Saturday, 26 March 2022

June 1944: Waiting at Home Farm

World War 2 structure on Halnaker Hill
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Dave Spicer -

In our camp at Home Farm, Halnaker near Chichester, Sussex, we received the news of the invasion [1] with excitement and wondered when we would be wanted.

Ours was a very good site and the comparatively short grass gave us ample opportunity for playing such games as football, cricket and softball in our spare time. Our small W/T section [2] was segregated from the rest of the camp and we slept, or lived, to be more precise, in three tents on the opposite side of the field near our receiver van. Our suppers were quite a speciality there. We built our fire amongst some trees at the back of the tents and having "obtained" [3] eggs and potatoes we were able to have a good tuck in.

If we wanted to go out in the evenings when off-duty, we would take the liberty run to Brighton. There the Y.M.C.A. was quite good for a snack without queueing for long. The three dance halls, Dome, Regent and Sherry's provided good entertainment for those men of the "itchy-feet" clan and numerous cinemas passed the evening for others. I must not forget the public houses who probably did a little trade now and again. Chichester itself was, to put it in our parlance, a "dead loss". It could be called the "dead city". Nothing seemed to happen there and a place where the canteens closed before ten p.m. certainly couldn't provide much attraction.

For the sports side of our stay at Halnaker we had one game of football of note to record. Our game with 15056 unit [4] on our roughly marked, rather undersized pitch. When the players became accustomed to the long grass and molehills the game got into its stride. 56 pressed hard and looked likely to cause some trouble to our defence but soon it became apparent that every move by the opposing forwards was being closely checked. Our forwards were doing well with hit and run tactics and David Clinton, on the right wing, put up an excellent performance. Soon he had crashed the ball into the net twice leaving the goalkeeper P/O Wright [5] wondering if he had forgotten his glasses. Then the game ran completely in our favour and it ended with a 5-0 victory for us. Dave Clinton got his hat trick.

The softball did not develop beyond the practice stage and came to an abrupt end when Jimmy Beswick and Cyril Beater laid each other out by colliding in their run after a high ball. 

We had our usual "parties" at this camp. Rumours would spread like wild fire and everyone would be waiting for the order to move. We could all make a pretty good guess as to what our next move would entail. 
  1. Normandy landings
  2. Wireless Telegraphy
  3. Read: stolen from the farm
  4. Ground Control Interception Unit 15056
  5. Pilot officer
For other 'entertainment', so the story my father told a number of times goes, a group of them went to the local town (it might even have been the otherwise dead Chichester) one night and presumably much alcohol was subsequently imbibed. They woke up the next morning with brass plaques that had been "liberated" from the town, adorning the front of their tents. As the CO had been one of the drinking party, they were "ordered" to return the plaques the following night. Whether they went back in the right places, or the vet became the doctor, or the solicitor a dentist, is unclear.

Friday, 25 March 2022

Thursday, August 3, 1944: This is it!

Apple trees

Then on Saturday, 29th July 1944, it was decided that a small number of men could have six days leave. The first selected few, in the majority Scotsmen, got away as soon as possible. As some said, this was too good to be true and sure enough, next morning a "return to camp" telegram was despatched to everyone. Some even got home to find the telegram waiting for them.

"This is it!" That phrase was heard coming from everybody. They had good cause for the packing and clearing up began in earnest. By Thursday, 3rd Aug, everything was ready and even the tents were packed. We made our beds all alongside the fence where the tents used to be and covered them over with ground sheets, macs and gas capes to keep out the dew. Just after it got dark four of us went for a quiet walk down the lane towards a couple of fruit trees in somebody's back garden. 

We were all eating apples for the next couple of days.

Next morning we woke up fairly early, packed our bedding an other odds and ends and lined up for the start. The time came and off we went. The weather was very good and it was an enjoyable ride. I was a Bren-gunner and rode on the top of a truck. I wondered whether I would have any occasion to use the gun in the near future.
Paint Your Wagon: 
Another story I was told verbally was that in preparation for this expedition to northern France, their unit had been ordered to paint their truck with palm trees. All the others being in camouflage colours. Decoy to confuse their destination or did they want it to stand out?

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Friday, August 4, 1944: Concentration Area

Old Sarum Airfield, near Salisbury
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Brian Robert Marshall -

It was about tea-time when we arrived at the Concentration Area near Old Sarum. [1] This is the one place where I have seen perfect organisation. Everything had been thought of. Skilled crews checked each truck in record time while we were being bundled off to the tents that had been allotted to us. Feeling rather tired that night I piled into bed as soon as I had written a letter. 

Next day everyone was walking around aimlessly but keeping one ear open for any message on the Tannoy. The food here was very good and so was the R.A.F. Gang Show that I saw that evening in the N.A.A.F.I. [2] Then came the announcement.

It was our turn to go. Early next morning we were packed and off on the road again. This time it was a bit misty and not so comfortable on the top of a truck but it cleared up after a while. 
  1. Old Sarum Airfield. Thousands of ground personnel, and virtually all RAF motor transport vehicles, destined for Normandy passed through Old Sarum in the D-Day preparation period, making it an integral part in the organisational structure of the D-Day landings.
  2. Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, a company created by the British government on 9 December 1920 to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces, and to sell goods to servicemen and their families.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Saturday, August 5, 1944: Marshalling Area

Gate House to Roche Court now Boundary Oak School
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Trevor Carpenter -

After an uneventful drive we arrived at the Marshalling Area near Fareham [1] in time for a late dinner. After the meal we queued for various oddments. A lifebelt, two vomit bags rather like small paper carriers, a 24-hour ration pack, an emergency ration pack and a packet of biscuits, the usual 'hard tack'. The most outstanding comment was that the lifebelt would make a good pillow. Once again we were not allowed out of camp. It was just as well as the French money that we had been issued with at the Concentration Area would not be much good to us here.

The ground was very dirty and dusty in our tents but as it was only for one night and everybody was tired anyway, it didn't matter. Next morning we were off again, having had the message through the Tannoy as usual. Those other than drivers had to march about a mile to get to the trucks but we got there and were on the move pretty soon.
  1. Roche Court was one of several areas near Fareham used as marshalling areas. There's no clue in the diary which one. D-Day marshalling area camps A14 and A15 – West WalkD-Day marshalling area camp A16, Roche Court

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Sunday, August 6, 1944: Embarkation Area

Semi-detached houses in Grove Road, Gosport
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Basher Eyre -

The convoy moved through Gosport and we halted in a street of private houses of the semi-detatched type. We had no idea how long we would be stopping there but it turned out to be a few hours. Women were coming out of quite a number of houses to give us tea, cake, bread and jam or anything they could spare [1]. I think they knew as much as we did, as to what we were in for. 

At last we drove off and as we turned the end of the road we had our first sight of the water. Our progress down the last hundred yards was very slow and we had time for a couple of glasses of lemonade that a woman brought out for us. On we went slowly but surely, and at last it came to our turn to get on the boat.

Tanks Go Aboard the L.S.T.

It was an L.S.T. [2] with double doors and ramp in the bow, two decks and all the super-structure set aft. We backed down the slip-way, up the ramp, down into the lower deck and on to the lift. We were carried aloft and then drove off to our correct position on the port bow.

Monday, 21 March 2022

Monday, August 7, 1944: On The Ship

A signaller operating an Aldis lamp on board a British warship.

Having helped the driver to put the chains on the truck I proceeded to explore the ship. The first thing I did was to find a bed for myself. I didn't fancy lying on deck. I found that folding bunks in tiers of three were situated in each side of a corridor that ran down each side of the ship, just below the upper deck. I piled what little bit of kit I had on an empty bed and walked aft. There I found a narrow wash room with hot and cold water. I cleaned up and then climbed up on deck again. By this time the ship was loaded, doors shut and the lines drawn in. Slowly we got under way and moved down the river. About 7 p.m. we were given a hot meal that was very welcome. We hove-to in the Solent off the Isle of Wight and waited for darkness. After passing an hour away by reading some Aldis lamp signals from the shore and various ships anchored around, I went to bed.

No Space Wasted.

I woke up the next morning to hear the throbbing of the engines and to feel the slight pitch and toss of the ship. We had been under way since about midnight. After breakfast I went up on deck and had a look around. There was a rather heavy mist that cut down visibility considerably. I could just see two more L.S.T.'s in line astern of us. It was nearly mid-day on 8th August, as we approached France. 

The fog cleared and soon we could pick out the coast and see the "prefabricated harbour" [1] at Arromanches. [2] We heard that the captain of our ship was a go-ahead type and afraid of nothing and now we saw evidence of it. He was bawling through the microphone for everybody to get out of our way and we went straight for the narrow entrance. A Yankee ship that nearly got in our way got in our way was told what to do in no uncertain manner. We drew into a pier-head and proceeded to [dis]embark. This time the trucks on the top deck were able to drive off the side, one at a time onto a platform and down a ramp. Those trucks below drove out through the bow in the usual manner. We drove along the pier for about 200 yards and reached a bridge that put us on top of the low cliff.

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Tuesday, August 8, 1944: France

Arromanches-les-Bains with the remains of the Mulberry harbour in its bay

A drive of a quarter of a mile brought us to a field where we waited until all the convoy had arrived. After a few minutes had passed the signal to move was given and off we went, seeing our first sights in France. The first indication we had that we were really in France was a sign in English saying "You are now in FRANCE. Remember to drive on the right-hand side of the road." Some drivers had forgotten that and so needed the reminder. The roads which originally were narrow had been widened by our lads but were not very smooth. In fact they were very rough with numerous pot-holes, and then we encountered the dust. It came up in huge clouds as each vehicle went along and soon we found we were chewing on dust whether we liked it or not.