one flying bomb and hit the headlines all over the world so let us try to remember what it was like to have 50 or more such attacks in a single day. Some would go off course and hit other towns and villages in the home counties.

At that time my darling wife of today was still a baby living in SE London with her mother, while her father was a military police sergeant already serving in France, having done a hard stint in the North African desert.

It was about 6 weeks not without humour. After all said and done London is a vast place and it fascinated me for the first time at the age of 18.

Many of the buildings had been evacuated by the time we reached them and people just wanted us to retrieve some of their furniture and take it out to relatives in the country.

I swore I would never work for a removal firm when I got out of the services!

There was one little old Jewish couple who were so upset about their grand piano up in the top flat of a 4 storey building. Three of us swore and puffed to get that piano down all those stairs and round all those corners and it played a funny old tune on the way. Well a certain trio of very inexperienced mechanical equipment sappers made it in the end to drive out to Hertfordshire with most of their other belongings.

I was lucky to have an uncle on my dads side and family not far away near Croydon and what little time off I did have found me in their peaceful home with a billiard table whilst their own lads were overseas and one was in a German prison camp.

I also made my debut on the Streatham ice rink and found that even though I could roller skate a bit this was a lot harder.

Before the 2nd blitz on London ended I was sent in August to a reinforcement holding unit in Hampshire to live under canvass and to prepare for overseas posting.

Although we were now 2 months after D day and the allies had broken out from the Normandy bridgeheads we were still sealed off away from any civilian contact in secrecy as part of 8th Corps who were some 150,000 troops. As far as the British were concerned this was a very big reinforcement behind the 30th Corps and 12th Corps who had fought so hard in the assault on Europe and who were now chasing the enemy back to Belgium.

The French money looked interesting and there many discussions as to what we would buy with it. All the discomforts of service life were washed away by the thought of what excitement lay ahead on my very first trip away from the UK. It didn’t seem very unusual at the time that I was still only 18 and 8 months after a year in the army and a year in the home guard and holder of the UK defence medal.

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