Cameron blazer badgeCameron cap badgeThe Queens Own Cameron Highlanders
Keep 'em Moving

"Don't leave me Sarge"
Memories of his service.
2934077 Sgt. George Sands MM
1916 - 2005
Service with
2nd & 5th battalions
Queens Own Cameron Highlanders
1st & 2nd Liverpool Scottish

51st Highland Division
1939 - 1946
Choirboy George Sands, age 122934077 Sergeant George Sands MM. 19452934077 Sgt. George Sands MM 1945
2934077 Sgt. George Sands MM. 1916 - 2005
 “Don’t leave me Sarge”.

The memories of: 2934077 Sergeant George Sands MM.

2nd & 5th. Battalions

THE QUEENS OWN CAMERON HIGHLANDERS.

 

George Sands was born 18th. December 1916 in Birstal, near Leeds, Yorkshire, the son of a carpenter. When George was ten years of age his father fell from a ladder which snapped whilst at work and, feeling unwell, walked the four miles home and collapsed. Two days later he died in Hospital as a result of a fractured skull. He was forty-two years of age leaving a wife, son and two daughters.

George, a former choirboy, left school aged fourteen to work for a short period in a grocery shop. Now being the main wage earner, (His Mother earning what she could dress making) George decided to get a job earning real money. He was to gain employment with T. Burnley and Son as a Mule Spinner at the wool mill in Gomersal. The average wage at the time for a married man with children was 2-10s. George was to earn 1-17s-6d for a basic 60-hour week.

At the age of seventeen George's mother died. She was forty two years of age. George and his two sisters went to live with various aunts and uncles until finally settling with Aunt Annie Sands who, though only five feet tall, was a giant of a woman and ruled her nephew and nieces with a rod of iron.

Whilst working in the wool mill, George was injured by a large, flat, drive belt coming adrift, throwing George up against a wall smashing most of his teeth, the remaining stumps, some twenty three in number, all being pulled at one session.

 On September 9th 1939, George Sands enlisted for service with His Majesty's armed forces.

 On 15th February 1940, George, standing five feet seven and three-quarter inches tall. Weight, one hundred and twenty six pounds. With a maximum chest measurement of thirty-four inches, with brown eyes and of fair complexion and blood group A/2, arrived at Inverness station as per instructions of His Majesty's Government.

He was to be paid the princely sum of Fourteen shillings a week. Equivalent of today's 70 New Pence.

CALL UP.

"We were greeted at the station by two corporals, and formed up and marched to 'Cameron Barracks', to be met by R.S.M. Jock Slee. A fearsome looking ramrod of a man whose voice would stop any man in his tracks, be he new raw recruit or officer. Jock Slee would turn out to be every member of the Battalion's friend. Certainly his training regime served to save many men's lives.

After our initial four weeks training, we were allowed off camp. I was waiting outside of the local cinema for a guy who lived in Inverness, when I was confronted by four 'Seaforths'. They backed me into a corner and gave me a right good pasting, but not before I had taken one down and got a good crack at another, however, I had to sneak back into camp to avoid being put on a charge, for dishevelled dress. I succeeded, or so I thought, but as ever, nothing got by R.S.M. Slee. Two nights later the ‘Camerons’ were out in force and turned the tables on the Seaforths, apparently with Jock Slee`s full knowledge and blessing, unofficially of course.

A group of us were out in Inverness one night doing the local pubs when Jock Slee walked in. We were in awe of this man and ran out of the pub thinking for some unknown reason that we should not be there. He barked out at us to come back and, a bit sheepishly, returned expecting a rollicking. He bought us all a drink. He just said that on parade was on parade, but when off parade he was one of us, but woe betide anyone if they called him Jock. We were to call him Mr Slee.

After a few gentle strolls in and around the Inverness area, starting with a five-mile jaunt, we steadily built up to thirty-mile route marches. We had tried all-sorts of things to soften our recently issued boots. We soaked them in water, urinated in them, rubbed soap into the leather even jumped up and down on them, anything to soften them up.  When we were about two miles from our return to camp, the Battalion Pipes and drums would meet us. We were just about marching on our chinstraps by this time, feet hurting like hell covered with blisters. As soon as the pipes started, we began marching as though we were just beginning the thirty miles rather than finishing, marching ramrod straight. The skirl of the pipes certainly gives you a lift, something that would be proved several times throughout the war.

Sometimes we would be about ready to leave camp, checking our dress in the full length mirror near the gate, for a night out when Jock Slee’s thunderous voice would boom out and halt us in our tracks. He would then detail us to take the awkward squad for extra drill. It was our name for the guys who would constantly march with both right arm and right leg going forward together (they looked like a lot of Benny Hill’s) or shouldered arms to the wrong shoulder. I’ve tried to march like it and found it impossible. We didn’t appreciate it at the time but of course it was all for discipline, morale, camaraderie and the good of the regiment.

 April 1940 saw me posted to 1st Battalion, ‘The Liverpool Scottish’, sister TA. Regiment affiliated to the ‘Camerons’. I must stress that I was not transferred. The Liverpool Scottish being a training and holding Battalion for the Camerons. A member of the Camerons could only be transferred at his own request, or thrown out as part of a punishment. The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders was the only Regiment in the British army that had a royal covenant to that effect. The relevant part of the charter below comes from the recruiting poster of 1793, when The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders were first formed:
"......... who has obtained from his majesty, that they will not be droughted into any other Regiment; and when the reduction is to take place, they shall be marched in to their own country in a corps, to be therein disembodied; ........"

  I remember one guy was transferred, after we had given him a good kicking, because we caught him stealing money out of the rest of the lads gear, which was left in the crypt of the Church by the main bridge over the river Ness in Inverness. When we were out on a run, he would go through our equipment and take whatever he thought he could get away with.

 After my arrival at Liverpool Scottish, and some more basic training, we were posted to East Anglia, on what was called coastal defence duties. On 18th April we arrived at Woolverstone Hall, on the banks of the river Orwell, near Ipswich, the following evening we had our first glimpse of the real war, when enemy aircraft raided Harwich.

On 10th May I was part of a platoon of men dispatched to guard the small civilian airport at Nacton, Ipswich. That evening seven double-deck and thirteen single-deck buses, straight from the streets of Ipswich, arrived to ferry us to our new camp. Some of the buses still had fare paying passengers on them when the army commandeered them.
During my stay in and around Ipswich, I met Joan who I would marry, in April 1944; she would be my loving wife for fifty-three years until the dreaded cancer took her from me.
I remember being billeted in a large house near Christchurch Park, in the centre of Ipswich for a time. As soon as we moved in, we had part of our pay deducted, as a fine for barrack room damages, no doubt the previous occupants suffered the same penalty. When I think about it, I do not think I ever received a full fourteen shillings in those early days.

One of our first tasks at Nacton was to dig and camouflage gun pits and foxholes. Standing on guard the next day, I was approached by the Farmer whose land was next to the airport. He asked me if I knew the whereabouts of some corrugated iron, taken from his buildings. Little did he know that he was actually standing right on top of it, as it was being used as the roof of our dugout. Local historians are adamant that there were no planes stationed at Nacton. I am convinced that there were two short nosed Blenheims there.

We were moved around the Suffolk countryside quite often, to such places as, Bawdsey, Alderton, Hollesley, Broxted and Needham Market, just outside Ipswich, finishing with a stint guarding RAF Wattisham and RAF Martlesham aerodrome. Martlesham was a base for Spitfires and Hurricanes. 
We did not exactly cover ourselves in glory at Martlesham. We were manning the Lewis Guns near the runway when some of our planes were landing. They were followed by two German fighter-bombers, which proceeded to strafe and bomb the aerodrome. We unfortunately never fired a shot, not realising they were enemy planes until they were out of range.

During our stay at Martlesham we were asked if we had any complaints, as some of the RAF boys had moaned about the standard of food being served. Our only complaint was that we could not stay for the duration of the war, as our food was less than appetising at that time, normally consisting of thick porridge for breakfast and dry bread and cheese at most other times. The RAF kitchens served us bread, butter and jam, and egg and bacon breakfasts.

During July 1940, we were back on coastal defence duties in Suffolk, between the mouths of the rivers Deben and Alde, covering Bawdsey, Alderton, Hollesley, Melton and Broxted.
I still wonder to this day whether the Germans tried an Invasion of sorts, because we recovered several badly burned bodies in the remains of German uniform from the shores of the area. Rumours at the time suggested that we (the British Army) had set fire to the sea to stop the invasion.

We were then posted to the South coast for defence duties, around the Eastbourne area at the height of the Battle of Britain. It seems to me as though it was constantly sunny, watching the dog fights over the channel and coast.
I won a runners-up medal in the cross-country race, coming second to an officer. He was a good all-round sportsman and tried, without too much success, to teach us Highland dancing.
One of our guys was put on a charge for handing over his rifle whilst on guard duty to an officer. Word quickly spread that a smart arse officer was tricking new recruits. A few nights later he tried it with me, but I refused to hand it over. He then tried to take my rifle from me. As he tried to pull it from my grip I pulled away from him and the butt of the rifle caught him square on the chin. He went out like a light and collapsed in a heap at my feet. Me and my mate started to panic but realised that he was the one in trouble, trying to take a soldiers weapon is a big no unless on parade and inspection. Nothing was ever said about the incident, but the young officer disappeared within a few days.

 In May 1941 I was drafted back to the Camerons to further my training. In August we were sent for guard duty, at Balmoral, while King George VI was in residence.

 
EGYPT
The next few months were spent carrying out various exercises against Poles, Home guard and other regiments. The training suddenly took to being what can only be described as serious stuff. We were run over by Tanks, Dive bombed, and practised advancing under live fire. In October/November 1941 there must have been orders given because everything speeded up, and we were issued with tropical kit. We were all thinking the worst, that is, Japs and Jungle, as the Japanese had were rapidly swallowing up the Far East.
In early January 1942, we set sail aboard the troop ship ‘P&O Strathmore’, sailing from Gourock, as reinforcements for 2nd Camerons fighting in Tobruk. We did not have much of an escort as the Strathmore could do 32 knots and was, supposedly, too fast for any submarine attack. I was only too willing to believe that, as I couldn’t swim and never did learn. I had a terrible fear of drowning.

 Training en-route consisted of P.T., Boxing and weapon training. We reached Freetown early February. Two weeks later we docked at Capetown and next day we were marched through the town and we had our first shore leave, revelling in the fact that there was no Black out in force, lights blazing from everywhere. We didn’t much understand, nor care for the way in which the blacks were treated. From Capetown we sailed for Durban and the Pipes and Drums played us into Durban harbour with the Highland Cradlesong, a tune that has remained one of my favourites. The ‘lady in white’ serenaded us when we docked. Apparently this lady sang to all the troop ships when they docked at Durban.
We now knew we were heading for Egypt. We disembarked at Port Tewfik, and went by train to El Quassassin and on to Tahag camp, which was a tent city about forty miles from Cairo. There was a large oil refinery, owned by Shell close by. I, along with everyone else, went down with Gippy Tummy and Sand Fly fever. I was hospitalised for two weeks, in Alexandria, and towards the end of the second week, when I was nearing recovery, I caught an Arab going through my gear, I chased the little bastard but lost him in the crowds.

 Training continued to get us accustomed to desert conditions and we soon moved to Mena camp, near Cairo, within sight of the great Pyramid at Giza. By the time we were fighting fit, Tobruk had fallen to Rommel and his Afrika Korps, on June 2nd 1942. The 2nd Battalion defying orders to surrender, only doing so when ammunition had run out. I, with men from various other Regiments was posted to 4th Indian Division, preparing defence lines at Alamein, not knowing what would transpire in October. I had taken part in a few fire fights repelling the last of the German attacks on the defence lines at Alamein, which was known as the first battle of Alamein.

We were held in reserve until 5th Camerons arrived in Egypt in early August 1942. I spent a while with 51 Heavy Anti-Aircraft battery around Alamein.
On 12th September 1942, 51st Highland Division moved up into the desert battle area. We had about six weeks of intensive training thrown at us, so we knew something big was on the not too distant horizon. On 21st October we were about 2 miles behind the line and received our first taste of real shelling, on this day there was one fatality, the first battle casualty suffered by 5th Battalion. I think he was a private with H.Q. Company.

EL ALAMEIN.

 After dark, on 23rd October 1942, some 600 plus guns opened fire, heralding the attack by the 8th Army at El Alamein. That was the first time that the majority of us had experienced the sight and sound of a huge barrage. It was amazing that there was anyone left to shoot back at us, given the amount of shells that our artillery had fired. All I can remember is the noise and dust and screams and, our ever-faithful Pipes. The group that I was with acted as a cover for the engineers making vehicle gaps through the enemy minefield. The Engineers had to dispense with using their metal detectors, they started probing with Bayonets, because the detectors kept registering all the shell fragments and pieces of shrapnel. I think they were glad to get down nearer the ground, making a smaller target. The next day we were withdrawn to where we had started from, and held in reserve. We had taken quite a lot of casualties, a high proportion being officers and N.C.Os: Two or three days later we received a large draft of replacements, including ten officers. We then took over a sector of the line from the 9th Australian division for three days; a continuous armoured battle seemed to be all around us and casualties, particularly from air burst shells, were beginning to get all too regular. We were relieved at night to take part in a Brigade operation called "Supercharge", designed to be the final "break-in" prior to the Armour going in force into the open behind the enemy lines.

At 0100 hours, Monday 2nd November we advanced behind our barrage 4000 yards to our objective, which proved to be amongst the enemy armour. The head count on 3rd November revealed, that of the ten replacement officers who joined us six days earlier, only one had come through unscathed. So ended my and 5th Camerons part in the battle of El  Alamein.

 ACROSS THE DESERT

 Over the next four months we seemed to be constantly on the move, to places such as Mersa Matruh, Sidi Barrani, Halfaya Pass, Capuzzo, Sidi Razegh and El Adem, arriving in Acroma in late November. It was here that two 2nd Battalion Camerons were reunited with the 5th Camerons. After being captured in Tobruk, they had managed to dodge being transported to Italy, as prisoners of war, and were eventually released in Benghazi by the 11th Hussars. Whilst at Acroma we were able to visit the Tobruk battlefield until 28th November, when we set off, in desert formation for Agedabia, which we reached on 1st December. On 2nd December we moved forward to Mersa Brega, taking over from the 7th Armoured Division. It was here that I knew for sure that I killed another human being. I had obviously been firing at the enemy but how successful I had been was open to question. Up until now they had been distant targets, impersonal not even human, just targets.  When we came into contact with the Germans, this guy just leapt up in front of me, aiming straight at me, I can still picture him to this day, a short stocky guy with glasses. It was a case of him or me and I will never forget that look of shear terror and astonishment on his face as he fell, when my bullet hit him. I dropped down and wept, not sure if I was feeling more sorry for him or for myself. It was not a very pleasant time, but that was to be the last time that I felt those particular emotions. It was far more difficult having to deal with seeing your mates maimed and killed, especially if they happened to be beside you when they copped it. It would get a lot easier to kill. I would get to the point where I wanted to kill. I was to change from a onetime, church going Choirboy, to being a total animal.

Just before Christmas we reached El Aghelia and camped by the sea and rested for about twenty days. When I say "rest", I mean we were out of the line because we spent most of our time training for our next battle, together with drill and detailed inspections: We held football matches and games of all descriptions on the salt flats. On 9th January we moved forward to Buerat and, on 16th January we moved in desert formation through the Buerat positions as advanced guard to the Division. As I recall it was an unpleasant day because Jerry had several guns on the high ground and could see every movement, consequently we were shelled all bloody day but, remarkably, our casualties were relatively light.
The following day we reached Misurta. The Battalion then spent several days filling in a roadblock, but on the 24th January we drove into Tripoli, which had been captured the day before, exactly three months after the battle of Alamein.

The Battalion remained in Tripoli for about three weeks. It was a treat for us to be able to get fresh fruit, meat and vegetables: but the best thing was fresh eggs! We used to dry our used tea leaves and put them back in the tin and cover them with some fresh leaves, and then go and haggle with the Arabs to swap the tea for fresh eggs.
The highlight of our time in Tripoli was undoubtedly the march past by the 51st Highland Division, with the inspection and salute taken by Winston Churchill. The sound of the pipes and drums stirring the blood of all who were there, enough to bring a tear to any mans eye.

 On 17th February we left Tripoli en-route for Mareth. We marched 12 miles the first day along a railway track and, a further 12 miles on each of the next two days. The next two days we had the luxury of being transported by truck until we reached Medenine. We were moved forward into a Wadi and we could see the main Mareth position about 5 or 6 miles away. Between our position and Mareth was a sandy plain broken by sand hills, wadis, and desert scrub. One of the wadis was an anti tank obstacle which had been artificially extended by the Germans. We went in on a night attack, which turned out to be total chaos, as, the next wadi we went into was like a bog, and most of the vehicles got stuck fast. We managed to get everything under cover by first light but it was not what you would expect to find in your average desert. Two nights later we were back in our original position but all the moving about we had been doing obviously upset somebody as we were shelled and mortared fairly regularly over the next few days.

On 22nd March we were ordered into the anti tank ditch at Mareth. On arrival at the ditch we struggled to get everybody in the space available. When we did get in Jerry put up star shells and turned night into day which made it impossible for us to move out. About this time our own guns opened up, destined for the Jerry positions, but, someone had got his sums wrong, and our shells fell in our immediate vicinity. Almost immediately, our shells were joined by German shells, and we were caught between two fires, packed like sardines in the ditch. Heavy casualties seemed inevitable but when the shelling stopped, just before dawn, we all managed to get forward to our objectives. I remember, our platoon leader, a small guy but a tough little bugger, as he climbed out of the ditch, a shell landed and blew him back into it. Seconds later he was back out and was leading us to our objective when he was knocked to the ground again, by another shell, which killed a couple of guys next to him. He got up again and had us all dug in before daylight. We suffered intermittent shelling until about half way through that day, so we were shelled for very nearly 24 hours.

All our Bren guns, which had been on the parapet, were blown up or damaged and our piper had the bagpipes blown out of his hands, miraculously he only had a couple of scratches. We advanced about 250 yards and dug in as best as we could under heavy shell fire. Usually there two of us to a slit trench about 18 inches deep, wishing they were a lot deeper. We lay out there nearly all day under fire but, we never suffered any more casualties.

We eventually withdrew to behind the ditch later that day, ready to evacuate the position; a smoke screen was laid down which was to cover our withdrawal, which it did, but it also provoked the German artillery to lay defensive fire on the ditch again. Needless to say we were glad to get out of there.

Obviously there were other regiments doing their thing in the greater scheme of things and eventually a patrol was sent out to investigate. It reported back that the enemy had scarpered. We were ordered out in hot pursuit, through the minefield and the anti-tank ditch, but we could not catch up. We chased for two days until we reached the Gabes area, about the same time as the New Zealanders. We stayed in the Gabes area for a couple of days for a rest and did some bathing. About this time I was issued with a new kilt and, as it turned out, everyone else in the battalion got one as well. It was rumoured that the 5th Camerons were the only Highland regiment to have a kilt for every man in the battalion, right through to the end of the war. We were not supposed to carry our kilts, but we hid them away in ammunition boxes, in trucks and jeeps, anywhere we could get away with. Were we proud or what.

 
WADI AKARIT

 On 1st April we were moved forward, and set up camp in the gun lines of the 2nd New Zealand Division, who had already had a go at the Germans holding Wadi Akarit. In front of us was a wide plain, which was quite grassy, with various flowers growing, including poppies, it looked much like an English country scene. In the distance at the far side of the plain we could see two pieces of steep high ground, the left one being Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa and the right called Roumana. 51st Highland Division was to capture the latter and the coastal plain. 152nd Brigade, of which, 5th Camerons were a part, was ordered to capture Djebel Roumana. We had the 50th Division on our left and 5th Seaforth on our right.

On 6th April, in the early hours of the morning, we crossed our start line and our artillery opened up about a half-hour later. Our rate of advance was too slow, because the following companies started to catch us up, so we moved as close as we could to our creeping barrage, we reached Roumana just after first light with showers of sparks from shell splinters striking the rocky hillside. The Germans had left the Italians on the forward slopes and we soon sorted them out and consolidated our position on the left hand bump of Roumana as ordered.

Things then began to get decidedly unhealthy. 50th Division had not arrived on our left so the occupants there were throwing all sorts of shit at us and we came under long range heavy machine gun fire, to which, we had no means to reply. Then the German 90th Light Division began a counter attack from the right, which made the Italians get brave and hold out against us. We were getting a bit thin on the ground. Then we saw 50th Division advancing across the plain under heavy shell-fire which heartened us no end, especially as they rapidly captured their objectives and secured our left flank. Throughout the entire day we fought the 90th Light in the wadis and I lost count of the Bayonet charges we made. I always used the old, First World War type, 18-inch bayonet that I had been issued with when I first joined up. The more recent issue of what we called a pig sticker being too short for my liking and was only used when being inspected or on guard duty. As far as I was concerned the further away from my body the enemy was the better. It was purely psychological as we had been taught that only 2-inches of penetration was enough to kill. I believe that most men feared being stabbed to death.

By nightfall we had secured the position but we were shelled constantly and we did not get a hot meal that night, one of the few occasions throughout the war that we failed to get one. The next morning we found that Jerry had packed up and gone. Casualties had been heavy, at one point my company was down to about twenty to twenty five men. Apparently what we had accomplished with Brigade strength should have been carried out with Divisional strength. Reuters reporter wrote at the time; "Their assault is described by military observers as one of the greatest heroic achievements of the war."

In late May, after moving around here and there, we ended up at Djidjelli in Algeria and began to prepare for what would turn out to be our part in the invasion of Sicily.

It had been a strange eight months; we had learnt to do our laundry by washing it in petrol, as petrol was more in abundance than water. Our clothing being bleached almost white and, dry in a matter of seconds. There were occasions when we drank water out of the radiator of a lorry, as that was the only water available. We had tried drinking the water out of the Mediterranean, which caused our lips to swell up, split and bleed, and made us sick. That was what you might call being desperate for a drink. We discovered that the best way to cook was by means of a "Benghazi Fire". A Benghazi Fire comprised of a cut down petrol can, filled with sand, and then petrol poured into the sand, once lit, it would burn for quite some considerable time. When we collected our food from the cookhouse truck, we soon learnt to cover our plates of food with our steel helmets or something. Unsuspecting, usually fresh personnel would be carrying their food back to their dugout or tent, when they would be dive bombed by a large bird that would take everything off the plate. Magpies had nothing on these birds. Apart from the dust storms and the sand getting into everything the most annoying things were the incessant attacks by plagues of flies. Not just the buzzing around you, but it felt at times as though you were being eaten alive.
I also received my first wounds during the desert campaign, nothing drastic, but enough to keep me out of the fighting for a couple of days. I was wounded by shrapnel on two separate occasions in the legs; I still carry one piece in my right leg to this day.

I remember I was part of a group of Camerons attached to the 4th Indian Division for a short time. Standing on guard duty one night, a hand felt its way down over my face. I honestly thought that my life was about to be terminated by the cold steel of a knife, I was rigid with fear. Then the silence was broken by a voice in broken English saying "OK Johnny". It was a Ghurka. They had been out on a raid. I never saw them go or come back, just a hand feeling my features. I vowed never again to stand still whilst on guard duty.
Because of our habit of painting our Divisional Insignia, a large HD in prominent positions, right the way across North Africa, usually high on the sides of buildings, the Highland Division became known as the;

 "HIGHWAY DECORATORS".

Djidjelli was quite pleasant being close to the sea, and the surrounding countryside was green, and in many respects European looking, with thick cork forests, high hills and deep valleys, hills which we would get to know better than we would have liked.
We were sent, in twos and threes, to any of a number of hills, to reach the top by a certain time, i.e. lunchtime. Non arrival meant no lunch. I do not think that anybody missed out on lunch. We started off carrying little or no equipment; gradually building up to full battle order, obviously getting us fit for our next task.
Next, came our turn to train with various landing craft, something I was not looking forward to as I could not swim, and still can't. Luckily though, 152nd Brigade would not be on the initial assault.

SICILY

In early July we were issued with anti - seasickness pills for the crossing to Malta and on to Sicily. 152nd Brigade was to land seven days after the initial landings. I actually caught up with our Battalion at a place called Biancavilla, exactly four weeks after the initial landings, only three weeks late, to a lot of light-hearted abuse. We had been deprived of our shipping in order to move the 78th Division. I had been assigned to the later landing to allow the wounds to my legs to fully heal.
About five days after our arrival we were on the move in pursuit of Jerry around Mount Etna, but Jerry had up and gone, across the straits of Messina, to Italy, and we camped near Zafferana. 5th Camerons were visited here by General Wimberley.
In the mornings we would all tend to gorge ourselves on fresh grapes, straight off the vines. During this time we were allowed time off, a company at a time, to climb and view Mount Etna.
At the end of August we moved to Barcellona, and about this time we were treated to a concert by Gracie Fields. She performed and entertained us for about two hours. I think we were in a large quarry.

General Montgomery visited us at Barcellona to present Medals and inspect the Battalion. He then started to give us one of his speeches, along the lines that we would be going with him. We started to boo him because we assumed that he would be going for Rome. He then intimated that we would in fact be going home, to which he was roundly cheered. We were rested here for about six weeks and, on 10th October, we were moved south to Catania. My legs were giving me hell during this time. I hadn't realised just how painful a piece of shrapnel could be. Even to this day, my right leg gives me terrible pain at certain times, especially on cold, damp days.

On 23rd October, exactly one year after the night that the 5th Camerons first went into action at El Alamein, we set sail for England aboard ‘Dunnottar Castle’, arriving in Gourock, Scotland, in early November 1943.

 Return to England and D. Day preparations.

Our return was supposed to be a secret but it appeared everybody knew that the 51st Highland Division was home. It was probably advertised by the fact that we were greeted, by the General Officer commanding, on board, wearing full dress uniform. We had been ordered to cover all our regimental and divisional insignia. Whilst we were kept on board, the ship’s crew were allowed shore leave. We got them to post our letters home to our loved ones so that they new we were home safe and well, before it was officially announced. It was total farce. We had covered our cap badges yet what other Regiments, beside Scottish, wore Glengarrys or the Balmoral Bonnet. We were hanging out the windows of the train accepting cigarettes and drinks from the population as we headed south. Crowds of people lined the railway to cheer us on our way. It was a bit like supporters welcoming their team home after winning the FA Cup at Wembley. It was hardly the best-kept secret of the war.
From Gourock 51st Highland Division was billeted around the North of London, from Slough, in a semi-circle to Hertford, with the 5th Camerons billeted in Hertford, the citizens of which gave us a hero’s welcome. Once we had sewn the ribbon of the Africa Star on our uniforms, we received more than one free drink in the local pubs.
We then received our disembarkation leave and I made my way to Ipswich to see Joan and her family. On arrival in Ipswich, I found the place swarming with Yanks. Queuing on the local Taxi rank in Lloyds Avenue, the cabbies were picking up the Yanks first, obviously ripping them off money wise. I was carrying full kit, rifle, the lot, wearing the Kilt. It did not take long for the comments and wolf whistles to start, then two yanks decided to jump the queue. I gave them a mouthful to which they took exception and started towards me. There then followed a bit of a scuffle. I cracked the first one right between the eyes with a right hander and caught the other one under the chin with the butt of my rifle. I left the two of them lying in one of the exits from what was the Odeon cinema, only to turn around to find two police officers standing there. They asked me to accompany them to the police station. I received a warning about my conduct but I just told them if they did not get me a Taxi I would go out and get one even if it meant shooting some bugger. Eventually a Taxi arrived and took me to Joan’s house. The Taxi driver said there would be “no charge”, as the Yanks would pay.

I recall that Joan’s mother had saved her meat rations up and had managed to get me a pork chop. Alas I could not eat it; it was just too rich. She could not understand that my diet for the past year or more had consisted of hard tack, (I hadn’t realised that there were so many ways of preparing Corned Beef) and then in Sicily, the new Compo rations. The biscuits that we were given defied any attempt to bite pieces off them. They invariably had holes bored through them by weevils or whatever. We thought that they would be better used as armour plating on the roof of our dugouts. They had to be soaked in some way before they were remotely edible. My saving grace with my future Mother-in-law being the fact that I had brought a few fresh, hand picked lemons home from Sicily. As they had not seen much fresh fruit of any description since the first year of the war, fresh lemons were a major wonder.
At night, Joan’s mother would get her children into the air raid shelter. She was more than a bit annoyed that I refused to go with them, preferring to sleep in a comfortable bed. It seemed to me to be far less hazardous than what I had had to endure. If I were going to die, I would at least be comfortable. Apparently, it was I, who kept them awake, rather than the air raids or possibility of air raids. I was constantly screaming out in my sleep reliving all the horrors that I had seen and endured.

I returned to Hertford just before Christmas, and so no real serious training ensued until after the New Year celebrations. During our stay in Hertford, the King, the Queen, and the two Princesses visited 5th Camerons. The King inspected 5th Camerons (who were all wearing the Kilt) on the cricket ground at St Albans. Such persons as, Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery also visited us.

I had to take my turn on ‘shore patrol’, as part of the Regimental Police, which basically meant, keeping the peace between the Jocks and the Yanks when they were out on the town. Me and another Squaddie met up with two Snowdrops, so called because of their distinctive white helmets, who were American Military Police. One of them had been a sergeant with the Chicago Police before the war. These two guys couldn’t believe that we could go out on patrol unarmed, as they always carried a riot stick and pistol as minimum protection. They were soon amazed to see us wading into troublemakers with our webbing belts wrapped around our fists with the buckle to the top.

A few days later a new group of Yanks turned up, (chests covered with medal ribbons but had seen no action) and decided to have some fun baiting the Jocks. Wolf whistles and various other remarks were, by and large, ignored, until one of our boys decided to threaten one particular Yank. Then a comment came back that we would run away, “like we had at Dunkirk”. Remembering that the original 51st Highland Division had been sacrificed at St. Valery in 1940, in an attempt to keep the French fighting, it was probably the worst statement anybody could make. We were in a pub at the time and it turned out to be one of the craziest fights I was ever to be involved in. It was like a scene out of a western film. There were bodies flying through the windows, crashing through doors until we finally spilled out into the street and really went quite mad. I doubt if those Yanks ever had to face a harder fight throughout the rest of the war, we probably did them a favour in toughening them up. The next morning we were up in front of the C.O. for leaving litter in the street. He explained that if we were to fight the Yanks we were to leave them up an alley out of sight, otherwise the next time he would put us all on report.
I quite enjoyed some of the tasks during my time with the regimental Police. I used to get the town square ready for the pipes and drums to beat retreat on a Wednesday afternoon, early closing day for the shops.
There was one guy who would always return late from leave. He would always return, but never when his leave entitlement had finished. He actually lived in the same street as the prison in Glasgow. When he finally turned up, he would be placed under arrest, and put on fatigues. He would then be made to clean the pots and pans, peel potatoes and the like. I thought the guy was marvellous. Part of my duties was as prisoner escort and I would escort him to the cookhouse and back. That meant that I would eat with the cooks. I had some of the best meals of my army life during that time. The guy was never any trouble and was a generally good soldier. We would stroll back towards camp and then I would bring him to attention and march in a soldierly fashion once we neared the camp. He was a really likeable bloke and a good fighter; he was as hard as nails. He always wanted extra days at home to which he was not entitled.

In April, we moved to Haverhill in Suffolk, our camp being close to the Addis or Harris brush factory. We carried out varied training and began to blood replacements into the regiment. Replacements who had to be taught the ways of the Camerons. We also received our first “Canloan” officers, a scheme where young Canadian officers were loaned to the British army. The army had gradually increased our diet, ensuring plenty of fresh vegetables. They were obviously building us up for something.

In early April 1944, I went on leave, where, on April 8th at St. Augustines church, Ipswich, I married Joan Mary Leggett. We were to have Seven wonderful days together before I returned to Haverhill. I bought Joan a new coat as a going away present; it cost me about 5. My Mother-in-law thought it a wicked waste of money, she had probably never seen 5 in one go, never mind spent it. She did not realise that it was probably only the contents of the pockets of three or four enemy prisoners.
I do not know to this day where on the coast we rehearsed our landing, but suffice to say, that when we landed in Normandy the scene before us was a familiar one.

 Embarkation

Once our training had finished, we were split into three sections to land in Normandy, at D+1, D+7 and D+14 parties. I was to be in the D+1 party. In the middle of May we left Haverhill for a camp on the common at Snaresbrook, near Leyton, just outside London. As I recall there was a pub called the Green Man fairly close to our camp.
Our camp consisted of tents surrounded by a triple “Dannert wire” fence. We were only allowed out under armed escort to the shower and bathhouse, which was about a quarter mile down the road. We felt more like criminals, as to all intent and purposes we were “locked up”.  After receiving a certain amount of abuse from passing Italian prisoners of war, (they had more freedom than the British army) we put up a sign that read “MONTY`S ZOO”. The locals though, felt a bit sorry for us and they would throw us cigarettes or pass the odd bottle of drink to us through the wire.

We were guarded by “C.3” men (unfit for active service) one of which was a cocky little Pratt of an officer who said he would shoot us if we tried to get out. We asked him what he thought we would do if he tried it, as we were fully kitted up, in battle order. That night we decided to teach him a lesson.  We picked up the Dannert wire and put it on the other side of the road, then we went back to our tents and slept for the night. The little Pratt went into one the next morning and made himself look a right idiot and he was relieved of his duties.

We had briefings, well more a lot of reminders really, about the possibility of what might happen if captured. We were reminded of what had happened in 1940 to the Norfolks, murdered by SS troops. I think we had all decided that we would not be surrendering to the SS., or anyone else for that matter.
On 29th May we were marched to a similar camp some two or three miles down the road at Wanstead Flats. It was from this camp that embarkation at Tilbury took place, and we sailed in convoy from Southend on 3rd June 1944 aboard H.M.T. Cheshire.


The Orne Bridgehead.

After the usual seasickness we finally reached our destination, and had to scramble down ropes and nets over the side of the troop ship into our waiting landing craft. We were in full battle order so any slips would most likely prove fatal. Given that this was something we had not practised, and with quite a swell running, we were lucky only to lose one or two pieces of equipment and no men or arms. On the run into shore the landing craft I was in struck an under water mine, blowing the back end off the boat and costing six casualties. It was sheer bad luck as it was thought that all the under water obstacles had been cleared. Also, when every one else in the Battalion got ashore without a shot being fired at them, it seems even more unlucky. Everybody disembarked into chest deep water and had to wade three-quarters of a mile to the shore. We spent an uncomfortable first night ashore, trying to dry out, and suffered some casualties from an air raid on the beachhead area. We were supposed to land at 0200 hrs on 7th June but, we actually got ashore mid-afternoon 6th June, about twelve hours early, soaking wet and cold. At about seven o-clock that night, I had my first taste of a tin of self-heating soup. It was delicious.
Next day 8th June we were ordered to clear some woods. Here we experienced a bit of trouble with snipers, so we just sprayed everything with light machine-gun fire to flush them out. This was a bit new to us after the open spaces of the desert.  Sicily had not been as enclosed as this and we would have to learn fast if we were going to survive. There was a German Radar station near us that was to be attacked, I think, by the Suffolk and Norfolk Regiments. We did a diversionary attack but the Suffolks and Norfolks suffered very heavy casualties as the whole area had been electronically mined.

We had been following up behind a French Canadian Regiment and we eventually came across a barn where we discovered about ten bodies of French women. It was said that they had been collaborating with the Germans. They had all had their throats cut and were hanging from the rafters, suspended by their heels. I’m not saying that the French Canadian troops had carried out the atrocity but whenever we followed them there were never any prisoners taken. We eventually made our way to Benouville and the Orne River Bridge and met up with the 6th Airborne Division, amongst who was one Richard Todd, who was to become a well-known actor.
The bitter fighting we were about to become involved in over the next fortnight can be explained thus.
The Orne Bridgehead was the hinge on which the whole Allied Bridgehead hung, and, it was also the nearest point of the whole bridgehead to Paris. The Germans were extremely sensitive to any allied movement in this area with the result that he stationed his 21st Panzer Division in the Orne sector.

 
St. Honorine La Chardonerette.

The village of St. Honorine stands out alone in the open plain, on a slight rise surrounded by orchards. Any hostile movement by the Allies could be seen by the Germans at an early stage. They had an observation post atop the factory chimney, at Colombelles, a suburb of Caen
Orders had been issued for the capture of St. Honorine and accordingly we assembled in the orchards on the afternoon of 12th June. We were to cross our start lines at 0400 Hours 13th June. I was a Bren gunner in a section of  “D” company.

We settled down in the orchard in our own Platoons, having a smoke, and holding nervous conversations. We talked about nothing of any real importance and, as I recall, we seemed to avoid the subject of our forthcoming attack at all costs. We eventually found our own little space and settled to our own thoughts. I suppose I was dozing but I remember knowing I was going to get hurt, I knew I was not going to be killed, but I knew I was going to be wounded. When you next see a film where someone says they know that they are going to die, believe them, for it surely does happen.

We reached our F.U.P. (Forming up Position) without incident and settled down to wait for the field guns to open up, four minutes before Zero hour of 0400. We were lying or crouching down when the artillery opened up and, to our horror, the guns had ranged in on us. We suffered twenty or so casualties before we had even moved but as the barrage crept forward we got up and followed our exploding shells toward our objective through the standing corn.

We in “D” Company were to make our way to a large Chateau type building that was surrounded by a wall some twelve to fourteen feet high, which was to be breached by our barrage. Once the wall had been breached, we made our way through the garden and several of my platoon found cover in a ditch. My sergeant, 2933041, A (Sandy) Sinclair (from Stirling), and me made our way forward to the corner of the wall so as to lay down fire on the Germans. We had several new guys with us who were novices at this and we had to keep telling them to keep down. I do not know if it was curiosity, bravery, or stupidity, but they kept on standing up. One by one, they were killed. I was just yelling to one boy, he had only just turned twenty, when he was shot through the temple and killed instantly by a sniper. As it turned out, five of the twelve killed in that ditch died of shots to the head. Sandy and I were going frantic by this time spraying bullets at everything that moved and we eventually cleared the snipers and things got a bit quieter, by this time it was about 0800 hours. About a half-hour later the Germans opened up with artillery and mortars and we were to hear “Moaning Minnies” for the first time. “Moaning Minnies” was our name for the German six barrelled mortar that made a horrendous screaming sound when it was fired. A lot of their shells exploded in the trees scattering shell fragments everywhere, so much so that it wasn’t even safe at the bottom of a slit trench.

Sandy and me crept forward to a small orchard for a look-see and to our dismay we counted ten German tanks and self-propelled guns heading our way. We made our way back to our position by the end of the wall and waited for the tanks. Luckily the tanks sat back and pumped shells over the heads of their advancing infantry. Two or three of the tanks were knocked out by our Battalion six pounder, under command of Sergeant Mackenzie, which made the rest of the tanks disappear. However, the infantry kept coming. I was firing the Bren, with Sandy reloading it with fresh clips of ammunition, but we could not halt the Germans advance. The Germans had set up a Spandau heavy machine gun and were spraying our positions with heavy fire, inflicting casualties all around us. Sandy was just fitting a fresh clip of ammunition on the Bren when he took a full burst of machine gun fire through his upper arm, tearing most, if not all, of his flesh and muscle away. I kept the gun firing and Sandy, I don’t know how, kept reloading the Bren with his one good arm. I was firing tracer and the German machine gun pinpointed our position. The next burst of fire took the barrel clean off the Bren and a spent bullet that had caused the damage lodged in my cheek where the two jaw bones hinge.
I just went crazy. I fitted the spare barrel, which we always carried, and just ran at the Germans, firing the Bren gun from the hip as I went. I don’t really know to this day what I was doing but I managed to take the Spandau crew out only to eventually meet a tank and some dozen or more Germans. I took a few of the soldiers down before making a hasty retreat back to Sandy. When I reached Sandy he was in a very bad way. He had lost so much blood that he had gone into shock and had passed out. I managed to drag him by his tunic collar out of the line of fire and under cover and set up the Bren for another expected counter attack, but we were ordered to withdraw.

Sandy and I were picked up by an Airborne officer in a Jeep and the Pratt said if we had run away like that in the first war he would have had us shot. Because of the Adrenaline, anger or the fear, or whatever it was I just flew at him and said if he tried it I’d fucking shoot him. I also told him it was a bloody funny Home Guard that we were fighting, which is what we were told we would be facing. Unfortunately, a Bren gun is no match for a German tank. Sandy and I were driven to a dressing station back somewhere near the beach, where, he went into one tent and me to another. I have not heard of Sandy from that day to this. I don’t even know if he survived. If he did make it, and I hope that he did, I would not be surprised if he lost his arm as it was a terrible wound.

For my actions that day I was awarded the Military Medal, the citation to which reads as follows:
On 13th June 1944, after the attack and capture of St. Honorine-La-Chardonnerette, Private Sands was Bren-gunner of a section of D company which had consolidated in some enemy trenches. About 0915 hours a heavy counter attack developed and Private Sands` section was attacked by about twenty Germans and a tank. Private Sands was wounded in both legs but continued to operate his Bren-gun until the attack on his front had been repulsed. He refused to be evacuated and crawled to a position from which he could engage another expected counter attack. He did this, continuing to operate his gun until the company withdrew. Only then was he evacuated.

Sergeant Mackenzie was also awarded the MM. for his gallantry and leadership that day. He had to manhandle his gun into a position where he could fire on the German tanks.
Captain Watty Yellowlees, our medical officer, was awarded the Military Cross for tending the wounded under heavy fire. I think he was probably the bravest man I ever met. At least when you carry a weapon you have the feeling that you can protect yourself, even if it is a somewhat misguided thought. All that Watty Yellowlees had to hide behind was a small Red Cross on his medical satchel. True bravery?

After receiving medical attention and having my wounds dressed, which included minor wounds to my legs, (I hadn’t even noticed that they were bleeding) I was tagged with an evacuation ticket, which meant, I was going back to England. I was back at the beach area waiting to embark on ship when, I was called out and sent back to my unit. You cannot imagine my anger, as it seemed to me that people were being sent home with what appeared to be minor ailments. I arrived back, Head swathed in bandage, blood staining my tunic and trousers, feeling decidedly sorry for myself.

On 22nd June at 0330 hours I was once again on my way back into St. Honorine, but this time we had tank support with us. We had taken all our objectives by about 0800 hours and waited for the inevitable counter attacks. At one point we were faced with thirty-five German Mark IV tanks, the majority of which were halted by our artillery, although a half dozen made it into the orchards supporting their infantry. We suffered again with German snipers, with unsuspecting officers and N.C.Os being the main targets. “Moaning Minnies” opened up again, along with artillery and tank shellfire, causing heavy casualties. All went relatively quiet at about mid-day, though we were mortared and shelled fairly heavily all afternoon. If it had not been for our divisional artillery firing non-stop in support of us, I doubt if we would have been able to hold out. At about 2300 hours we handed St. Honorine over to the 2nd Seaforth and retired into Brigade reserve.

For the twenty-three days of June, from 7th to 30th, our casualties were the heaviest we were ever to incur in any month for the rest of the war. Both battles for St. Honorine cost 5th Camerons one officer and thirty-six other ranks killed, fifteen officers and one hundred and sixty nine other ranks wounded with seventeen missing.

 Just after the capture of St. Honorine, someone decided that the factory chimneys, at Colombelles, should be taken out. The divisional artillery looked to be having a competition amongst themselves to see who would bring them down first. We started to bet on which, and how many shells it would take. We watched the whole episode take place and it seemed that the guns were firing armour-piercing shells instead of high explosive. The first few rounds, though accurate, were going clean through the chimneys without exploding. Needless to say that, eventually the chimneys were cut off just below the half way mark. The exercise at least lightened our hearts a little after the fighting we had been through.
It was about this time that we saw our first V1 flying bomb. I was on guard duty, manning the Bren gun, when I heard what I thought was a German motor bike coming up the road. I readied the gun to open fire when we saw what we thought was a small plane with its tail on fire flying towards us. All of a sudden it turned tail and headed off to whence it came, hopefully landing on the very persons who had launched it. We of course had no idea that we had just witnessed a piece of history in the making, as the first V1 was launched on June 13th 1944.

After the battles for St. Honorine we were treated to the spectacle of Typhoon aircraft, firing rockets at German Tiger tanks. The Tiger tank may have been the best in the world at the time but it was no match for our Typhoons. On one occasion a Typhoon had just taken out a tank and had one of its rockets left. The Pilot spotted a German motor cycle trying to escape along a road, and swooped down and launched its rocket. The motor cycle and rider disappeared leaving just an oily stain in the road. When the rocket exploded it lifted me fully four feet off the ground, I was shaken but not hurt. One guy near me was hit by a piece of shrapnel costing him an eye, but at least he wouldn’t have to go through any more horrors of war. Apart from what was etched into his memory.

 Breakout.

 At the end of June, we moved from Herouvillette into some woods facing Bois de Bavent and the “Triangle”. The “Triangle” was a triangle of roads, occupied by Jerry and controlling the main approaches to Troarn, its capture was obviously our next objective. “D”- Day was to be 18th July. I was now Lance Corporal Sands.
At about 0600 hours our heavy bombers started dropping their bombs and the Seaforths went in about three hours later. We attacked at about 1100 hours and had finally stopped all resistance by about 4 p.m.
We were to spend ten lousy days in the “Triangle” being shelled almost non-stop causing a steady, daily drain of casualties. At the end of July it was with great relief that we were taken back to a rest area near St. Aubin.

We were resting in a barn after the “Triangle”, trying to catch up on our sleep, but were woken at regular intervals by American voices. “Any souvenirs Jock, where’s the shooting gallery”. They turned out to be American Air Force recovery crews. They were retrieving the gliders that had been used on D-Day. Apparently they would salvage the gliders and make perhaps one air-worthy craft out of three damaged ones. We were not too impressed with the disturbances, however, we proceeded to sell them various items. A S.S. belt was sold for 1, a Luger pistol 20. We would send them on their way with their purchases and tell them that if they come back next week we would sell them a live German. More money to change into postal orders and send home. Of course, we also got them to post letters to our loved ones when they got back to England, by-passing the censors.

In early August the 51st Highland Division struck out towards Falaise. The country consisted of small woods and orchards and every few miles there was a village, each one required a small action to clear it. Our morale was quite high at this time because we knew the Germans were on the run, it was still decidedly hazardous to your health, nevertheless, we began to get more and more confident.
During this time we were to receive close air support from medium Bombers of the U.S. Airforce. After too many instances of the Bombers dropping their loads short, on one occasion the Highland Division lost two hundred casualties, the Canadian Commander, General Carrera, put a stop to it. We by this time had Christened the yanks the “American Luftwaffe”. On one occasion we had put out large strips of luminous bright coloured material on the ground in the shape of an arrow to show where we were, and where the Germans were, we had coloured smoke blowing as well. The first bombs were hellishly short and we sustained a lot of casualties and we were unable to carry out our attack. I had to put the remnants of my platoon on parade to get their minds off what had happened. It didn’t work. We all felt lousy. In the troops eyes both I, but the officer in particular, were the biggest bastards to ever walk the earth, which, I suppose, was the point of the exercise.

On 6th August we moved out of our rest area by motor transport during the evening, via Caen, to Bras, a village just outside Tilly-la-Campagne. 152nd Brigade was to secure Tilly.
Our attack was preceded by stream after stream of heavy bombers passing overhead. A few minutes before “H”- hour the pathfinders dropped parachute flares followed immediately by the first bombs. It was both exhilarating and frightening, the parachute flares broke right over our heads and the noise of the bombs was deafening. Apparently a thousand heavy bombers took part.
As soon as the last bomb exploded the artillery opened up, our signal to advance, armour rumbled along beside us, mainly tanks and “Kangaroos”. A “Kangaroo” was like a tank with the turret removed and loaded with infantry. 5th Camerons were the only Battalion to go in on foot, bloody typical. Ten minutes after crossing the start line “Moaning Minnies” began their nerve jangling scream along with other guns, then Spandaus firing tracer joined in. It was total chaos to start with, the leading armour blew up on mines causing the followers to get off track and consequently lose their way. We took nearly two hours to reach the point where the different companies split up for their various objectives. Snipers were much in evidence again, lurking in the fields of green wheat, inflicting casualties. We entered Tilly with a fairly rapid but nonetheless hard and bloody fight, securing our objective by 0430 hours. I was now Sergeant Sands and a section leader. I had a new platoon commander, a young Canadian fresh out from officer training school, and I told him to do everything that I did. When I drop, you drop, when I run, you run, but he thought he new best, he only lasted eight hours before he was killed and I was back in charge. Some of the new officers we received would ask my and other old hands advice and consequently they would survive a lot longer. This wasn’t so much for their benefit, more a case of self-preservation, as we did not want some gung-ho idiot ordering us into some sort of suicide, death or glory situation. Those that asked for guidance gained the utmost respect and trust, and, likewise, we gained in return.
We old hands had got to the stage where we could predict where a shell would land, to within a few yards. It was quite comical at times to see the novices diving for cover with the old hands standing grinning at them. On the other hand, some guys just didn’t seem to realise the danger they were in, usually costing them dearly. Perhaps it was a deliberate act, to get a wound that was bad enough, though not fatal, to get out of any more fighting.
Because of the casualties we had suffered, we received reinforcements, mainly from the Bed’s and Hert`s, who had been split up because of lack of numbers, again due to casualties. So I met, Sergeant Ken (“Porky”) Hearn, who was to be a constant companion and good friend.
We were moved forward again on 9th August to help clear some woods in the Sequeville area. This was duly completed with fairly light opposition; the hot weather was more of a hindrance than the Germans. That night we moved on to occupy the village of Poussy, we were secure by about 0400 hours and dug in. We were to stay there for three or four days, during which time we were subjected to the usual shellfire, which caused some casualties.

On 16th August we entered Pierre-sur-Dives, taking several prisoners, and were greeted as “Liberators” for the first time, which did much for our morale. The bridge over the River Dives had been blown up. Two days later we left St Pierre with orders to get across the River Vie. During our move to St. Pierre we were fired on by our own Machine guns and then we were strafed twice by our air cover, first by Spitfires and then by American Lightnings. Despite the fact that we lit yellow smoke canisters to distinguish friend from foe, the RAF went round again to swoop and strafe our positions. I don’t think we lost any personnel, but we did lose a couple of vehicles though. We spent an uneasy night, in which carrying parties managed to get food to the forward companies; next day we withdrew to a position behind a place called St. Julien, beginning in the evening and completed by about 0200 hrs.

After only two hours sleep we were moved forward again to cross the River Vie only to find that both the bridges had been blown. “B” Company managed to secure a bridgehead, at a heavy cost in casualties, allowing us in the forward companies to pass through. Our advance continued supported by Tanks of the East Riding Yeomanry. Progress was slow but steady, mainly due to the strain of battle and tiredness, and we gained our objectives just before dusk and we dug in for the night. We remained in this area for four days rest. Rest? We made an improvised rifle range to zero our guns, and carried out route marches.

On 26th August we were once again on the move until we eventually reached the Seine River on 28th August. We had consolidated on some high ground from which we let loose with all available fire power at the Germans still trying to get across the river. Germany lost a lot of its sons that day.

Porky and me had a run in with our Company Sergeant Major about this time. We had taken our company for morning parade and just handed them over to the C.S.M. and then we went off to breakfast. Ten minutes later the C.S.M. comes in and informs us that he has put us on report, and that we should accompany him to the Company Commander. I told Porky not to worry because we would beat the charges. Arriving in front of the Company Commander he winked at me as if to say no problem. The C.S.M. proceeded to explain that we had left parade without permission. The Company Commander asked me for my version and I told him that there wasn’t anything posted in company orders to the effect that we were required to stay on parade. Case dismissed.
When we got outside the C.S.M. offered us cigarettes. I told him that if he came near me with his cigarettes I would shove them down his throat. This guy had come to us from the South Staffordshire Regiment. He had had it in for me since the first time he went into battle with us. I had told him he was a coward. He had disappeared when we went in and reappeared after the fighting. It was not to be the last time he did it either. He was soon to be transferred. Good riddance too.
I knew we would get off the charges, even if they had been legitimate. I used to lend the officer concerned money when he ran short of cash. When we came across a Field Post Office he would repay me with a Field Postal Order which I would send home to my wife in England. I always had spare cash, as did all the boys. When we took prisoners we would search them and take their valuables, including their money and watches. It was rumoured that the 51st Highland Division cashed more Field Postal Orders than any other Division in the British Army.

 

St. Valery and Le Havre.

In June 1940 the original 51st Highland Division was sacrificed in an attempt to keep the French army fighting, and so, 4th Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, including the original 152nd Brigade, was captured.
On 1st September 1944 the new 51st Highland Division moved on St. Valery-en-Caux, with 152nd Brigade leading. All along our route we were cheered by the local population, which did much for our spirits. I was one of the first to enter St. Valery, in “D” Company, lead by Major A. N. Parker. I remember we formed a circle in the town square with piper Chisholm playing his pipes, and Lt.-Colonel Lang was greeted by the Mayor. We spent two days in and around St. Valery, being made most welcome.
There were two French girls in St Valery, wearing skirts made from Cameron tartan. Kilts that they had guarded and treasured during their years of occupation by the Germans.

We did not know it, but our deviation into St. Valery was the first part in our advance on Le Havre, which was still in German hands and defended by formidable “Siegfried Line” defences. Defences consisting of, Pill boxes, concrete obstacles and ditches.
On 4th September we set out for our first objective which was a cross roads just outside Epouville, about sixteen miles from St. Sylvian, digging in at about 1130 hrs that morning. Le Havre was about nine miles to the south west of us. We sent out patrols during the next forty-eight hours with no serious fighting taking place.

The 49th Division would attack on our left late afternoon and we were to attack that night. We reached our assembly area at 2230 hrs and waited for the armour to go in. The armour consisted of “Flails”. Tanks that had lengths of chain attached to a rotating shaft on the front. These were supposed to explode the mines before any damage or casualties were incurred. Bridge laying Tanks, “Fascines” which carried what looked like large bundles of sticks, which were used to fill in the ditches if the bridging tanks failed. Finally, we had “Crocodile” flame - throwing tanks and A.V.R.E. tanks that fired explosives.
The
Flails went first, flailing the ground exploding the mines but they were soon blowing up on mines buried deeper than their flails could penetrate, thus holding up the bridge laying tanks. By this time, we in D Company should have been well into the Jerry defenses. Major Parker ordered us forward and we advanced over the mines, suffering a few casualties, until we reached the gap. Jerry had ranged his defensive fire on the ditch and we suffered heavy casualties. We pressed forward, not waiting for the armour, and eventually got to the ditch and over it. To our surprise and delight we found we were no longer in the line of fire, reaching our objective and resting against a grassy bank.

As dawn broke there was a mist hanging about two feet off the ground and as I looked up, I couldnt believe my eyes, on top of the bank was a Jerry having an early morning stretch and yawn. Hande Hoche you bastard. I dont know who was the more surprised, him or me. When I got to him, I made it plain that he should persuade his comrades to come out. Not that he understood English but, he knew that the grenade in my hand was a Phosphorous bomb and he knew what the result would be if I threw it. When a Phosphorous grenade explodes the contents run and stick to whoever or whatever it comes into contact with, not a nice piece of hardware.
When we looked over the bank, we saw a long barrel of an 88mm gun protruding out of what turned out to be a German bunker. We got eighty-seven prisoners out of there. They even had a Grand Piano in there. We had to get a three-ton truck and load all the liberated supplies onto it, the majority of which was sugar, and sent it back to the Quartermaster. At least we would have sweet tea for a while. Some time later I found out that somebody had crated up a Grand piano and had managed to ship it home. He was rumbled, and had to ship it back. I do not know if it was
D Companys Piano.
The following day Le-Havre surrendered after Major Parker had managed to telephone the German Commander in Le-Havre to advise him if he didn
t, we would come in. He at first wasnt too keen, but agreed once it was explained who exactly was coming in and what we would do, spoken in fluent German, with one or two choice phrases apparently. Unfortunately, we were just beaten into the Town by elements of the 49th Division.
We went back to the area where we had assembled before the attack on Le-Havre and carried out training and reorganization. We had about two weeks out of the line until we were ordered back into the line on 3rd October.

 
Holland.

On 3rd October we had dug in near Best just north of Eindhoven, and we were to stay in this area for about three weeks. Most of the activity consisted of aggressive patrolling. We would send out patrols with varying weaponry. I went on one patrol where we took two companies’ worth of Bren guns and let loose thousands of rounds of ammunition. Other patrols would take all the Mortars with them, and so on. Eventually Jerry decided he’d had enough and pulled his forward defence lines back. The area was closely wooded, and one day, when we were out on patrol, we spotted a pig scurrying about. Not wanting it to end up in Jerry hands, we stalked it. The officer who was leading the patrol went up one side of a hedge and I went up the other, when the pig poked its head through the bushes it received a burst of Sten gun fire through its head. We broke a branch off a tree, and slung the pig by its legs and carried it back, looking for all the world like returning big game hunters. Two days later we all had a fine feast of pork. We also captured a dozen chickens. We decided to keep these for our platoon and returned to our billet to have near enough a chicken each. They were far better than compo rations.

It was about this time that (it might have been September) I, with a dozen others including Captain Lamb and Major Parker, were sent on leave to Antwerp for four days rest and relaxation. There is no doubt in my mind that the C.O. knew I was close to breaking point. I was feeling particularly low and probably showing the first signs of battle fatigue. Although the leave was given with the best intentions, it turned out that we were subjected to almost non-stop bombardment by V.1. Flying Bombs and V.2. Rockets. Just after we arrived in Antwerp, a Military Policeman, who was directing traffic at a crossroads, received a direct hit. They only found one of his white gauntlets. The cinema also took a direct hit, killing several hundred soldiers, a fact that was hushed up by the powers that be, until after the war. It got so bad that we pleaded to be sent back to the line and our comrades. If we were to die, better to be in familiar surroundings with friends and comrades. Little did I know what was ahead of me.

22nd October saw all ranks being briefed at the sand table for our next attack. The sand table was a model come map of our objectives. Each company was given a 200-yard front.
On 23rd October the Battalion moved to 1500 yards from the start lines at 2100 hours for an attack on the small town of Schijndel. The date being chosen because it was the anniversary of El Alamein. “A” and “B” companies were to seize the objectives and we “D”, and “C” companies would pass through them and form up ready for a second assault the following morning. We were to have the usual weight of artillery, mortar and heavy machine gun support. We were to advance under “Monty’s (artificial) Moonlight”. Artificial Moonlight was created by our searchlights shining on the clouds, the reflected light aiding our advance. As it turned out, it appeared that the defenders rather than the attackers gained the advantage.
As soon as  “A” and “B” companies crossed the start line and hit open ground they were hit with intense defensive fire, mainly from Spandau machine guns, and sustained heavy casualties, only a depleted “B” company reached its objective.
“A” company had lost their company commander wounded, and were nearly wiped out. We in “D” company were launched round “B” company’s flank in an attempt to gain “A” company’s objective.
Again, as soon as we were in the open, the Spandau’s opened up on us. The two guys either side of me were both hit. The one on my immediate left was killed instantly as Spandau bullets ripped into him. He was hit and ripped open diagonally across his body from shoulder to opposing hip. It was if his body had been unzipped.
I managed to lie flat to the ground in a furrow on the edge of the field we were in, wishing it were a lot deeper. Machine gun bullets and tracer just whistling over my head, I was powerless to do anything. I laid like that for most of the night, listening to the screams and moans of the wounded and dying.
I managed to inch my way toward the Spandau, which was firing on fixed lines, down the shallow depression I was in, with bullets whistling just over my head. I passed the body of our dead Lieutenant and the body of our company commander Major A. N. Parker. There were at least twenty dead Camerons lying in that field. It made me all the more determined to get to the Jerry responsible. I eventually made my way round the back of his position and could see he was a German Parachutist. He was, I guess, about five feet six tall. I finally got into a position where I could get to him. I launched myself at him and hit him full in the face with all the force I could muster with a right fist. I was on top of him. I began punching him, kicking him, I was strangling him. I hit him in the face with the rifle butt, God help me I wanted to kill him with my bare hands. Lucky for him, the Adjutant, Captain Lamb pulled me off him, but even as he was being carried away I tried to shoot him. The C.O. took me to one side to calm me down, I was screaming at him, “look at all my mates dead, Major Parker, all the boys. I still sometimes cannot understand why I was not allowed to finish the Jerry off. Major Parker had been a good commander and friend and a very brave man. Tommy Lamb stopped by later and shared a couple of drams with me. He was one of the best in everyway possible.

Next day, as a result of the heavy casualties and lack of numbers, “D” company was disbanded in order to reinforce “A” and “B” companies. The attack continued and our blood was up as a result of what had happened. We were so quick with our advance that the tanks could not keep up with us. We finally took all our objectives by early evening and we settled in some pinewoods just west of Schijndel. We had lost eight officers and sixty - three other ranks, of whom a high proportion were, as usual, N.C.Os.

My favourite Company Sergeant Major went missing again before the attack and conveniently reappeared when it was safe to do so. This time he had been caught out by several others, including those in higher authority. He was hastily transferred, for his own safety. Several people had told him to watch his back, inferring that he would likely as not meet with a nasty and probably fatal accident. I had previously warned him to keep out of my sights. He was lucky not to have been shot by his own side. When we went in on an attack, I would perhaps be in the lead with the officer toward the rear, or vice versa. The men were told if any of them tried to do a runner, they would be shot. I was under orders to shoot anyone that turned tail and ran. Whether I would or could was never tested. Major Parker always told the company that he would shoot anyone running away. It was said to everyone, but directed at the odd one or two. There were a couple of guys who just couldn’t take anymore. They shot themselves in the foot. At least they had not run away in the midst of battle, jeopardising their comrades. You always relied on the man next to you, to cover and support you.

I picked up a German Schmeisser machine gun during this battle. This particular gun was a marvellous thing. It would fire both German and British ammunition. It was strictly forbidden, but I carried that gun with me until the end of the war.

It was about this time that I had a bad experience of having to follow an order that I knew to be pointless. It has haunted me ever since. I had been ordered to take my platoon to clear some woods and farm buildings. I tried to argue that it was a pointless exercise as we had already cleared that particular area. I had sent six guys forward up an avenue of trees and was just organising another squad when the tank, which was covering our advance, loosed off an air burst. The tank, it was sign written “Cock`O the North”, when covering an advance always had its gun loaded and ready to fire over our heads. It was a total accident but the tank commander slipped on the firing mechanism and fired a premature round.
The shell was an airburst and unfortunately it hit the trees and caught the six guys who were about twenty yards away from me. The blast from the explosion singed my hair, and what turned out to be part of a young boy’s head, hit me in the face.
When I got to my boys, three were dead and three had been terribly maimed. One had all his buttocks shot away, another had an arm and his shoulder missing, the third seemed to be bleeding from every part of his body. I can still picture the young lad to this day. He was only eighteen years of age, Ginger haired, I believe he came from Glasgow. The wounded were screaming, screaming at me not to leave them. “Sarge`, don’t leave me, Sarge`”. I was trying to reassure them, to calm them. I told them I would not leave them and administered the syrettes of morphine that I always carried round my neck. I wanted to cry but knew that I must not let them see that I was scared for them. I knew there was no hope for any of them, as I watched their colour turn to grey. I ordered the carrier forward and we took a door off the nearest building to act as a stretcher on top of the carrier. I got them to an aid station but one had died before we got there and the other two died shortly after. It was an utter waste of life. I still, after more than fifty years hear their screams and see their faces, faces of death. “Sarge`, don’t leave me Sarge`”. When I was on my own, later that night, I shed my tears; I sobbed uncontrollably for a while.
I always looked after my boys in my section. They never went short of a smoke or a dram of Whiskey. Sergeants had a monthly Whiskey ration. There might be perhaps twenty or so Sergeants going into an attack but there might only be ten left after the attack, thus the remainder would share the Whiskey and cigarette ration. I always shared it out amongst my boys in my section. I always thought that if I looked after them they would look after me. It seemed to work.         
The tank commander went bomb happy once he realised what had happened, nobody blamed him, in fact it was an unpleasant thing to see. He seemed to go instantly insane; He has had to live with that tragedy all his remaining days.
Our officer on the other hand wasn’t to be forgiven. On my return I reported to the C.O. that the officer concerned had been drunk. I could not forgive him then and I still can’t forgive him to this day. We were all in the same situation, living on our nerve ends, wondering if to day was to be our last. Subsequently he was relieved of his duties and disappeared from the 5th Camerons. I don’t know his full punishment but, whatever he received, he had it coming. He was still alive.


27th October found us riding into action atop Sherman tanks towards Vught. We were delayed at the start line due to the tanks and carriers getting bogged down in the mud, we were greeted with anti - tank and machine gun fire but we had gained all our objectives by midnight.
When we cleared the cellar of the Burgomeisters house, shouting "Raus you bastards", not only did we take the resident Germans prisoner, although one came out firing at us, we had to kill him; we released the Burgermeisters wife. She hugged and kissed me and did not want to let me go. It turned out that she was from Scotland and I told the C.O. He managed to get a message to her family in Scotland to let them know she had been liberated and was in good health.
The people were so grateful that they gave me a simple wooden plaque engraved with the picture of Vught Town House. It is inscribed, ‘VUGHT GEMEENTE HUIS’.

Next day the local civilians emerged from their hiding places and gladdened our hearts. It was good to see their obvious enjoyment and relief from enemy fire and occupation. Vught contained the first concentration camp to be liberated by the allies, and gave us an insight into some of the more ghastly horrors yet to be revealed. Its liberation is officially credited to the Canadians, but 5th Camerons were fighting under command of the Canadians at the time. We were fighting and chasing Germans through the woods, and on into the camp. When we entered the camp there were bodies hanging from the gallows near the gates. We left a couple of dead Germans lying in the gutters. The camp was officially abandoned in the September, but there were several people there who had no where else to go.
In the afternoon we were once more on the move, we had been tasked with “mopping up” near the Aftenvaterings canal. The C.O. had told us that we were not killing enough Germans. From now on we would drag them into the street so he could see how many we were killing. After the concentration camp at Vught we didn’t really need telling. Any German wearing a black S.S. uniform was never given the opportunity to surrender. If any others refused to surrender at our first request, they were never given the option again.

At mid-day 30th October we route marched to Waalwijk, which we occupied in the early afternoon. We received a tremendous welcome. We were trying to fight a battle at the same time as receiving the freedom of the town. The main square was crowded with the local population as we were trying to get to our objectives. The Germans succeeded where we had failed in clearing the place. The Germans started to shell the main square; I’ve never seen so many people disappear so quickly.

On 4th November 5th Camerons were to carry out an assault crossing of the Aftenvaterings canal. Carrying their boats, the assault companies, “A” and “B”, went up the canal bank, over into the water and across to the other side, without a single casualty, remarkable, especially as they had captured about a hundred prisoners within half an hour of landing. I was a part of a support company during the crossing and we crept up the bank and fired off as much ammunition as we could at the Germans in their dugouts on the far bank, about forty yards away. Also, Divisional artillery laid down their usual formidable amount of shells. Those boys always did us proud. We had an understanding with our artillery, “You lay down the shit and we’ll make sure Jerry doesn’t get to you”. It always worked. We followed up our assault almost immediately and seemed to take the Germans totally by surprise and we had secured the whole area by 3 a.m. on the morning of 5th November.

On 6th November I was again on the move, to Heusden. The Battalion suffered again from heavy mortaring. Advancing through Heusden, we heard an explosion ahead of us and we soon came across the burnt and bombed remains of what looked like a church. It turned out to be a Municipal building. The SS had herded over a hundred and thirty women and children into that building, then they blew it up. The next building to be liberated was being held by men in the Black uniform of the SS. As we closed in on them, the survivors emerged shouting “Nicht Schissen” and kamarad. Nicht Shissen my arse. We shot them without a second thought. From that day on, any German wearing the black SS uniform, would not get the option of surrendering to us. Even the green clad Whermacht would only get one chance to surrender. If they did not accept the first offer they did not get the chance again. The Pioneer boys got the job of clearing that building. Ted Murcar, on his return to Heusden in 1994, for the 50th Anniversary of their liberation, could not face entering that building again. The horror of all those bodies, especially the children, had stayed with him in his nightmares.

We were relieved during the evening, which seemed to take an eternity, and marched back, first to feed, then embus for Udenhout, far to the south.

Next day, 7th November, we once again moved by transport to Someren, to relieve a unit of the 7th U.S. Armoured Division. Total chaos seemed to reign but, by some miracle Jerry didn’t seem to notice, as two days later we were bombarded with propaganda leaflets depicting well known American leaders as war mongers. We in turn were relieved two days later. We were moved to Someren Zeide, where we were billeted for four relatively comfortable days.

On 13th November we were briefed by the Commanding Officer in a large barn and learnt that we were to carry out another canal crossing, the Nederweert canal. 5th Camerons were ferried across by boat and in Buffaloes, on 14th November. Thankfully, I crossed riding in a Buffalo and played across by a piper riding in the lead vehicle. The crossing went well and we had taken our objectives in less than the time allotted, and with light casualties. We consolidated our positions and spent a cold and uncomfortable night followed by an equally cold day.

16th November found us on the move again in readiness for yet another canal crossing, the Uitwaterings or “Zig” canal.

5th Camerons were astride the main road south of the bridge at Ruggleshe by last light. One of our patrols reported movement and small arms fire in an area near a blown bridge. At first light on 17th November the Zig canal area was subjected to fire from all weapons and “C” company was ordered to try a crossing. At about 8 a.m. “C” company began dashing over the collapsed bridge and were all over and digging in within half an hour despite heavy Spandau fire. About an hour after the initial crossing, Jerry woke up and started firing everything he had at “C” company, Bazooka, shell, mortars and machine guns. “B” company helped “C” by manoeuvring the company Brens up onto the canal bank and fired at the general area of the German defenders. We in “A” company went over to reinforce “C” at about 0930 hours. For the next two hours we seemed to be on the receiving end of every weapon that Jerry possessed, culminating in a smoke screen being laid to cover the German counter attack. As soon as the first smoke was launched, we could see Jerry charging across the open ground towards us. Our artillery and tanks opened up and along with the fire we were putting down, Jerry was suffering very heavy casualties. They must stop advancing but, these guys must have been fanatics, we didn’t finally stop them until about 1330 hours. We were close to running out of ammunition, though carrying parties succeeded in supplying us before nightfall, despite being sniped at. At about 2200 hours 2nd Seaforth passed through us and we spent an undisturbed though rather damp night.
During the early morning of 18th November Divisional Engineers erected a class 40 bridge over the canal at the point where “C” and “A” companies had fought so hard. This bridge became known as “Cameron Bridge”. In a congratulatory message, the Corps Commander wrote:

“Had not the 5th Camerons held onto their foothold on the east bank of the Zig canal, the advance of the whole Corps might well have been delayed for an appreciable time”.


On 19th November 5th Camerons were relieved by the 49th Division and we moved to what was an already overcrowded town of Heythuijen for four days rest. On the fifth day the Battalion moved by motor transport to Nijmegen, and from there, by route march into the line. The change over was carried out in heavy rain, and, everywhere was covered by thick mud. It took nearly all night to relieve a Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division. Nobody had any sleep. We were on the “Island”.
The “Island” was an area between the Waal and Neder Rhine rivers. There was no hand-to-hand contact here, though life was not to be easy as approaches to our positions were in full view -- and lay opposite what must have been the only hill in Holland. The water in front of the “Bund” could be seen to be rapidly rising. At 0330 hours on 3rd December we were ordered to pack immediately. The Germans had burst the dyke in 2nd Seaforth area. The “Island” was being flooded. We evacuated our positions at 1400 hours and slowly made our way to higher ground. At one point I had to get our Bren gunner onto my shoulders, as he was less than five feet tall, the water coming high up my chest. He couldn’t swim, but then nor could I. I only managed to find my way off by following the line of a fence, the top of which was just above the water level. Nijmegen bridge was under fire and so we got to the bank of the river and were picked up by the Canadians using storm boats, wooden framed canvas boats propelled by a small outboard motor, and ferried to relative safety, all this in a heavy sleet storm.

 From here, motor transport took us to Oss, near  s`Hertogenbosch. Better billets (a large Roman Catholic monastery and schools in s`Hertogenbosch it-self) were made available on 6th December. The Battalion settled down to what was to be one of the happiest rest periods spent during its time in Europe.
One of the lighter moments was when the C.O. returned to find the monks, adorned in their brown cassocks, being put through the mystic rites of a Scottish religious dance by the Quartermaster. The monks, in all innocence, were being taught the “Hokey-Cokey”.

During this respite we were visited by the Commander in chief, Field–Marshal, Bernard Law Montgomery, and a investiture was held in St Michiel-Gestel on 15th December, and I took my turn on stage to receive the Military Medal from Field - Marshal Montgomery. Photographs were taken and I had mine autographed by Bernard Law Montgomery.

During our time in and around the Eindoven area, we liberated a couple of factories. One being the Bata shoe factory and the other was a silk factory. We went through the shoe factory with the thought that we would all soon be the proud owners of a new pair or pairs of shoes. We searched everywhere for a pair of shoes but they were all left feet, not a complete pair anywhere. At least we laughed about it. On entering the silk factory we were confronted by small arms fire from Jerry. As we fought our way through the factory we realised that the place manufactured silk stockings. We were stuffing pairs of silk stockings into our tunics even as we fought the Germans. They no doubt were doing the same until we interrupted them. The stockings had only cost us some of His Majesty’s ammunition. Five of the Germans had paid the ultimate price.

I can’t remember whether it was in Eindhoven or Nijmegen but, there was a Philips factory there. The factory comprised of three sections. The Germans were apparently using the middle section, I believe they were producing electronic or radio equipment. That middle section was attacked and bombed by a squadron of Mosquito fighter-bombers. They completely destroyed that centre section with only minor blast damage to the buildings on either side, buildings occupied by mainly Dutch people. Not bad for a plane made out of wood.

On 19th December the Battalion returned to the “Island” and took over from 1st Black Watch. 24 hours later we were on the move South and East.

 Battle of the Bulge.

The German 5th and 6th Panzer armies attacked through the Ardennes, opposite Liege, a little before Christmas 1944. Their attack fell on the American 1st Army front. The first Americans we saw  were running away, there were as many as ten to a Jeep, throwing their weapons away. We were disgusted and dismayed. They were leaving their own people to whatever fate decided. It looked to us that they would have fitted twenty or thirty to a Jeep if it had been possible. These guys were not at all like the 101st we had met earlier near Nijmegen, or the defenders of Bastogne, who, though surrounded, refused to surrender.

We reached Liege on the last day of December and the Battalion occupied a hill above Liege itself. We moved into Liege on new years day. I was billeted in the casino, which had been stripped of everything of any value. Next day three others and I were billeted in a house with a Belgian Family, Walter, Margueritte, Nicolas and Georgette and little Pol, in the Chaudfontaine area.
A platoon of “D” company received a direct hit on their billet from a “V.1”, which blew the house to pieces. Amazingly no one was hurt, though a little dazed.
The next two days were spent carrying out old familiar routines indicating an impending battle. We were faced with Arctic conditions. Snow covered the ground, and the roads were ice-bound. Tanks and carriers slithered across roads, and often into ditches and their tracks had to be fitted with special shoes to keep them mobile. Anyone who experienced these conditions will tell you that they have never felt so cold.

On 8th January we were on the move towards Marche. We arrived at Hotton at 1030 hours to find that the Battalion area consisted of two ruined and burnt out villages. It was decided that a new location was needed so we proceeded to Marche, the first of the Battalion arriving at 1930 hours with the last vehicle arriving at about midnight.

On 10th January we carried out an attack across the main Laroche - Marche road. Reveille was 0600 hours, breakfast 0645, with the advance commencing at 0900. We advanced in lorries to Hotton, and picked up our support tanks at Bourdon. We were to proceed down the La Roche road through Rendeux, Hodister, Genes to Halleux. Between Hodister and Genes we came under shellfire. We were advancing across bare hillsides in full view of Jerry observation posts. There was no alternative.
I was sitting in the cab of the lead lorry with Lieutenant Bowen sitting between the driver and me. We were just cresting a hill when we took a direct hit from a German 88mm gun. I got out without a mark on me. When I had regained my senses I realised that Lieutenant Bowen wasn’t with me. I managed to pull him clear but he had received a face wound. It looked as though he had lost an eye. The driver was killed along with three others in the back. There were also ten wounded. Luckily some shells were landing in the snow and failing to explode, otherwise the casualty figure would have been much higher. We were extremely unlucky as we were some way behind the lead Battalion of 152 Brigade who had gone through unscathed. 
When we set out a young lad had asked if he could have the tailgate of the lorry down to allow more air into the back, to which I gave the OK. When the shell hit, it blew him and his mate clear, causing them minor injuries. It transpired that the young lad, George Thompson, of East Ham, London, was only seventeen years of age and not old enough to be on active service. After treatment at an aid station he was returned home, a lucky to be alive young man. I, on the other hand, had to carry on with the attack. Lieutenant Bowen was a sad loss to me. He had become a good friend, someone to talk to in the blacker moments. He had written comforting letters to my wife, and was always supportive. I believe his family came from the Northampton area, his Father owning or running a shoe factory or shop.

As we approached the lead Battalion, (2nd Seaforth), in Halleux, we came under shellfire again. We debussed and went in on foot. Our objective being the small village of Ranchamp. “B” company were in the lead, well off the road to some woods on our right. We in “A” company advanced up the road, which we soon discovered, was heavily mined. We had one tank and one reconnaissance car blow up on mines. I led my squad along a ditch on the left side of the road and, Sergeant Kenny (“Porky”) Hearns doing the same on the right. As we approached our objective we came under shell and mortar fire. Within a few seconds we were subjected to Spandau machine gun fire with everybody hastily diving for cover. I managed to dive behind a small monument or shrine in the shape of a cross with machine gun bullets chipping the concrete away just above my head. I was pinned down well and truly. I shouted to “Porky” to make sure he was OK.: Porky had the radio set in his squad and called up tank support. When the tank arrived the Spandau fire ceased and we nervously made our way forwards. We could see a farmhouse ahead of us and saw the gun flashes as the Jerry artillery fired. We advanced with the “Honey” tank and then made a mad dash to the farmhouse. We lobbed grenades through the windows and entered the house. It wasn’t a house at all, but a fortified bunker made to look like a house. As we entered the building the Jerries ran out the back. We saw them disappearing into the distance. They obviously didn’t fancy taking the tank and us on. We finally reached our objective at 2130 hours without sustaining any casualties. It must have been the day for miracles. We received our meal just before midnight.
Over the next few days prisoners came in readily, they were not the best troops that the Germans had, and there was a remarkable lack of officers taken prisoner. Their best troops had obviously withdrawn ready to fight another day.

The Battalion was finally established in the village of Rendeux, from there the scout Platoon linked up with patrols of the American 101st U.S. Airborne Division. We were given a few days rest during which time we went stalking Stags. The result being that we all enjoyed a Venison dinner. We also enjoyed some real coffee courtesy of the Yanks.
A long journey began on 18th January, via Laroche and Liege, through Eindhoven and Best, once again reaching Vught on 23rd January.
Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, 30 Corps Commander (of which 152 Brigade was a part) visited 5th Camerons on 27th January.

The Reichswald.

 At Vught it was obvious to everyone that a major operation was looming, though we had no idea as to what that operation or target was. We knew it involved clearing woods, as every company in turn was exercised in wood clearing, though the training did not prepare us for what we were to find. This would be the bloodiest fighting that I was ever involved in.

On 8th February we moved into our concentration area at Mook, a much-shelled village three miles from the Dutch - German border, on the banks of the River Maas. We were ready for our share in what was to be some of the most severe fighting ever to take place in Europe. If ever there is a Hell on earth, this place was it. The Forest was dark and foreboding and in a way, terrifying.

The Battalion left Mook by route march after a hot meal at about 0230 hrs, 9th February, for the long approach march to the forest. We reached the forest at first light without sustaining any casualties, to find the Black Watch in control, though the situation was somewhat fluid with enemy snipers everywhere. We advanced on a one company front, "D" Company leading. We had a troop of three tanks supporting us but, after only about 200 yards we encountered a huge crater, which succeeded in halting the tanks, so "D" Company continued to advance alone. We accounted for several enemy strong points, machine-gun posts etc., en route, and took some eighty odd prisoners. I lost one of my boys on the first day. There were three Germans wearing SS uniform coming in under a white flag. Two were supporting the centre one who was bandaged and wounded. I sent out a young lad, (he had only been with us three days) to bring them in. When he reached them the wounded German stood up and shot my boy between the eyes. He was just eighteen years of age. We emptied our guns into those Germans. We would be reluctant to honour a white flag again. About 300 yards further on we were hit with what seemed to be every type of weapon the Germans possessed. We were pinned down good time. The Jerry snipers then started in earnest. The density of the forest took us completely by surprise. We thought it was only the poor buggers in the Jungles of Burma that didn't see the enemy until they were ten yards away. It was only possible for one man at a time to pass between the trees.
I was taking cover behind a tree; I had a corporal about five yards to my right and two privates on my left. Bullets were taking the bark off the tree just above my head. Shots were coming in from all directions, from our front, left and right flanks, and even from behind us. I shouted to my boys to lay still and wait for the tanks. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw the corporal's head gently nod and his chin rested on his chest, a snipers bullet had hit him just above his left ear. When I looked to my left both of the privates were dead also, one with a head wound, the other through the throat. One of the boys was only nineteen years old.
The "Crocodile" tank (Flame throwing tank) arrived on scene and sprayed the tops of the trees with hundreds of rounds of machine gun fire, toppling the snipers out of their roosts, that and the fact that "B" Company were flanking them saved "D" Company. We gained our objective with a final bayonet charge and the three tanks we had set out with firing high explosives at point blank range into enemy dugouts.
We continued to advance along a track with the tanks on our right flank, until we reached a cross track, which was taken mainly due to "C" Company. Snipers were still firing at us from all directions. It had taken the Battalion all day to advance 1500 yards. The Germans were mainly Paratroopers, mostly fanatical, who kept firing until wiped out, usually at point blank range, with hand to hand fighting not uncommon.

At one point we had run out of ammunition and we finished off one position, attacking and killing the occupants with our trenching tools. It was a particularly bloody affair but they were never going to surrender, and as the saying goes Kill or be Killed. Those defenders suffered a particularly violent and bloody death. You know, you can actually take a man's head, clean off his shoulders with a trenching tool.  We spent that night consolidated in the cross track area and 2nd Seaforth moved through us to take the lead at first light 10th February.
The Seaforths hadn't got far before they were held up by determined resistance from the German 7th Parachute Division. 5th Camerons were immediately ordered to push through this enemy pocket. We in "D" Company were ordered to push round the right flank. We advanced, supported by "Crocodiles", but the fighting was intense and bloody. The "Crocodiles" would spray long spurts of flaming liquid as they went, the screams of those on the receiving end were terrible. The smell of burning flesh is something that stays with you forever, a horrible sickly sweet smell. One of the tank commanders could be seen in the turret of his "Crocodile", he had a blood stained bandage round his head and he was screaming all sorts of obscenities at his targets as he went. Those tanks certainly saved us a lot of casualties. We still had, what was now becoming normal practice, of having to fight at really close quarters. When you are fighting a man at arms length and closer, you can smell him, smell his fear, and your own. Kill or be killed.
We eventually fought our way through the enemy and left the remainder to be duly mopped up by the Seaforths. We continued our advance for about another two miles until darkness fell. The night was pitch black, bitterly cold with a heavy drizzle forming a mist. We had to hold onto the bayonet scabbard of the man in front to avoid getting lost on our way to our bivouac for the night. "B" Echelon arrived late that night with a hot meal for us. Again we had been under constant fire all day. A few enemy shells landed in our area during the night, a result of which 2930651 Sergeant A. Mackenzie, who won the Military Medal at St. Honorine in June 1944, was wounded and evacuated.

While breakfast was being dished out next morning, (11th February), a German fighting patrol infiltrated the H.Q. area. Apparently the only casualties were a few food containers, though the people who lost their breakfasts were none too happy. Once we had beaten off the patrol we settled in our positions for the rest of the day, avoiding the odd incoming shell. Again due to casualties to the Battalion, "D" Company was split up and shared out amongst the remaining three rifle companies. We remained in our positions for two days. We were shelled at fairly regular intervals causing a few casualties.

To give some idea as to how confused and how fluid the fighting was, a couple of incidents stand out. One of our guys was walking back to his position after drawing breakfast from the cook's truck, a mess tin in each hand. He saw three men coming towards him on the same track, heading for the truck. When they were close enough in the early morning half-light, he realised that they were Germans. He brought in three prisoners with his breakfast. On the same day a German corporal was captured carrying a bag of mail to what had once been his company area.

After what had been two days of comparative rest, "D" Company was revived and the Battalion moved to the village of Hekkens. We knew another attack was imminent. We were to attack Hervorst. The village was dominated by a tree covered hill about two miles from Goch, and formed part of a reserve line of the Siegfried Line: which consisted hereabouts of enormous Pill-Boxes, buried deep under hillocks of ground, all mutually supporting and housing 150mm guns.

At last light on 16th February, behind a heavy barrage, we left the forest and crossed the river at Hekkens, and advanced on Hervorst. Apart form the inevitable mines, we met relatively light resistance, taking out a few Spandau machine gun positions. Hervorst was taken and "C" and "D" Companies advanced a further mile in the direction of Goch. During the advance a thick mist came up off the river and made visibility so bad that we captured some Germans before they knew we were amongst them. We then bedded down for the night, as usual, cold and wet.

During the night of 17th-18th February "D" Company moved east of the wooded hill of Hervorst to clear the intervening ground and link up with the 5th Seaforth. When we finally halted and encamped, I couldn't find "Porky". Somebody told me that he had been seriously wounded. He had been caught in a blast from a mortar shell, having the back of his legs shot away. It was a serious wound as he was immediately evacuated back to England. (I was to see "Porky" again after the war, visiting each other at various times. The last occasion being about 1965. He and his wife were holidaying in Clacton and drove to Ipswich to visit me, where we had a night of reminiscing, with the odd dram of whiskey. "Porky" was to emigrate to Australia the next year to be with his son and his family. He had been there about two years when he was diagnosed as being terminally ill. "Porky" died shortly after, I believe, a belated casualty of that "bloody Reichswald").
During our attack we were pinned down by heavy shell and machine gun fire from a gun emplacement well dug in. Our officer managed to contact a tank and sent it to our aid. When it reached us I got the platoon in cover behind it. I got on the inter-com phone at the back of the tank and directed the fire of the tank. The second high explosive shell it fired scored a direct hit, blowing the Jerry anti-tank gun into the air. The remaining Jerry's emerged waving white flags shouting "Nicht Schissen". Two of the boys started out to bring them in, but I stopped them. After what had happened on previous occasions I was tempted just to shoot them on the spot, but instead, I got them in front of the tank and made them lead our advance. If their comrades wanted to shoot us they would have to kill their own first. All's fair in war.
During the advance through the Reichswald, I was confronted by a Jock leaning against a tree, he asked me for a cigarette. I gave him a cigarette and lit it for him, and he just rolled round the tree and fell to the ground. He had a large hole where his stomach and intestines should have been. Neither he nor I realised he was already dead.
The Battalion took over a sector of the line from 5th Seaforth, near Asperden, where we spent our time for three days, on active patrols and being subjected to the usual shelling and mortaring. We had the odd lighter moment, not the least of which was watching Rocket firing Typhoons having a go at Jerry. It was always an enjoyable experience, when being on the delivering side.

On 25th February an attack was made on a nearby village, which contained three Pill-boxes, and it was surrounded by an anti-tank ditch on three sides, with a river on the fourth: the garrison consisted of two full strength Infantry companies.
At 2200 hours after a heavy barrage the attack went in, we had reached our objectives after about an hour, Jerry giving up without a fight. "C" Company were ordered to capture the third Pillbox. They couldn't find it. The officer was convinced that he was in the correct location. Apparently, a willing prisoner volunteered to guide the company to the pillbox, it was so well disguised as a farmhouse that it defied detection even in daylight. Interrogation of the prisoners revealed that their officer was absent at a conference when the attack went in. The Jerry's decided that the only shots to be fired would be at any German who tried to repulse our attack. We took 200 prisoners that day. So ended the battle for the Reichswald. We had been under almost constant fire, from 9th February to the 25th., Reichswald had cost 5th Camerons three officers and twenty other ranks killed; eleven officers and one hundred and forty five other ranks wounded. This surely can't go on much longer.

We had taken some unexpected casualties at certain times during the Reichswald battles. When we moved through the Seaforths to take the lead they would tell us that the way ahead was clear. We would move out in extended line and before we had gone far we would come under mortar and machine gun fire. "Bloody Seaforths said it was clear". It was later rumoured that they had a German in their ranks, (He had been masquerading as a Jock for about three months) and was tipping off the Jerry's as to our movements. If the story is true, he was only discovered as a result of being wounded during a bombardment and being treated at an aid station. It might also explain why we suffered casualties during our advance during the Battle of the Bulge, as the Seaforths were lead battalion that day.

On 28th February the Battalion moved to Nijmegen, where we enjoyed eight days rest. On 4th March the pipes and drums played (with the massed pipe bands of the 51st Division) at Hervorst, during the visit of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The next move was on 8th March to Belgium--and its importance was obvious. In the village of Kinrooi, on the West Bank of the River Meuse, the Battalion began its preparation for the crossing of the Rhine.

 Crossing the Rhine.

There was no "D" Company for the crossing of the Rhine. On 20th March we left Kinrooi and reached our concentration area, near Udem, about seven miles from the Rhine, where we bivouacked.
On 23rd March we were issued with twenty four-hour ration packs and lifebelts. We all checked and double-checked our weapons ready for the off. At 2100 hours the Battalion marched about eight miles to our assembly area on the bank of the Rhine, a piper leading each company. Assembly was completed by 2330 hours when tea and rum was issued. We dug slit trenches, as we were well into the battle zone, and shells and mortar bombs were falling continuously. The river where we were to cross was flowing at 5 knots, and was a quarter of a mile wide. 152 Brigade was to be a follow up formation and not the main assault Brigade. We were to cross the River in R.E. Storm-boats, wooden framed, canvas covered, with a small out-board motor. The opposition we were to encounter would mainly be the fanatical but respected Parachutists, supported by Panzers, who would fight us for every inch of ground.

The wait in the assembly area was a nervous time, for, by the time we reached the river, Jerry had ranged in on the Storm-boats and was freely strafing them as they lay against the bank. Within half an hour of starting to ferry people across, there were only about a dozen of the original thirty boats left. 152nd Brigade took three times as long as it should have done to get across the river. The Battalion was complete on the far side of the river by 0330 hours, over two hours behind schedule. By this time we should have been about a mile and a half from the river, almost to our objectives, through the assaulting Brigades. The Company Commander was given a new route to our original objective, by now it was almost first light. At 0515 hours we moved to the start line through the 2nd Seaforth. We made our way along ditches because of the snipers firing at us from the left. We finally reached the 5th Black Watch in Esserden, well behind schedule.
At first light the Battalion should have been attacking a brick works in the Mittelburg area, it was now going to be a full daylight attack.
The first Camerons, "C" Company, crossed the start line at 0815 hours only to meet determined opposition as they neared their objective, suffering casualties from small arms fire as they broke cover to take a farm building beside a flooded anti-tank ditch. They managed to take their objective but any movement was replied to with small arms fire and shelling by self propelled guns.
"A" Company was ordered to go and help "C". We were supported by a troop of tanks but three of the leading four were hit by self-propelled guns, firing at short range from cover of the buildings in Mittelburg. We began taking casualties form small arms fire coming from our right rear, we were in deep shit.
Before the attack each company was given two radio sets, but they proved to be useless. None of the companies could contact each other, resulting in nobody knowing what the situation was. We had "C" Company way up ahead, out of touch with anybody. "A" Company, we were straggled out along a ditch, unable to be picked up and launch another attack, and began to think that we had had it.
A message runner got to us and "C" Company and we were ordered to withdraw after dark and to form up for another attack. I think "C" went into reserve as they had suffered nine killed and twenty-five wounded.
"A" Company left and "B" on the right, the Battalion crossed the new start line at 2300 hours. As soon as we made the entrance to the village we were hit by heavy mortar and small arms fire. Jerry riflemen were firing at us from the upper storeys of the buildings, Phosphorus grenades soon settled the argument. Jerry Paratroopers fought to the last as usual, fighting hand to hand in the buildings until we finally established ourselves in the village at about 0200 hours. We spent the next day reorganising, while the 153rd Brigade passed through. We had been under constant fire for forty-eight hours.

We heard that day that 51st Divisional commander, General Thomas Rennie (big Tom), had been killed as a result of a direct hit by a mortar on the jeep in which he was travelling, during the crossing of the Rhine battle. War has no respect for anyone, regardless of rank.

On the night of 27th March we moved out of Mittelburg, on our way to the start line for an attack on Isselburg. We in "A" Company took some casualties from shell fire en route, two of my boys, one on my immediate left, and one to my right, were both wounded by the same shell. Apart from singed hair around my ears, I was again unscathed. My luck was still holding. We passed through "C" and secured the centre of the village a little after mid-night. "B" Company passed through us and took the bridge leading out of the village at about 0200 hours. We were subjected to heavy shellfire in Isselburg during the 28th of March.
That night, at 2100 hours we crossed our start lines Northwards, almost immediately "B" Company was pinned down by heavy shellfire, we in "A" moved through on the left and captured the first objective, encountering very little opposition. The Scout platoon captured some buildings on our right, and "C" Company took and occupied the rising ground and farm buildings to our left at about 0300 hours. The Battalion was now established on the line of the canal facing Dinxperlo. Dinxperlo, we found out, was in Holland, there being a bit of a kink in the German / Dutch border. It seemed a trifle strange to us, to be heading to what was now, to all intents and purpose, a liberated country. There was intermittent shelling during the day, but that night the 154th Brigade passed through to attack Dinxperlo, the Guards Armoured Division broke out, and 5th Camerons immediate task was complete. The Battalion had taken 145 prisoners from the Isselburg area, as well as killing several that had wanted to die for the Fatherland and Adolf.

On 30th March the Battalion moved to schuttenstein. This place was unbelievable. It looked as though it was in another part of the world, the war had completely by-passed it. Not a bullet hole, shell fragment, not a scratch on it. It was all a bit surreal. So far, this side of the Rhine had been nothing but devastation. We remained in the area for six days.

On 7th April we had a long road move to Enschede. On arrival we were given an unbelievable welcome, I wondered what it would have been like if we had liberated them. We were to stay for two pleasant days. I got the pleasant surprise of eleven days leave, and returned to Ipswich, to be greeted with "When have you got to go back, how long have you got". As ever I kept most of the household awake, screaming out in my sleep. "Sarge, don`t leave me Sarge".

I caught up with the Battalion at Ganderkesee, only to pack almost immediately to move to the area of Delmenhorst. Over the next two days we moved first to Holtum and then Otterstedt. We were to carry out an assault crossing of the river Kamme, with the 5th Seaforth, to capture Bremervorde. Plans were altered and 5th Seaforth crossed the river by means of an A.V.R.E. bridge and captured the town on 30th April. On 2nd May we passed through Bremervorde, mounted on Kangaroos, and captured and occupied the small village of Glinde. We took a few prisoners but lost one of our tanks.

5th Camerons had taken their last objective of the war.

On 4th May we received news of the capitulation of all German forces in Holland, North Germany, and Denmark, though the official surrender to Field Marshal Montgomery would not take place until 8th May.

On 7th May the Battalion moved to Fickmuhlen, where we checked German troop concentrations and searched for arms and ammunition dumps.

On 12th May, at Bremerhaven, 51st Highland Division marched past Lt.-General Sir Brian Horrocks, commander of 30th Corps, and 5th Camerons supplied the only fully kilted contingent on parade.

A week later the Battalion went to Cuxhaven, and on 24th May the port was formally handed over. The rest of us of "A" company, moved to Ohr, on the outskirts of Hameln. It turned out to be quite a pleasant place.

I returned to the Battalion to bid a fond farewell to R.S.M. Jock Slee. Jock Slee had badgered his way back to us at Hertford so he could keep an eye on "His Boys". He must have been one of the oldest other ranks to see action. Jock Slee would see that my leg was giving me pain when on parade and after a couple of laps of parade he would pull me to one side and send me on an important errand, to give me a rest. He told me afterwards that had I not made the effort, parades would have been a lot harder. He was a hard man, but fair. Jock Slee spotted a soldier saluting Lt. Colonel Lang, the salute not being returned by the C.O. Jock Slee immediately confronted the C.O. and informed him that if he ever caught him not returning a salute again he would report him to the Adjutant. I bet that hasn't happened too often.  I considered Jock Slee a good friend and a true Cameron.

From June 1944 to 5th May 1945, 5th Camerons had suffered a total of 1224 casualties, consisting of 96 Officers and 1128 other ranks. Of these, 21 Officers and 233 other ranks were killed or died of wounds.

My luck held.!!!

War Over.

 I was asked to sign up for further service and make army life my career, I was given leave and told to think it over. I returned home to Ipswich knowing we were still fighting the Japs, so no contest, I was not going to re-enlist. As it turned out it was possibly the wrong decision as V.J. Day was not far off. On returning to Germany, time was taken up with searching for Black marketeers and various undesirables, sports, and training conscripts. The sports culminating with four days of Divisional games held in the stadium at Verden in September, 5th Camerons winning the tournament by 43 points.

In October the Battalion moved to Westertimke, to guard Nazi Prisoners. Westertimke camp had originally been home to captured British sailors and Merchant seamen. The movie "Albert R.N." was filmed here, showing how the prisoners would assemble a dummy in the shower block, (which was remote from the camp) and return to the camp while an escapee was hiding in the shower block waiting for darkness, to effect an escape.
The camp consisted of two pens, holding a total of 5000 prisoners, it was a toss-up as to who had the best accommodation, the Prisoners or their guards. I was installed as one of the discipline officers of Pen 6, holding a thousand S.S. and two thousand Whermacht troops. The S.S. seemed to be running the camp on our arrival, something that was to change very rapidly. Before we took over guard duty, there had been the odd escape, there were to be no more whilst 5th Camerons were in charge.
Each hut had a set of scales, a primitive balance, in order to give each prisoner the same amount of rations. I had been tipped off that someone was pinching food from some of the weaker spirited prisoners. I visited that hut at mealtime and just walked around the room as the Prisoners ate their food in complete silence. When I was behind the thief my informant would blink his eyes. I did another circuit of the room and then ordered the offender outside and stood him at attention. I asked him to explain his actions, no response. I decided to make him double time round the compound. When he dropped he was encouraged to get up again with a kick or a well-aimed rifle-butt. He eventually confessed to his activities and was sent for screening. He was S.S. and still a fanatical Nazi. As far as I was concerned he may have been responsible for the women and children who had been blown up and burned in that building at Heusden, in Holland.

There were six Polish Prisoners, who had joined the S.S., in the camp, and were known to have murdered some unarmed Jocks. We knew the facts but hadn't been able to prove it. I had them stand at attention for a couple of hours with intermittent questioning. No answers were forthcoming. I then had them doubled round the compound. Every time they dropped or began to tire they were encouraged to keep going, they were hit with rifles, canes and sticks, or given a swift kick. They all, one by one, began blaming each other. They were sent off for trial. When the guard arrived to transport them to their next destination, I hadn't finished the paper work. The M.Ps. said not to worry, as they would be dead by tomorrow afternoon. I had no reason to disbelieve him.

Several of the S.S. troops received fearful beatings at times, usually by their fellow Germans, but some were carried out by our guys who were of Jewish persuasion. Understandable, and the investigations were never carried out with overmuch enthusiasm, case unsolved.

The majority of the Prisoners were like us, ordinary soldiers just wanting to go home and starting life over again.
The 30 Corps Commander, Lt.-General Sir Brian Horrocks visited the camp, and I escorted him on his inspection of the camp. We had tea together and he congratulated us on what we were doing, and patting me on the back said "keep up the good work".
One internee, Hans Hofmeier, was an artist and his home was a couple of miles from the camp. He had been arrested after someone had said he was a member of the Nazi party. It was probably as a result of jealousy or some neighbourly dispute. He was not a particularly well man. I escorted him to his home on more than one occasion, so he could have some time with his wife. He would collect what few paints he had and return to camp to paint. He painted a head and shoulders portrait of me and then said he would like to do a full portrait, which he did. Frames were made from scraps of wood. The finished articles were very good, with the frames made to look antique. I still have those paintings and frames to this day.
The Quartermaster got knowledge of the artist and the portraits and decided he wanted the same. I told him we hadn't any paint. Next day the artist had a day out of camp in a truck, collecting paints, courtesy of the Quartermaster. There was still the question of payment. Hofmeier was a pipe smoker and had been smoking what smelt like wood chippings or acorns, or something horrible anyway. I told the Quartermaster that I needed some tobacco to pay informants to persuade them to give any relevant information we needed. The artist never went short of tobacco again. When I gave him his first pouch of Erinmore, you'd have thought I had given him the Crown Jewels.

The Internees finally realised that co-operation was the best course of action, with one or two notable exceptions, as usual, S.S. men. I had received leave and returned home for Christmas, when I returned to Westertimke, I could hear the uproar in the camp before I got to it, I decided to delay my arrival until after dark. While I had been away a young officer, straight from training school, had been put in charge and had totally lost control, the inmates were running the Asylum.

Next morning I got the Guards to get the whole camp on parade, with instructions not to let on that I was back. The Inmates would not come to attention and were shouting and yelling abuse. I stepped out of the Guardroom to almost instant silence, I had been watching the whole episode and knew the ringleaders. S.S. men again. On my instructions they were kept at attention for three hours. Then all the huts were searched and everything turned upside down, with everything left in a total mess. They were then allowed in to clear up, under close supervision. All that was considered contraband was confiscated and the owners put on either half rations or Bread and Water, some were given solitary confinement. The ringleaders were sent elsewhere for further interrogation and screening.

One SS man pulled a knife on one of my corporals. The corporal was a conscript and had no Idea how to handle men who had been fighting for four or five years and was, in all probability, terrified. I went berserk and kicked that German all around the room. I bet that’s the worst kicking he ever received in his life. I had him sent to solitary confinement and told the guards there what he had done. He got another beating plus, he was put on bread and water. He was also deprived of a bed, forced to sleep on the concrete floor with just one blanket. He came back to me a very subdued person.

I had grave concerns for the German nation if people like those S.S. were allowed back on the streets too early. These people were threatening their fellow countrymen who had been their comrades in arms. I don't think I will ever understand their ways or actions.

On 27th February 1946, the Battalion moved to Hanover, for Law and order duties. We spent most of our time running down Black marketeers, though we were proud of the fact that we caught and sent for trial three murderers. We were due to move again in April but orders were cancelled, as 51st Highland Division and 152nd Brigade, were to go into suspended animation by mid-May.

I was demobbed and transferred to the army reserve 12th May 1946.

 

 

Afterthoughts.

 

If there is a God waiting to receive us at the end of our lives, I think he will find it difficult to forgive me for some of the things I have done or been a party to. My only excuse is that I was like a crazed animal, with all the death and destruction and the mutilation of young men all around me.

I confess to having killed unarmed men, men who were trying to surrender, but seeing those bodies of Women and children blown up and burned in the building in Heusden, my comrades and me totally lost control. Who knows we may have done the free World a favour?

I do not think any of my deeds were as bad as some of the atrocities that we uncovered at various places during the war. The concentration camp at Vught alone, should be excuse enough for some of my actions.

When you discover your comrades bodies, laying face down with their hands tied behind their back with barbed wire, shot through the back of the head, you lose all your morals.

Seeing a young lad, shot between the eyes, when he is going to the aid of a supposedly wounded man carrying a white flag, totally destroys any faith you might have in your fellow man.

I have suffered all my remaining days so far, still seeing those grey faces of those young boys, and hearing them screaming and pleading with me, "Sarge, Don't leave me Sarge". I did my best to protect all the novices sent to my platoon, keeping them close to me, to give them a chance of survival while they learnt the ways of war. All too often it was to no avail.

Had I, and hundreds of thousands like me, not fought as we did, and killed without remorse, who knows what the world would be like. Certainly there would not, in all probability, be a state of Israel in existence, not to mention various other religions, races, colours and creeds.

People say that we should forget the war. To them I say. If it had not been for all those men who lost their lives; those who were disabled for the rest of their lives; Men who have suffered guilt and mental breakdowns. Nobody in the world as we know it to-day, would have the liberty to say and do almost anything that they like.

 

"Freedom is a most precious thing, without freedom we are lost".

 

I am nearing my 87th Birthday, and I still think it should be a compulsory part of education, as in Holland, that children are told of what happened and what my generation went through. Perhaps then they would have a better understanding and a bit more patience and respect,-------- for the "Silly old Fart".

 
George Sands M.M.

Proud to have been a member of the "Family"

 THE QUEENS OWN CAMERON HIGHLANDERS.

"Keep `em Moving".

 

Site constructed, owned & maintained by Richard Sands