One day a couple of guys we thought to be Germans came running toward us trying to impress on us that they wanted to surrender at the same time bringing their Spandau with them. They turned out to be Poles who wanted out. As they were left by the Germans they decided to give up when they found they were on their own. They had been dug in not far from us and I think it was them that used to give us a burst every once in a while. Sort of playing games with us.
Things quieted down some what after that. I guess Jerry was moving back and of course we became more bold leaving the safety of our slit trenches, taking a hurried look around the farm yard. There was a lot of dead Germans in and out of their trenches. I think they probably came under heavy tank fire and air burst from 25 pounder artillery. Around the 20th of August we got word that a move forward was in the works, an offensive code named “Tractable” was aimed at a drive for Falaise. At this time we had no idea of the name if the offensive was or what our what our objective was. We were told to be loaded and ready to move out by midnight and there was going to be artificial moon light afforded by a number of search light batteries In the process of getting ready the Germans fired a few air bursts at out location killing men on one of our Bren carriers.
We got rolling at the prescribed time on our way to Falaise. Everyone tense, not knowing what is in store but expecting the worst as most moves from past experiences meant a hot reception. I mention at this move our gun crew was given a new Sergeant , I can not remember his name but I do recall he was from an anti aircraft battery. His knowledge of anti-tank was very limited , however we went forth it seemed a snail’s pace. The artificial light proved fairly good for us. It was very dusty from the tanks etc. I imagine it was about a ten mile trek which turned out to be uneventful. It was getting daylight by the time we came in sight of Falaise. There were a lot of buildings on fire and we were told there were snipers about so keep your eyes open. We were led around the out skirts of the town and ended up in a great expanse of open country. It didn’t seem like there was a war on . We set our gun in position and as assumed did everything necessary for what might come. As usual we did not knew what role we were playing. I finally assumed we were in a flanking position. Most of the firing seemed to be north and east of us and quite a ways off. I remember we spent a very uneventful day in this position. Our newly acquired Sergeant had a jerrican full of cider which he quite enjoyed. By mid-afternoon he was very much out of the war. Luckily, we did not need any help from him.
At this point my memory fails me as to how long a time we spent in this position. The cider did not affect my memory as I had very little use for it. To me it tasted like vinegar. I suppose we were there a couple of days waiting for the pocket to be cleared and then it was a move that took us to the river Seine near a place called Elbouf. On the way I remember seeing hordes of German prisoners being loaded into trucks headed for POW areas. I do know the river had to be bridged and withal the traffic we had to wait a while as the armor and infantry had to get across first so we had little to do for part of a day so we parked in an orchard under trees. As it seemed the war had moved on we did not dig trenches but made our supper and rolled out our blankets to bed down for the night. All was peaceful until about midnight. We heard some planes flying over . Somebody said those are Jerry planes and sure enough, they started dropping flares. Lit everything up like day. As the old saying goes, we were all caught napping literally. It was pretty scary. There were not many planes but the bombs sounded like they were coming straight for us. We laid flat on the ground wishing we had a slit trench to drop in. However, it was all over in a matter of minutes. We had no casualties in our troop. I heard a lot of shouting from an infantry unit near by. They had one or two men slightly injured when the bombs dropped. There was a very loud sort of thump and flame and sparks , dirt and dust all over the place. But as usual when it cleared ole lucky me was still standing.
The next day our battery crossed the river on a Bailey Bridge and proceeded on in. We passed through Rouen and carried on toward Belgium. We were told that there was pockets of resistance along the way and we did come under mortar fire at one point and Sergeant Laing caught a piece of shrapnel. I was laying in the ditch beside him and a piece went through the back of my shirt just missing my hide. From here on to Antwerp we just seemed to roll along taking up a position which seemed to me north of Antwerp, a small town. We put our gun into firing position and found everything quite sodden and water logged. Tried to dig a trench without much success as the water was there about a foot below the surface. However, at this time we did not come under much fire, luckily for us as there was no protection except for a house that was vacated by its owner. We had a little protection from the weather. We set up house-keeping in the basement and also slept there. The basements in that area were very shallow being low land and at this time it was much worse due to the flooding of the country by the enemy who very systematically made travel by any other means but by highways or cross country impossible.
We took a defensive position covering a road. We spent a few days in a fairly quiet location except for the odd shell toward nightfall. We were told it was a self propelled gun that would move up at dusk, fire a few rounds and back out before someone drew a bead on him. I’m glad to say we were not one of his targets and we were not able to spot him. He was probably a half mile away and firing from some well concealed position.
The weather continues heavy overcast , some rain and about forty degrees above . At this time there were six of us. We slept in the basement, put all our blankets together. We only carried one so keeping warm was not always possible. Of course you never took your clothes off so we pulled on all we had and some times scrounged a blanket from a deserted house as there was seldom anyone living around the area where the war had passed through.
I can not remember how many days we spent at this location nor the name of the little town but it was some where north of Antwerp. We finally got the order that a move was coming shortly as the port of Antwerp was secure. I was not normally glad to hear of a move but this time anything seemed better so we packed up and moved out. We joined up with the rest of the battery and the rest of 4th brigade infantry, field artillery, etc. We were to proceed on to Nijmegen and take up positions now held by the airborne. British, American and Canadian and various units of the British armoured corp. We were supposed to get there as quickly as possible but things didn’t work that way. I , being the spare driver of our crew now had to take the wheel of our tower as our driver was hit in the hand by a piece of shrapnel. I was very new at driving and as green as they come. Before coming to France I was given a three day course on how to drive these towers. They were Ford or Chevy four wheel drives with a built in winch . Well the gears took a lot of filing by the time I got on to shifting. That was my first introduction to becoming a driver so I was given a license and felt proud of the fact that I was the only spare driver in our gun crew. It seems strange but true that like myself not many of the men had much previous experience at driving.
You and I were lucky to avoid such things, Ralph, or were you in Nam?ReplyDelete
I have never been out of Sask. Gorges.Delete
What!! Never been out of Sask?!???!ReplyDelete
And no plans of changing that status either Kate. I'm happy where I am.ReplyDelete
Brilliant post, Ralph. Did Les keep a diary?ReplyDelete
I came across your blog because I am starting to try to write a book about the Archer and searched for "Valentine Archer" in google. Photos of the vehicle are not all that common!
Chris, my dad wrote most of this just from memory when he was already near 80. He had a good memory, no diary. He had a few photos of the Valentine/Archer tanks. I have more to post in the future.Delete
Wow, he had a good memory!ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing his memories as well as how things are on your farm.