Kenneth Taylor’s War Diary page 10
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Mon 9 – Tues 17 October, 44
The main enemy in these positions is the mud. It rained all day and everything is a sea of mud. Fortunately we have Bn HQ in a house which stands at a road junction and from the map would appear to be about the most obvious place to shell. However we are perfectly happy because all the shells land either about a quarter of a mile to the North or 200 yds to the South where there is nobody. The only unpleasant activity is from a Spandau which although it is some distance away fires on a fixed line right thro’ the shed which contains the Signal Office. A little digging soon overcomes this worry.
Life is rather monotonous but the time soon passes as there is plenty to do. I seem to be on duty nearly every night and manage to have a fair amount of sleep in the day time after the first few days. Although I have some spare time I am unable to settle down to read or write.
We have built a very fine shower bath in a barn. A copper boiler is kept hot all day and the operator carries buckets of water up a ladder and pours them on to a perforated trough under which the ablutionists stand. By means of this the whole Battalion has had a good bath in a few days.
The whole of the Island is absolutely flat and as there are very few trees in some parts it makes movement in daylight very difficult. This means that the forward companies have to have their dinner taken up after dark and their breakfast before daylight. The same applies to lines which are broken by shell fire – which is fairly often.
There is ample food to supplement one’s rations. The potatoes, tomatoes, and fruit are rotting and the cows and pigs starving. We have offered to send them to Nijmegen but nothing is done about it so we help ourselves.
Weds 18 – Sun 22 October, 44
We came back to Nijmegen for a few days rest. The town is still being shelled regularly but the air raids are not so frequent now. I did not bother to do so much work this time but spent more time visiting people. I feel very much at home now and would find this town perfect if only the war would move a little further away. Unfortunately if it did we should move with it. The Dutch people are rather impatient that we should move on and liberate the rest of Holland, but this is impossible until Antwerp can be used.
Heard a marvellous lecture on the war by the Corps Commander – Gen Horrocks.
Sun 22 Oct – 4 Nov approx
Returned to the Island again. Getting to know the place now. I do not mind so much having to go back, especially in view of the fact that a few days rest comes fairly regularly. We took over from 6DLI this time in a position just North of Elst. One Company is in a position which is mortared rather a lot and where grenade throwing exchanges are fairly frequent but otherwise it is not too bad. Bn HQ is in the most marvellous little group of houses where everyone is rather comfortable with stoves and beds etc. Again we seem to avoid the shelling areas nicely.
Became a Capt and spent two days in Brussels. It was interesting to return down the former corridor to Eindhoven. The sight of large numbers of burnt out British vehicles near Veghel recalled the massacre which we just escaped.
In present position there are masses of vegetables, tomatoes, and grapes which we consume and also send to our friends in Nijmegen.
4 Nov approx – 7 Nov approx
Went into reserve position in Elst. C.O. went to Brussels so we had a real rest, the first good rest since D-Day even though we are in a tactical position. No shelling here, no parades nor admin. It is very seldom in the army that one avoids both shelling and parades – as soon as one ends, the other starts.
Had one riotous party in the mess one night in which some people got rather drunk on some horrible apple wine mixed with gin.
7 Nov – 9 Nov, 44
Went into Nijmegen for four days rest. Did very little work and lived with the Stoopmans. We had a Bn dance in a gymnasium which was a terrific success. The town is getting a good deal of shelling again and occasional bombing. It must be seething with spies.
Called back to the Island again two days early at half an hour’s notice. We now belong to the 2nd Canadian Corps, 30 Corps having gone South.
9 Nov, 44 – – – – – – –
Took over positions from American Airborne Regt in and East of Bemmel – horrible place with unpleasant associations. Greeted by heavy shelling from 150 mm guns. Bn HQ living in a number of fairly dry cellars. The forward Coys are occupying trenches mostly containing 3 or 4 feet of water. Most of our energies in this position are devoted to making these places habitable, which we succeed in doing to some extent, by the ingenious use of oil barrels and corrugated iron sheets. The weather is foul and this atmosphere damps one’s spirits – with the monotonous flat countryside, the perpetual grey sky, and the thick mud and brimming dykes. However when the big offensive started further South we felt glad that we were here and not in Geilenbirchen – at last we very rarely suffer any casualties. Nijmegen and its bridge still receive a large amount of shelling and bombing with consequent civilian casualties. Unfortunately it is impossible to do anything about this as the Island is so waterlogged that no push is possible now. One feels that the whole operation which brought us here has become to some extent a white elephant.
We learn about 20 Nov that soon we are going to Roulers near Bruges to do a month or so of training. This is in the main welcome although the amount of bull is bound to be terrific and I anticipate becoming very fed up. The C.O. is difficult enough to tolerate in the line. I cannot conceive what he will be like when we are out of it. At least it will be a few weeks when no-one will be getting killed or wounded.
I often wonder now whether I shall ever settle down again to an uneventful civilian life and ever be able to read or think seriously again.
Twas oozesome and th’ adrysmal blokes
Did Sluyder in a Zee of slutch
All gurgly were the brimming dokes
And the glub gobs sprake Dutch
Beware the Spandau cove my son
The mums that spy, the huns that hate
Beware the Prushyvolk and shun
The wooshing 88
He took his drusty Sten in hand
Long time the lurksome cove he chased
Then stopped to dig by a marleesh pig
With water to his waist
And as in squelging trench he stood
The Spandau cove with eyes aflame
Came sploshing thro’ the swirling flood
A-brrrping as he came
One two, one two, then quite a few
His drusty Sten went clangle-clack
He left him dead and full of dread
He came a-bellying back
Ah! hast thou slain the Spandau cove
Come to my arms my lovesome swod
My worthy chum let’s ope’ the rum
And warm thy drench’ed bod
Twas oozesome etc.
26 Nov – 28 Nov, 44
Relieved by 231 Bde and left the Island again for Nijmegen. Stayed with Stoopmans but only for short time as we left on the night of the 28th for Roulers by road.
29 Nov, 44
Travelled all night in pouring rain and at a snail-like speed. Thro’ Holland the roads run between submerged fields and in the moonlight only water can be seen on all sides, with occasional trees and houses sticking up from it. I had to lead the convoy and only lost the way once! Had breakfast near Alost, but not quite near enough! Arrived in Roulers about 1400hrs and everyone repaired to civilian billets.
30 Nov, 44
Did nothing. I am living in a magnificent house belonging to a very wealthy barrister and the family is very kind. They agree to speak French for my benefit instead of practising their English on me.
1 – 8 Dec, 44
It soon becomes known that we are not here to be trained but for the Division to be broken up. This news causes great depression at first but this is drowned by prolonged and energetic “celebration”. There is no shortage of wine or beer in Roulers and everywhere the people are tremendously generous and hospitable. I accepted one invitation to lunch with my family and a meal which began at 1300 was still continuing at 1530 when I had to give in. I had only to mention any wine or liqueur any time and it was immediately produced.
Another memory of Roulers is the smuggling of four Polish girls over the border from Lille for the officers dance. By about 6 Dec everyone was in a fair state of exhaustion and on learning that I was to have leave in England fairly soon I began to lead a quiet life.
Left Roulers at midday on the 8th for Ostende whence we set sail on a horrible little ship for England – en route for Northern Ireland with a training draft. I am no longer a Green Howard, but a Gloster. In itself this means nothing but the idea of having to start all over again to get to know everyone in a Battalion is depressing.
9 Dec – 10 Dec, 44
Arrived in Folkestone and disembarked in England at daylight – incidentally the first people to disembark at Folkestone for over four years. By train to a Transit camp near Southampton. Escaped from camp at night to spend weekend in London.
11 Dec, 44
Embarked at Southampton in the Sobieski and proceeded to live in a certain amount of luxury – all reminding me rather of D-Day.