“Come on you bleedin’ girl guides’ let’s be ‘avin’ you”, shouts sar’nt-major Kite.
One of the pleasures of army life is being hollered at by sar’nt-major Kite. His big red face with his big red moustache, on his big red head sticks through the flap of our tent.
“Parade in ten minutes’, he bellows. “We’re moving out”.
“Aw no not again”.
The voice belongs to Eddie, my mate, we share the same bivvy, (two man tent).
“Bleedin’ army, ‘aint they got any more bleedin’ soldiers than us lot? That’s all we’ve done is move, move, move”, he says between yawns.
What a sight, Eddie, 5am in the morning, on a lovely summers day in northern France. He sticks his head above the blanket, hair like a porcupine, eyes like a dead fish, breath like a dead porcupine and a dead fish, ugh ‘orrible. Still I wonder, what do I look like?
My names Tich, by the way. I’m a trooper with the 8th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment. We’re harboured, (resting and replenishing under canvas), in a field just south of Tournville. August 1944, we’ve been fighting our way across France since D-day, 6th June.
Eddie’s my mate, an old sweat (reular soldier) who’s looked after me since D-day. Eddie lights his first fag of the day- coughs- coughs and spits- coughs spits and picks his nose.
“Best fag of the day” Eddie splutters,”gonna’ have to get me hands on some more ciggies though, getting’ to the last of these French gaspers.”
That’s the fags he likes to smoke, strong, dark, leave you breathless, just like women, at least that’s what Eddie says.
We’re up, dressed, shaved, and in the breakfast queue in ten minutes. Company cooks have been up since 4am baking, frying, roasting, our porridge, how can they get it to taste like that. Eddie reckons all the cooks are really 5th columnists, sent into our lines to disable our soldiers, Hitler’s idea Eddie says, reckons the sergeant cook in charge is Hitlers cousin, he don’t ‘alf talk rubbish, though I must say there is a certain resemblance.
Grub finished, ablutions completed, kit packed, stand to, company commanders briefing.
“”Right chapss, lisps Major A.S.Beak our company commander. Eddie reckons it should be Major ASS. Beak.
“Right chapss, we’re going to chasse jerry today, he’ss on the run”.
“Must be eating our porridge “, whispers Eddie.
“Shurrup”, suggests sar’nt major Kite, glaring at me and Eddie.
“We are moving by lorriess to Villierss – Bocage, on the Caen road, about twenty miles north”, explains the Major, giving us all a nice shower of spittle. “Where the jerriess, under Field Marsshal Von Kluge and hiss Army Group B are dug in. The objective iss to ssupport the1st Armoured Brigade, and mop up, (Eddie laughs) the jerriess between Fonteney Town and the wooded area, ssouth of the Oden River. “Any Questionss?” No, good, carry on ssar’nt major”.
We mount up on our 3 tonners, Eddie always shows me the easiest way to do things. Like to grab the side and top bar on the lorry and hoist yourself up.
“It’s the quickest way to mount and dismount”, explains Eddie, “handy if a jerry aircraft, or machine gun haves a pop at us”.
Eddie shows me all the ropes, like, move your ammo pouches over so crawling over ground is easier. Ammo in your left pouch if you’re right handed, fags in the left pouch, they’re important, but not as important as ammo. Grenades clipped firmly to your belt, on your right buttock, handy but out of the way. Field dressing tucked in your blouse, so it can be used quickly. Eating irons and spare ammo in your breast pockets, may stop a
bullet. Ten rounds in your rifle magazine plus one up the spout (in the breech ready to fire), safety catch on. All good advice in a tight spot.
We set off, twenty men in the back, two in the cab. Single file, flail tank in front, to explode any mines, tank every three lorries, for protection, armored bren gun carriers, every tenth vehicle for fire suppression, if ambushed by ground forces or aircraft. Thirty troop carrying lorries in all, plus the supporting armour, all ten yards apart. “ Like a deformed caterpillar”, Eddie says. I must agree a strange procession nearly, a mile long crawling intently forwards, towards its uncertain fate.
0930 Hours. The first stonk (artillery barrage, aimed to pepper a moving target), came in. We were close to Ambergene, a small hamlet of maybe twenty houses and a church. We dismounted double quick as the shells burst all around the convoy. Two lorries in front of us brewed up (caught fire) immediately. Whoosh, another stonk, sounding like an express train emerging from a tunnel, crashes nearby.
“Make for the village shouts the sar’nt major, “an’ take cover”
“Come on Tich”, Eddie’s shouting to me above the roar of another fusillade of steel and high explosives. “This ain’t no place for a gentleman.”
We runs into the village, sheltering by the churchyard wall.
“I know this place Tich”, Eddie says looking round the hamlet square. “We passed through here on our retreat to Dunkirk in ’40. Unless I’m very much mistaken we were being blown up then too.
“Very interesting Ed”,I retorts, ” but reminiscing isn’t quite what I want at this minute.”
“No, no Tich, I was thinking about my fag supply.”
“Yer what Ed?
‘I’m low on fags Tich.”
“Are you ‘aving me on Ed? Were being stonked by a bleedin’
Panzer regiment and you’re worried about fags. Well s-o-r-r-y, but I think keeping my head on my shoulders takes priority at this minute.”
“Oooh, touchy”, snorts Ed,” what you gonna’ do when the jerries get serious?
“What”, I shout.
“No, listen Tich , I know for a shop just up this street, it’s got groceries ,veg, ya know, fags and ‘bacco.”
“That’s lootin’ Ed.”
“Well, Tich , I’d rather call it requisitioning supplies, ya might say, refueling, replenishing, redistribution, spoils o’ war, not lootin’. Anyways I need your help.”
“No way Ed, I aint getting’ court martialed, just cos you want a fag”, I said. “Forget about it.”
‘There’s sweeties there as well, “says Eddie slowly.”Jars and jars of sweetiesTich.”
Next thing were on our way, avoiding the incoming shells, avoiding Sar’nt major Kite, avoiding the locals. We move up a typical pretty French street with, wood framed houses with 1st floors jutting out over the flag-stoned pavements. They’ve been standing like this for a hundred years, having missed the ravages of past war and destruction. But, not today, the incoming rounds just obliterate house to our right, hit a yellow painted apartment building to our left. Smoke and dust roll down the once pristine street, the buildings burn.
“In here Tich”, shouts Eddie pointing to a large windowed building, up a cul-de-sac.
In we dives, knocking the door off its hinges.
“Look at this “, drools Eddie, pointing to a shelf with thousands of packets of those French cigarettes Eddie loves.
“Where’s the sweets Ed”, I ask, looking around seeing only fags and bundles of wool.
“Er, dunno perhaps the jerries ate ‘em”, lies Eddie.
Bleedin’ liar there ain’t no sweeties’ the jerries woluldn’t, take the sweets and leave the fags”, I reasoned aloud.
“Must be Hitler Youth troops”, says Eddie as he grabs packet after packet of cigarettes, stuffing them in every available opening on his person. “C’mon Tich, fill your pockets.”
“Stick them up—”, I started to tell Eddie, when like meteorite out of the sky an .88 artillery round burst right outside the shop, bowling me and Eddie over. Showers of glass plaster brick and dust filled the little shop.
“Get out the back way Tich”, I can hear Eddie shouting. “Back to division”, Eddie sounds worried.
I look out of the long gone front of the shop and sea full company of SS Panzergrenadiers, running up the cobbled street, firing in every shop and house.
I throw myself out of the back window, no sign of Eddie. I realise I have no helmet no weapon, my battledress blouse is in tatters, my trousers shredded into strips, but not a cut on me anywhere, nothing.
Time to go home, I says to myself, and runs like mad in the direction of friendly forces, or so I thought. I leaps a dry-stone wall, splash, straight into, what? The oinks and grunts tell me, a bleedin’ pig-sty, flat out in a foot (300mm or 30cm) of pig poo. I tries to get up slips back, rolls over, slips again. Poo in my mouth, in my eyes, in my ears, totally covered, I mange to get on my knees. I look to my front, a pair of boots are there, I look up a Schmeisser machine pistol, (German sub-machine gun) pointed at me, four large German soldiers stood looking down at me.
“Little Tommy schweinhund” says the leader in broken English, “oink oink”, they all laugh, they all laugh very loudly. They march me towards their lines, keeping me at a distance and downwind. I march in my best style, even though they keep making “Piggy” noises at me.
We reach their lines, scores of soldiers, tanks, artillery field guns, nebblewerfers (rocket firing multi-barreled weapons). I was frog marched to a jerry officer sat at a rickety desk with a map laid on it.
“What are you?” He says looking up at me with a smirk on his superior aristocratic Prussian puss.
“Trooper Edgar Thomas Price, serial number 845329112, 8th battalion Middlesex Regiment sir”, I reply standing at attention and staring straight ahead. They’ll get nothing more from me I think to myself.
“What shall we do with Him sergeant? The officer asks a giant of a man standing downwind from me.
“Not enough of him to eat”, says the sergeant,” any way I don’t like English pork”.
“Yer what”, I says.
“Ja” says the officer”.we would have to wash him first, we shall not waste good German soap. Tell your friends little Tommy Atkins; the German army always throws the little ones back. Send bigger Tommies next time we are waiting for them. Escort the little piggyback to his own lines sergeant.
So I found myself fifteen minutes later, a hundred yards from my division, free. I walks proudly, the poo caking in the hot sun. Large bluebottles circled me, and a small pig starts following behind perhaps it thinks I smell like it’s mother. The sentries shout goodto see ya Tich, who’s your friend? “ Take no notice Simbad”, I say’s, that’s what I called my little friend, I didn’t care, I wuz back, wonder if Eddie made it? Wonder if any of my platoon made it?
“Price you apology for a soldier”, I knew sar’nt major Kite had made it. “ Double over to Major Beak and explain yourself”, booms Kite.
Me and Simbad doubles over to Major Beaks tent, sat in the corner in handcuffs was Eddie, corporal Swift guarding him with a rifle and bayonet.
I tells the Major about being captured, what the jerries had said.
He listened intently, and then he spoke slowly, lisping badly, looking at Eddie. “ Private Donovan wass caught with contraband cigarettess, in other wordss looting, he statess that the cigarettess were just lying on the streetss of Ambergene, blown out after the shop
they were in was hit by an .88. If that is true he has no case to answer, but”, the Major looks intently at me, “he needss a witness, otherwisse it’s back to Divission (Headquarters) to a courtss- martial for looting. Without a witness that the cigarettes were bomb damage and were laying in the public street, he iss a looter. Well, can you confirm his sstory”.
Gotcha Eddie, I thinks, gotcha bang to rights. You get me into all sort of scrapes, lie to me, pinch my rations, pinch my dry socks, pinch my shaving gear, even says you’re gonna’ pinch my girlfriend when we get back to Blighty. I look toward Eddie he looks at me, heck –well – he is my mate, after all. “Oh I can confirm what Private Donovan says sir, the fags were blown all over the street by the .88.
“Thank’s Tich, I’ll not forget this”, Eddie says as we leave the Majors tent, he’s a free man, a chastised man, but me and Eddie were prisoners today, each in our own way and now we are both free. “Now Tich about your pig—-”
“Touch Simbad Eddie, and I’ll be back in to see Major Beak, straight away”.
“Ok, Tich, ok, what else can we have for breakfast?”