The Guards at War 39-45 
Bn HQ Section LHG

Coldstream guards, Grenadier Guards, Scots Guards, Welsh Guards, The Household Cavalry, Guards at War, 5bcg, Guards Armoured Division, coldstream, guard, guards, coldstream guards, reenactment, re enactment, 5th batalion, 5bcg

From Normandy to Arnhem: a Footslogger’s War

 

 

 

by the Late Stan Walley

5th Bttn Coldtream Guards, no. 2662130,

30th August 1915 to 5th April 2012

 

I was called up at the end of 1939 with no idea of where to go, so I called at the Recruiting Office in Edleston Road, Crewe. They put it to me that I should join the Coldstream Guards because I met the height requirement, though I’d only vaguely heard of them. I was given a medical there and then. The Guards Regiments were still not taking conscripts so I was required to volunteer which was simply red tape and there and then they gave me a King’s shilling. I waited a few weeks, not looking forward to it, but it was inevitable and I never regretted joining the outfit that I did.

I went to Euston by train and then on to Caterham Barracks. At the Tube station there were a few of us gathered together but there were no designation boards on the trains, so we hesitated. After a while, a porter said to us, ″Hey! What’s going on? All these trains go to Caterham!″  On arrival we were taken to a reception room where another gang of recruits looked down on us shouting abuse and advice, they said ″Hey, you lot, you'll be sorry!″ It was only  leg-pull and in a couple of days we were doing it ourselves to the next new lot.

Caterham was a real shock to the system. We were put in squads of 20 and had a Sergeant Instructor and were also assigned a 'Trained Soldier' who lived in the barrack room with us and showed us how to put our kit together and so on, which was a cushy job. But there was a hell of a lot of discipline which was the first thing that hit you in the face. In brief, we were chased from reveille to lights out.

Reveille was at about 6.30 am with first a bugler and then a shower. A Sergeant would come round shouting ″Hands off your c***s and put on your socks!″ which meant you had to have your feet on the deck. We were given letters at breakfast, unless you were on field punishment when all letters, sweets and cigarettes would be banned and you would be confined to Barracks. The Cookhouse food was adequate – we used to say it was 'good food till the cooks got their hands on it'. There were jam fritters which were jam butty doorsteps fried in batter. Slices of bread were put on the table and you soon learned to help yourself with a fork rather than by hand to save you being stabbed by someone else’s eating irons. We also had jam roly-poly which was pretty good, the favourite part was the last slice, we called it the “butt group”, if you got the butt group, you were in, it was always the biggest! There were also rissoles which were good too, even though they said the cook clapped them into shape in his armpit. Mind you, we would have eaten a piece of wood if they’d cooked it. While I was in the army, a popular song of the time always made my mother cry:

Ma, I miss your apple pie

Ma, I miss your stew

Ma, they're treating me alright

But they can't cook like you

 

Oh, Ma, nobody's spoiling me

Like you used to do

They won't let me stay in bed until noon

At five-forty-five they play me a tune

Oh, Ma, I miss your apple pie

And by the way, I miss you too

 

By John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo

 

Apple pie was my favourite, so she sent me one. By the time I got it, it had been crushed to pieces, but I still ate it.

There was one lad who was a little bit slow so they had him working as a messman, filling and collecting tins and so on. At one point during Operation Spartan, which I’ll come to later, we were supposed to be fighting the Home Guard, this lad wasn’t allowed a gun but he was as strong as a bull and was chucking them about like rag dolls, I thought he was going to kill them. I think he had difficulty separating fantasy from reality, the Vikings would have used him as a Berserker.

After breakfast the work day would start: arms drill, squad drill or lectures or route marches. You were issued with a rifle and bayonet and were taught arms drill and how to operate a machine gun as well as how to take apart your equipment and clean it before putting it back together. In lectures we were taught a bit of Regimental history and also current affairs. One lecture took place in a cinema. The officer giving it had a pointer going across the screen, showing us all the strong points. He had a rather plummy accent and as he came to each place he would bark; “ ... and over thereaah ..... and over thereaaah ...” Some wag called out from the darkness “And over thereaaaaah!” Soon everybody was doing it and the whole thing ended in uproar. The lecture had to be abandoned. Lt. Col. Stratheden, the CO, a weedy-looking sort of bloke, and all the MPs were going mad, but there was nothing they could do, they couldn’t arrest all of us.

Some of our lectures were given by the Marquis of Hartington who, at the time, was standing as a Tory in a by-election against a man called White. We used to say, ″Old Knocker will give you a good hiding !″ I used to tell him that after the war, his lot would be out, meaning the Tories and the aristocracy. He took it in good part and we thought he was a decent bloke. He was a really good looking bloke too, he was next in line to the Duke of Devonshire. He married Kathleen Kennedy, they called her “Kick”. I was nearby when he was killed in Belgium.

A word about Guards Officers: they were a mixed bunch, like every other branch of society, I remember Stratheden, Hartington, Pereira, Paget and Gwatkin, a “bulliphant” sort of bloke with a curly moustache, you wouldn’t kick sand in his face and would keep away from him if you could. But the main thing about Guards Officers was  that with them it was always ″Come on!″ rather than ″Go on!″

Every night after the evening meal, we had Shining Parade: you sat on your bed for ninety minutes cleaning your kit and were not allowed to speak. If an inspector didn’t like your kit, he would put it on the floor and jump on it or throw it out of the window. Eventually we learned to run a mouthful of water over the crease in our trousers, lay them on a blanket and then sleep on them. During kit inspections you laid out your kit on the bed, your blanket had to be folded with your name visible to the inspector. A string was laid down the barrack room. Everything had to come up to the line.

The characters were interesting: one bloke, a policeman with a big moustache, knelt at his bed and said his prayers every night; and there were regional characteristics: the Geordies were the best at digging a trench as they were ex-miners and we couldn’t keep up with them. One of them I liked particularly and kept up with after the war was called Mackinelly or Mac. I remember that he once got into a temper about something or other, and as he got madder and madder, his accent became more and more incomprehensible until the only word that we could make out was “Wellingtons!” Cockneys were forever going on about London or 'The Smoke' as they called it, and the 'Big Clock' which was Big Ben. All those named White were known as 'Knocker', Browns as 'Topper' and Smiths as 'Dusty'.

We were not allowed out of barracks for six weeks and after three or four months and still with the same squad, we were moved on to a holding battalion in Pirbright which was larger than Caterham (there were nightingales in the woods in Surrey and I saw my first glow worms). We did a lot of firing there because there were lots of ranges. I always liked firing a gun. Fatigues were spud bashing, dishwashing, etc. and your name was put on a daily work list. There was one chap who was always in minor trouble for slight misdemeanours. On one occasion, the officer asked him, ″Where’s the crease in your trousers?″ He replied, ″Where’s the snow we had last Christmas?″ The officer nearly choked trying to stop laughing and hurried off. But he could have done him for insubordination. The camaraderie started early and built up over time and ran through everything. It was something which increased with time and we never lost it. Once on battalion guard – lots of protocol, presenting arms, saluting, etc – the Adjutant didn’t come, so things were a bit more free and easy. The Sergeant of the old guard, the ones dismounting, instead of the usual formula, came up with:

″Two by day

One by night

Stuff you Jack

I'm all right!″ 

He was a bit of a comic.

After Pirbright I then went to a service battalion at Elstree, Hertfordshire. It was the 4th Battalion and was based in an old empty school house. Sometimes we would have a night out at Boreham Wood, going in the company truck. One night we went past a village square which had a number of coaches parked around it. One of them had the keys in the ignition and one of our lads said he was a coach driver and drove us back to barracks in it, finally abandoning it in a field. There was a big row the next day but no one got into any trouble. I remember there was a Jewish bloke called Wellings who couldn’t be sent abroad and the fact that we had to go to Church Parade every Sunday and if you refused, you were put on fatigues.

Around 1943, I was transferred to the 5th Battalion or the 32nd Infantry Brigade (Guards) as the 4th became the 4th Tank Batallion Coldstream Guards. It was a smooth transition and we were stationed in Wiltshire, near Salisbury Plain. We lived in Nissan Huts though we were moved several times and had lots of range practice. There were lots of manoeuvres which we called 'stunts'. Stunts were endurance tests, physically much worse than active service. I had no quarrel with them, believing they were good and useful things to do. We were out in the wilds for days and one in particular took place on Bodmin Moor and was bloody hard going. It was mid-February and for sixteen days without shelter and was called 'Operation Spartan'. As we were getting bedded down for the night, I found a bit of a hollow for protection and covered myself with a blanket but when I woke in the night it was peeing down and my hollow was full of water. Though they'd try to get a truck to you with hot food, they would make you wait until dark, so we carried a few chocolate bars with us. Our truck broke down which meant we lost the rest of the unit (though we didn’t really want to find them!). It turned out to be a right comedy. We were driving here and there and everywhere we shouldn't be and umpires were waving flags and firing blanks at us. It was a bloody pantomime! There were two particular lads who were a right pair. A Sergeant  was in charge and one of these lads would run alongside the truck steering it while the other would change gear inside, just for a laugh, as we rattled along.

While at Salisbury, I once saw the stones shrouded in mist at the break of daylight. It was very romantic and eerie. I also saw the White Horses on the Downs which were covered in turf. That’s where the Airborn people got their Pegasus insignia from and I had one of their smocks. Also, from Salisbury I was sent to do combined ops training up in Scotland. I spent the night onboard a ship and the next morning we had to get into a landing craft by scrambling down a net over the side of the ship. The trick is to go hand over hand on the same rope, not using a rope in each hand, and Don't look bloody down! They made us get out before we really needed to and we had to wade ashore. There were potholes on the sea bed and when the cold winter water touched your unmentionables, it made you gasp! Then we had to march ten miles in wet clothing which we did like the clappers to get warm.

Back in Wiltshire, I did some training with the RAF as part of 'Spartan', in which we attacked an aerodrome. The RAF blokes were still in bed though they knew all about the training exercise but couldn’t be bothered because they didn't have the discipline of the Guards. We went into their Nissan Huts and kicked some of the beds over! During this time we also had a Company shoot. Everyone had to take part and out of a just over a hundred men, I came 4th. It was started with a corps of snipers and they wanted 16 men, four from each Company. I hadn’t volunteered but they shoved me in and this turned out to be a good thing for me, and these snipers were formed by the second in command of the Battalion, a Major, a little chap called Stewart Brown. I remember being with him on a sniping trip or excursion or ‘up front’ in France watching columns of retreating Germans, one broke ranks and went behind a hedge for a pee and I could have easily shot him, but the Major stopped me. He said it would give away our position, but I think he just didn’t want to kill a man for no good reason. Major W.S. Stewart Brown was awarded the DSO and Mentioned in Despatches. He was killed when his jeep hit a landmine, this is how I remember it, though Distant Drum says different, anyway, he was a smashing bloke.

The sniper group was 'struck off' and they couldn't touch you for drill parades, etc. so the second in command could get hold of you when he wanted you.  In sniper training we did bags of firing. Our equipment was a special rifle with a cheek rest and telescopic sights. It was a short Lee Enfield and it was a good tool which I liked. On top of that we had a camo Para’s Dennison smock which was windproof. We already had a helmet with a camo net and paint to daub on our faces. They came up with the idea that a seven second fuse on a hand grenade was too long and gave the enemy time to chuck it back, so we had to release the lever, count to three, and then throw. We all learnt to count more quickly then. Shortly after the unit was formed we were sent up to the Lake District where we were billeted in huts run by the Irish Guards. They told us that if we played the game with them and kept the place tidy, they'd leave us alone. So we did and even polished the windows and made it really good. The course had a fearsome reputation and it was plenty arduous but I enjoyed every minute of it. We had lots of practice at firing, camouflage, map reading, observation and judging distance. It wasn't easy – all the road signs had been removed. We were taken out in a truck with the blinds drawn about ten to fifteen miles from base and had to find our way back. There were sixteen of us in all, in truckloads of four, the same groups each day. One member was handed a map and instructions about what to do each day and I found that I was getting the instructions every day. After a while, I asked if someone else would like a go at being leader, but the O/C jumped on this and told me to carry on, so I was a marked man from the start!

When I got back to my unit I was sent for during the Day’s Detail to see the C.O. This was for men who had requested leave or had been in breach of discipline. A gang of us were marched at the double to the C.O.’s Nissan hut and the Sergeant Major  had us marking time in front of the desk. With a dozen big tall Guardsmen marching on the spot on a wooden floor, all the pens and inkwells on the desk were bouncing up and down, the whole hut shook.  It turned out I was there to hear the verdict on my performance on the sniping course. They had asked if I could stay on as an Instructor. The job carried the rank of Sergeant and I would spend the rest of the war in The Lake District. But my C.O. said that he wasn’t training men up to be taken away by other units.

We must have been all right because we did a demonstration as a sniper unit in front of the King and Queen and the two princesses in a place called Hunstanton in Norfolk. It was on the pier, a rickety old structure. There were some blue balloons about the size of a football which were attached to a screw on a length of cotton. They were chucked into the sea and we snipers had to fire at them from the shore, which was not easy as the balloons were small and bobbing up and down on the waves. We used tracer bullets so everyone could tell who fired which. I was a little bit further back in the same trench as the Officer in Charge and the Royal Family were three or four yards behind me.  The officer was spotting for me and I must have been having a good day, as I managed to hit three out of three. The officer was dead chuffed and was egging me on, ″Come on! Come on!″ It didn’t bother me to fire the rifle in front of the Royal company (Field Marshall Montgomery and several other brass hats were there too),  as I knew I could do it, but if it had been marching up and down, I would not have liked it. Montgomery addressed the troops in Hunstanton, he said he wanted to have a look at us and was quite sure that we would want to have a look at him.

The sniping section was booked into several places in Scotland for practice. On the way there we were in an old fashioned corridor train with one bloke standing in the doorway with a fixed bayonet telling potential passengers that we had a prisoner to ward them off. Then we pulled down the blinds and were able to stretch out for a kip. At Glasgow there was a station change to the other side of the city and we took a railway platform truck for our heavy kit. We got a lot of looks and I wonder if the truck is still where we left it, at the other station? One place was on Lock Etive in Argyll on the West coast of Scotland. The estate, which was called Taynuilt was so remote that the Gilly, who had six children, had to have a live-in schoolteacher. Glencoe was very eerie seen from above, it looked like a suitable place for a massacre.  We stayed in an empty bothy, a gamekeeper's cottage, and were there for about two weeks. There's little skill or pleasure in shooting deer. I didn’t enjoy it.  The really skilled man is the Gilly who takes the stalking party out. The land at Taynuilt was owned by Viscountess Fincastle, her husband had been killed with the 4th Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in the rearguard action in 1940 after Dunkirk. She came out with us every day, even though we had to wade across the river. I was given some venison to send home and I also sent a deerskin, but something had gone wrong with the curing process and it came to pieces. I’ve seen Loch Etive since, it was covered with pleasure boats.

After Scotland, it was back to Wiltshire and then ready for abroad. The invasion began in 1944 and we left from Eastbourne, from a US transit camp. I was very much impressed with the efficient way in which they ran it. The Americans' ideas of hygiene and catering were light years ahead of ours – there was lots of hot water for washing and their food was richer, though I was not so keen on that. The US soldiers were better dressed, too. We went on quite a large troop ship and travelled overnight, disembarking next morning. There was a landing craft underneath and a net over the side which we had to climb down. This was a difficult operation in full kit as it included a spade, a pick and God knows what. But the whole operation was carried out with real efficiency and couldn’t be faulted. The trick was the same – keep hold of the same rope and don't look down! An officer was waiting in the boat and I handed him my rifle, calling out ″Catch hold of this f**ing thing!″ We landed in June 1944 and, when on shore, I had never seen such a state of desolation in my life. Half-sunk ships stuck out of the water and planes lay crashed, nose or tail in the ground. I walked up the beach, knelt down, picked up a handful of sand and thought, this is French sand. It came to me that for hundreds of years, English soldiers had been doing this. We made our way inland and a Yorkshireman called Parkinson entertained us in the truck pretending to be a fanatical German pilot, using his rifle as joystick. His character was getting more and more shot up, but each time he was hit he would shout, ″Ach! zey haf got me! but I vill fight on!″

We stopped a few miles outside Caen, where they had lots of 1000 bomber raids. While we were re-grouping for a few days, we watched dog fights, saw pilots bailing out and two American planes shooting up one of our Lorries with thirty or forty men inside. Rumour had it that sixteen Welsh Guards were killed in a T.C.L. – 'Friendly Fire' was what they called it. We would watch standing on top of a tank, a little way back from the front line. Two blokes who had been very gung ho about fighting for King and Country, cracked up before we got there.

 Then we were in the front line in Normandy for over twenty-one days none stop. During that time we were living outside and either getting dug into a hole in the ground or mounting attacks all the time. After that we were told we were entitled to a rest so we were brought back about two or three miles from the front line to an open field, which was still under fire. One good thing about this was that we were next to a shower unit, so we were able to have a wash and a change of underclothes for the first time in three weeks, as well as proper food. We were still under sporadic shellfire. One day during this rest, a lad called Harold Stockton who lived near me in Nantwich was hit. I went back to where he had been and saw fragments of bone, he’d lost a leg. After the war he worked in Nantwich Gas Works, off Welsh Row. I would see him every year and he would sell me gas tar for my pigeon shed roof. He always gave me good weight.

We got a blooming surprise during the rest when we were told there was to be a drill parade the next morning. That meant we had to clean our kit up the best we could and put our trousers down to crease. We wet the crease with a mouthful of water and slept on them as before but after a couple of days we were back in the front line. We moved in trucks from place to place or advanced on foot. One night I was in a slit trench about three or four yards away from the C.O. in an armoured car. A shell had hit the car, killing the C.O., the second-in-command and the wireless operator. It rained all night and was the worst night I have ever had. Next morning I had to cook a meal: three or four of us would pool together and put our rations together to give us more choice. We would take a big tin, fill it with soil, pour petrol on it and set fire to it. That was what we cooked on. On this particular morning as dawn broke, I was frying bacon when a young officer, probably straight out of Sandhurst, came over, his face covered in dirty streaks of mud. He had been crying. ″I've had no breakfast,″ he said. The bacon smelled lovely and we had some eggs from chickens in an abandoned village nearby. I said, ″Come on then, you can share with us″ which he did. I never saw him again.

My first contact with the Germans was when they fired two shots at me. We were dug in around a farmhouse and I had been sent out by the C.O. to find out where the Germans were. I set out through a large orchard and across a field and came to a small country lane or track. Across that was a very tall hedge growing on a substantial hedge bank and I peeped through it. In front of me was a field of corn with a wood on the other side and I was quite certain that the Germans were there, about a hundred yards away. I drew back a little, looked at the hedge and remember seeing every individual leaf and I could hear them rustling in the light breeze. Altogether I felt as if I was on another planet. I got my binoculars ready and made a small hole through which I searched the wood but couldn't find any Germans. Then I heard a German 88mm gun fire and I drew back as quickly as I could as the shell hit the hedge bank. I was covered in twigs and leaves and was running away as fast as possible when I heard the gun being fired again and the thought crossed my mind that had they pitched the shell up a little bit further, I'd have had it. I was lucky to get away with it and I have thought about this since and am sure that it was the sun - breaking daylight glaring off my binoculars - that gave me away. I now know that the heightened sense of awareness I’d had was an adrenaline surge.

On one occasion we’d taken over an abandoned farmhouse in no-man’s land from the Germans. The farmyard chickens were still about and we had a fry up. A reporter was with us, he was right on the front line. I suppose stories were syndicated and the headline appeared in the Nantwich Guardian and Chronicle “British Sniper has eggs for breakfast”. My mother’s neighbour rushed round: “Rose! Your Stan’s in the paper!” Ma always remembered it. She said she nearly collapsed because she thought it was a report of my death, not my breakfast.

(There were at least two other Guardsmen in Willaston: John Bailey, a Grenadier from Wybunbury Road, known as Ticker and Bill Ratcliffe from Park Road, known as Rip and  a character. I think after the war he became a Verger at a church in Somerset, back near where we’d been stationed in the grounds of a country house outside Frome in Marston Bigot, he’d met a girl there at the time, but that’s another story ...)

One day the C.O. came to see and told me to take three German prisoners to Battalion H.Q. I asked him for directions and he waved his arm vaguely and said, ″It's over there, you can't miss it.″ I asked him to be more specific but he couldn't be, so I started off with them. It was late afternoon and the light was going and we walked for ages but I couldn’t find H.Q. One of them was wounded, his arm was bad. They spoke to each other in German at first but I prodded then with my rifle, which shut them up. Eventually we came to the edge of a wood with a country lane in front of it. Away to the left I saw a cloud of dust rising up and heard the sound of tramping feet. After a while a column of German prisoners came up, between thirty and forty of them. There were two Americans in charge who rode bikes, rifles slung over their shoulders, shouting out time to the Germans and taking them along at a swift trot. When they reached me, I called out to them and asked then if they could take the three prisoners off my hands. They asked if they had been interrogated, but I didn’t know, or care very much either, but I told them yes, they had. Prisoners were always a nuisance to frontline troops as  there was never anything laid on. We'd give them a drink and a biscuit because we thought they were as good as us. I kept out of the C.O.'s way for a while to avoid being questioned.

Shortly after this I was involved in another incident. I was sent with two other snipers to find out if possible where the Germans were as nobody knew where anyone was. We'd gone about a mile and there was a small light plane buzzing about overhead. It was too high to tell what exactly it was. Then we heard heavy guns being fired a mile or so away to our left – maybe the plane had spotted us and radioed to the guns to fire. The shells fell nearer and nearer until I knew they were going to fall pretty close. We were a Sergeant, me and a youngster who had just joined up and we were walking around the edge of a field with a hedge bank or cop two or three feet high near farmland. We got down behind it and the shells fell about twenty yards short, but shrapnel thudded into the hedge bank and sent leaves and twigs up. When the shelling stopped for a minute, the Sergeant in front shouted, ″I've been hit!″ He was in a gateway with no hedge bank. We went and had a look at him and saw that he had received a piece of shrapnel right in the middle of his body. The first job was to get him back and we started off back with him between us, his arms round both our shoulders and luckily he could walk a little. As we went along he grew weaker and finally couldn't walk any more. It was too dangerous to leave him with one of us so we had to carry him, forming a seat with our hands. We had to put him down now and again to sit on the ground but he got weaker and weaker and was barely conscious. We did manage to get him back and handed him over to the medics but in two or three days' time word came through that he had died. His name is in ″Distant Drum″ by our Intelligence Officer, Captain Jocelyn Pereira, in the list of casualties. The C.O. came over to me and said, ″I've a job for you. It's not an easy job but you're the most suitable one to do it.″ He told me to go through the dead man's kit and anything not Government Issue was to go in a leather bag which he handed to me. So I went through his kit and all that was there was a pair of pink woollen bootees worn by his daughter who was a few weeks old. This gave me a real knock and I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two over them. The C.O. also told me that I should write a letter to the widow. The first thing I asked him was, ″Are you asking me to tell this poor girl that her husband has been killed?″ He said, ″No, the War Office will do that.″ So I put in the letter exactly what had happened, where it had happened, how it had happened and why it could have happened; and I finished up by saying that it would be difficult to manage without him as he was well liked, a popular bloke and a pleasure to have around. They lived down South and the name of Serjeant Eric Crockford of Christchurch, Hampshire, husband of Irene Ellen, is in the War Memorial Chapel at Christchurch Priory Church.  He died of his wounds on 7th August 1944 and is buried in the Hottot-les-Bagues cemetry, Basse Normandie, he was 28.

I have never been in contact with the family since and this letter bugged me for years and years, I thought someone with proper training should have done it, such as the Padre. But I did the best I could, both while he was alive and after he was dead, too.  A few years ago I heard a psychiatrist being interviewed about seven people who had been shot down in a plane by 'Friendly Fire'. The Americans had a tape but wouldn't part with it. The relatives wanted to know exactly what had happened. The psychiatrist was then asked what they would want to know and he said they'd want to know almost exactly what I had written in the letter years ago. This eased my mind considerably and I've never worried about it since though I sometimes think of that little girl who never knew her father, she would be in her sixties now.

Some time later, we were on our way to Arras, then to Brussels and finally, Arnhem. One day we were pulled up at the side of the road in a small lay by, and away to the left there was a little group of our lads walking towards us. As they got nearer I could see that one of them was wearing, instead of a steel helmet, a straw boater. His name was Hay, and as he had red hair, he was called Ginger Hay. He told us that he had lost his helmet and the boater was all he could find. We then moved off and were the first troops to enter Arras. We were made welcome by the citizens who brought us drinks of water. One old lady made us understand that she had some Germans in her cellar. One of our tanks was nearby so I had a word with the Tank Commander was grinning all over his face and he said he'd back his tank up and fire a couple of shots down into the cellar. It was only a small paved front garden and difficult for him to manoeuvre, but he got his tank there. He fired two shots and clouds of dust and smoke rose up. It wouldn’t have done the foundations any good.

In a remote area near Aachen, as a tank chugged through, soldiers walking behind, some Dutch people from a farmhouse brought some schnapps out for us. Unfortunately this didn’t last before the Germans closed in there again. This happened several times, we would go into small towns or hamlets and after we left, the Germans would come back to take over again.

 Eventually we arrived just outside Arnhem. The Germans had cut the supply line behind us and we were sent back to shift them out of it. There was conflict and bullets flying all over the show and I collected one in the thigh. I’d had a slight wound earlier, just a small nick in the shoulder. It was a piece of shrapnel from a shell while I was dug in a trench and was just a flesh wound which was patched up. I had been lucky as had it been a little lower, it would have smashed my shoulder. When I was hit in the thigh, the stretcher bearers arrived and I was taken away out of it. I was in Nijmegen when I got knocked over and I was taken to a hospital in a town called Diste, then on to another one in Brussels though I can’t remember any of it as I was probably doped up. I only vaguely remember being shoved into a light aircraft which brought me back to Britain and my only thought was what a flimsy contraption it was as its canvas sides flapped in the wind. We landed somewhere short of Derby and I remember being carried off the train at Derby station where a bloke patted my head – he probably had a son in the army. I was then taken to Derby Royal Infirmary and my brother Geoff came to see me there. The ward was full of wounded servicemen as far as I could tell but it was well run and everything was in order. The Matron came around and inspected the wards every morning. She was a large lady, built along similar lines to Hattie Jacques, only more so. She wore a purple and red cloak and a tall coloured hat like a tiara on her head and she came down the ward like a battleship in full sail. The nurses were terrified of her. My bed was near the toilet and I had to reach out of bed and knock on the door as soon as she appeared at the other end of the ward. Then the nurses would scurry out of the toilet, the smoke from their cigarettes billowing out of the door. One day a Chaplain came over to my bed, he told me that God was on our side, and that God would bring us victory. I told him that God wasn’t on anybody’s side and he left me alone after that (if God wanted to intervene in a war it should be to stop it, not pick sides).

The removal of the bullet was a straightforward job. I’d never been in an operating theatre before and I was curious and looked around. The Surgeon said, ″He wants to have a look – prop him up a bit.″ I had asked before if I could have the bullet and when I came round it was in a little box by my bed. I asked where I would be going to and was told, ″Nearer to home.″ But I finished up several miles north of Glasgow accompanied by a pair of bloodstained underpants which I couldn’t seem to lose as they followed me around wherever I went. After several weeks and getting fitter and better all the time, I was ready for rehabilitation and was sent back to Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire. This suited me very well as I was able to get home every weekend which was only about 15 miles away. On payday we would be called out in regiments and we would respond with abuse as the military policemen, or 'Blue Caps' shuffled forward.

When I eventually became fully fit I was moved to a holding battalion at Pirbright which meant that I was back with the Coldstreams. They would march round the barrack square with the regimental band every Saturday which was no longer my idea of soldiering, having experienced the real thing. I found out that by getting in the middle of a three-deep column it was easier to do an about turn by sliding my foot along the ground and hardly lifting it at all. I carried on like this for a while until the Drill Sergeant brought us to a halt and I heard a bellow in my ear behind me. He told me that I was the idlest man he had ever seen and of doubtful parentage to boot. I never felt there was any malice in this as I'm fairly sure he knew the score perfectly well and understood all we had been through.

Though the war was over by then, I was sent back to my service unit, the 5th Battalion, in Germany. We were stationed a few miles from Aachen (known in French as Aix-la-Chapelle), and did duty at a frontier post. There were also Americans on duty there though they didn’t do night duty and went back to their billets in empty houses in Aachen. I found them to be friendly and generous, sharing with us everything and anything they had. In the mornings they would drive to the guard post in three or four jeeps, three or four men to a jeep, with a pistol in one hand and a leg hooked over the door, firing in the air as they went. This style of arrival was a daily event. By and large the Yanks were full of bull, every one of them and they’d all got a ranch in Texas. The walls of the guard post were covered with photos and lurid details of U.S. deserters. I remember two incidents there.

The first was when I was on guard duty at 4 or 5 am and was alone when it was just breaking daylight. A civilian came down to the frontier post pushing a small trolley. On the trolley was a long box covered by a blanket. I asked him what the box contained and he pulled back the blanket to reveal an old lady, very peaceful and very dead. He had a pass and told me he was taking his mother to be buried in Aachen. I got rid of him as quickly as possible not wanting much part in that and not fancying sharing the guard post with the two of them while I waited till morning for orders.

The second noteworthy incident was when I was on duty at about 2 am. It was pitch black and a civilian car pulled up at the frontier post. The occupant was a man dressed in civilian clothes and when I asked to see his pass, he said he hadn't got one as there was no need because he was an official diplomat on official business. I told him that the first thing on the order clipboard was 'No pass, no entry' to which he replied that if I didn't let him through I would be in serious trouble. After further threats I went to the Guard Commander and explained the situation to him though by this time my tour of duty was over and my relief arrived – we guarded in two hour stretches. But I was interested to see, when the guard dismounted at around 9.30 that morning that the official diplomat was still sitting there in his official car.

Eventually the battalion was moved to a village called Weiden on the outskirts of Cologne. Cologne had suffered repeated thousand bomber raids and the whole city was a mass of rubble. Even the rubble itself had then been bombed but the Germans had obviously worked very hard and pushed it to either side of the streets. To me, the way in which the Germans, a hard-working, industrious people, had cleared up the rubble of Cologne was bloody marvellous. A wooden Bailey bridge put up by the Americans was the only bridge over the Rhine in Cologne by now. The traffic only crossed one way at a time and was regulated by British soldiers and German police. There were separate cycle and pedestrian crossings but occasionally there'd be the odd cyclist who'd join in with the cars, even though this was not allowed. If we saw one, we would stop the next car, catch the cyclist up and chuck his bike into the river. I’m not particularly proud of this, looking back. There were children running about and congregating by the bridge. They would wait until the trucks crossing the river slowed down and they would then help themselves to the goods if they could. The German police were pretty rough with them if they caught them.

Another duty was to guard Cologne prison, Koln Klinkerputz, near the Cathedral shell. Koln Don. We would do guard duty from inside the prison which had been slightly bomb-damaged. You very often hear people say that prison is easy, but in my experience it is terrible. The whole feeling of prison was horrible to me. They were slopping out; the guardroom was in a cell, so we were in amongst the prisoners. It had a horrible steamy, stinky, slimy, itchy, nasty atmosphere. I wanted no part of prison life! Each day they took a water cart to the river to fill because the water main had been destroyed. The water cart was on wheels and the whole thing was pulled by ropes. One day, having nothing better to do, I counted the prisoners, though I didn't have to sign for them as two prison warders were in charge. . There were sixteen. We went through the town down to the river and as the prisoners were not in uniform they mixed in with the civilians on the footpaths, so I counted them again; this time there were fourteen, but by the time we got back, there were sixteen again.

When I got back, I brought the following: Para’s Dennison smock; bullet; German bayonet; will and booklets; German penknife from a German prisoner (tank crew). They handed their possessions over to us and we ribbed them about the condoms we found, which embarrassed them.

            Thinking about it all again now pulls you down – I still have flashbacks. War is a terrible business, no good at all. It's a pity we haven't found a better way of settling disputes other than killing each other. I was worried about putting too much emphasis on the jokes and fun we had, but they were part of the camaraderie we shared, which was vital, how we coped with it all. Bryn Parry OBE, the chap who founded the charity Help for Heroes puts it well. He has said that, while patriotism has its place: "When you talk to a soldier he doesn't do it for Queen and Country, he does it for his mates.”

When I could see alright, I always watched the Trooping of the Colour with mixed emotions because, at one time, I could do what those young men do. I was never the greatest soldier. The main thing was that I never wanted to let anyone down, and I don't think I did.

 

Post Script

Being demobbed was a bit of an anticlimax (I thought there might have been some sort of thank you.) We were sent to Earl Mill near Oldham where there were rows and rows of demob suits. It was winter and there was a pond all frozen over. We took out our mugs, mess tins and eating irons and sent them scudding off across the ice.

There was a presentation for all the returned service people in Willaston, I think it probably took place in the chapel over the station. We each went up and got our envelope and everybody would give you a clap. They must have worked hard to raise the money, as there were quite a few of us. I think I got £10.

 

Stan Walley 2011

 

This is a true story written by Stan with the help of his daughter, this has been written from memory and any errors are due to the passing of time and age.

This story is the property of Stan Wally and cannot be used or reproduced without his written permission

 

FootNote 12-04-2012

It is with sadness I have added this footnote regarding his passing on and wish to express my sympathy to his family  

I had the honour and pleasure of chatting to Stan on a number of occasion's and was always impressed by his humility and wicked sense of humour. It was hard to believe I was talking to a gentleman in his 90’s as he was always able to come back with a comment or story of his Army days.

I was delighted to publish his story on our website and am sorry to have not been able to meet Stan in person. I hope in some small way I have been able to preserve the memory of Stan and all his generation who stood up for freedom in the dark days of world war two.

Rest in Peace Stan  30th August 1915 to 5th April 2012