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Part Three - Through Belgium

I wasn’t sorry when we had the order to move again, this time LOMBEEK, a village/town near Brussels in Belgium, was our goal. Since the Germans had been defeated in Normandy they were retreating rapidly, hence our short stops at various places. We were told that our stay at LOMBEEK was to be spent on a quick training session on completely new equipment – SPERRY – to be used in competition with RADAR.  

The difference in essence (apart from it being more advanced) was that the equipment was to be used in conjunction with revolutionary shells that exploded by magnetism when they passed close to a target, so if the fuse was too long, or the bearing or angle was slightly out, the shell would detonate as it passed by. We were told that it was a great improvement – for us that is, but not Jerry! I was this time to be the Layer for elevation (angle). I would follow the target through the predictor telescope. We were to be told of our special role on completion of the training spell.  

The journey to LOMBEEK was undoubtedly the most interesting yet. We crossed the Belgian border the following day (it was a slow journey due to congested roads and we had to make several detours as troops and other convoys were also moving up). I was very much impressed by my first introduction to Belgium, clean wide streets, clean people, and surprisingly modern towns compared the old-worldly towns and villages we passed through in France. This, we realised, was because this part of Belgium was the scene of terrible battles in the First World War, and great areas had been razed to the ground. It had since been rebuilt, hence the clean lines and modern appearance.  

The reception and hospitality of the Belgian people was great compared with some of the French. Everybody waved and shouted greetings to us as we passed, and when we slowed down or stopped we were immediately surrounded and plied with handshakes from the back of our lorry. We really did appreciate this, there were no sullen stares or feeling of resentment at all.  

We passed YPRES, the Menin Gate, GHENT, ALOST and NINOU. As night began to fall and our convoy was slowly wending its way, our lorry broke down and we were separated from the rest of the convoy. We were happily in the middle of a village and were soon surrounded by the entire population. Two families took us into their houses and gave us a supper of eggs and bacon, we had a wash, and most welcome of all – a bed with real sheets!  

Can you imagine our feelings as we sank into the soft sheets and pulled the soft eiderdown over us? It was marvellous! I kind of dozed off and later in the night I awoke and the darkness of the room I could hear someone breathing. I nudged my mate and he could hear it too. I climbed out of my bed and there, curled up in his cot, in the same room was a little boy, who somehow we had not noticed before. We got over that little “scare”, really, it was so nice.  

The breakdown truck came for us at midnight much to our bloody anger and, having dressed quickly and said goodbye to our “hosts”, we were within a few minutes once again perched on our lorry. Quite frankly I don’t think the Army would have survived had all we wished come true! – still, we got rid of our feelings. I think the two blokes in the breakdown truck quite enjoyed it, there was a bit of good humoured banter.  

We eventually arrived at LOMBEEK, which turned out to be a lovely, small village in the countryside not far from Brussels. We sited our guns in a grass field on the outskirts of the village, and we were all billeted in the village hall. We were welcomed by the village populace, and very nice people they were. Suffice to say we spent our short time here training on our new equipment, so it was really a respite in a way. There was the school adjoining our billet and we used to hear the kids singing “Hanging out the washing on the Siegfried Line” in English, put on for our benefit I suspect.  

A piano was acquired and put in the hall and I managed to put in a bit of practice and earned the name as the “Belgian Pianist”. Eddie and a couple of other mates and me used to visit a reserved little café come drinking place at night, and I played the piano in there. The patrons were extremely nice, quiet people and they used to listen intently, with some appreciative remarks about my playing.  

The locals laid on a dance for us one evening and as the powers-to-be realised we needed a “let-go”, they turned a blind eye and let us have a fling. The local band was in attendance and what a night! Most of the chaps got a bit tipsy and as we weren’t used to drink this didn’t take long with the stuff they plied us with – Cognac and Calvados!  

After having a ding dong of a time the next thing I remember was cock crowing and finding myself with several other of my mates in a barn amongst the hay. We were frozen stiff and believe me, that cured me of drinking that stuff – never again!  

New from here on 14 June 2014:  

They had us out on training the next morning and my head hurt, our instruments officer, a Lt Clay (a good chap) didn’t say a word, but there was a kind of half-smile on his lips as he watched us trying to concentrate. How I managed to struggle through I don’t know, but there you are, I did!  

By the way, there were some nice girls at the dance, pity we got blotto!  

A couple of days later we stood around talking in the village hall, waiting to go on duty, when there was a tremendous explosion that smashed the glass in the windows and shook the building and us. We wondered what the hell it was. We ran outside and, amid a bit of confusion, discovered it was a flying bomb. It had come down only 150 yards away, and that’s bloody close. These terrible things have a terrific outward blast, leaving no crater. Luckily no-one in the village was hurt as it came down on a bit of waste ground, but there was a lot of glass and debris over a wide area.  

The reason we hadn’t heard it I suppose was because we were talking and it may have cut-out and come down obliquely from a distance away. It was obviously an overshoot or had been turned by a fighter and had no doubt been intended to hit Brussels. That damn thing could have killed a couple of hundred people had it landed on a cinema or similar building in that city.  

Apart from that episode, only one other thing marred my stay there. One or two of us at a time were allowed to go to Brussels for a couple of hours on a “Liberty Wagon”. When our turn came, Eddy and myself were “lucky” enough to go. I won’t go into detail on our experience’s of the city (I will do so later on when we had a weekend leave there), suffice to say we had a good night, until it was time to catch the wagon back.  

This had been arranged for 11 o’clock at the Café Blighty car park. We left as we thought in plenty of time to get there. What we hadn’t reckoned on was the fact that it had started to rain, it simply poured down, and it was dark. Now Brussels is a large city and as we struggled forward with the rain beating against us, we gradually realised we were virtually lost. The rain had driven everyone bar a few people off the streets and the few we met had a job to understand us, and we them.  

One street looked a lot like the others, but somehow we eventually found our car park at the Café Blighty, wet and shagged out. The time was about 11 o’clock, however, the car park was a very large one, with rows upon rows of vehicles, with a large building running through the middle of it. We reckoned that while we were searching one side, our lorry could slip out the other, so we did what we thought to be the sensible thing, we waited at the exit for it to come.  

It did, at 11.20, it had been waiting for us. Now had it been just our mates on it we would have been alright, but unfortunately there was a zealous young officer on board who nobody had seen before and he reported us as soon as we arrived back at our billet. As a result, we were all docked two weeks pay. To this day I am still incensed by the injustice of it, after all we had been through in Normandy, the triviality of being 20 minutes late, through no intentional fault of my own.  

The officer who had started all this kept a very low profile afterwards, he was definitely not the most popular man around. Later on, like most other chaps, I was on a couple of “fizzers” (7 days C.B. offences) but they were “run of the mill” types, occurring with period regularity for all except the straight laced blokes.  

The rest of our stay in LOMBEEK was without further incident, quite pleasant in fact. Then came the day when we were told of our next destination. It was to be a town called JODOIGNE, situated about 22 miles east, and slightly south, of Brussels. It was 30 miles from LIEGE to the east and 20 miles from NAMUR to the south; LOUVAIN was about 15 miles to the north-west.  

We were told that our role was to be engaging V1’s (Flying Bombs) that were being unleashed on Brussels, but we discovered later on the real reason for being sent there. The Germans were preparing for the winter “Ardennes Offensive” and although the Americans bore the main brunt of this, our army was being massed in the area where we were now headed to prevent him launching an attack between LIEGE and NAMUR and making a breakthrough.  

JODOIGNE was situated about midway between these two towns, but geographically as I have described. In the event of a Panzer breakthrough, we no doubt would have been in the thick of it, both as field artillery and anti-tank.  

We said goodbye to our Belgian friends in LOMBEEK and hit the road again and headed for JODOIGNE. On arrival we found it to be a rather long “straggly” sort of town, the main part of which seemed to be built on the sides of the road running through it. Our gun-site was situated in a grass field to the extreme north of the town, overlooking open countryside, which of course was flat.  

Our billets, battery offices etc, were all contained in a large old house (probably a farmhouse) to the south flank of the field, and was in reasonable condition, relatively speaking!  

It was late November 1944 and the weather was deteriorating into what was to be a severe winter. Although no snow had fallen as yet, it was bleak, drizzly and bloody cold, and it wasn’t long before our site was a quagmire of mud and slush. However, we got stuck in and after aligning the guns and all the instruments up (so the site was ready for action), and after guard duties and operational detachments etc were drawn up, we then made ourselves as comfortable as possible. It wasn’t long before our dear old cooks had got a brew going, followed by a welcome dollop of grub. I was a duty predictor number, as well of course being eligible for guard duty, fatigues etc.             

The very same night the alarm bells went and I was on duty predictor detachment. We manned our ports and waited. It was drizzling with rain, muddy and dark. After a while THEY started coming – V1’s. They came from the east (from where I do not know) and passed to the north of us heading for, I presume, Brussels. Before long a different atmosphere existed, one of barked orders, the flash and crack of our guns and others (unseen by us) in this heavily massed area.  

To be quite frank, we didn’t have too much success with those awful bombs. They were quite low, and very fast and bloody difficult to hit. We were at it nearly all night and well into the early hours of the morning. There were dips and peaks in their numbers of course, but there was no point in the officer in command standing us down, only to be repeatedly called out again; so we stayed on duty all the time with just a fag and the odd brew in between periods of action.  

As I have said, it was bloody cold, wet and muddy, and wasn’t very pleasant. I suppose the only saving grace was the fact that unless one of them by some misfortune happened to come down on us, the element of fear and threat to life was nowhere near as great as it was in Normandy. It was the poor sods who were on the receiving end of them in Brussels who suffered! This pattern continued night after night until it became almost like shift work. You rested one night and on again the next.  

As we entered into December the weather gradually deteriorated. The first snow fell and we were damn grateful for our farmhouse. However, we were a cheerful lot, and many times I felt lucky to be with such a good crowd. We all pulled together, and on reflection, although later on I was with other regiments, I still regard the old 103 with affection!  

New from here on 11 July 2014:             

The Germans launched their ARDENNES offensive on the 16th December. Leave to Brussels (48 hours) which had been allowed for the British troops on a rota basis (including us) was suspended for the duration of the battle. We were now on alert for the reasons I have given earlier, to repulse any attempt by the Germans to break through between LIEGE and NAPUR.  

This, fortunately, he did not attempt, and the battle ended in the Americans’ favour on the 22nd January 1945; but only after bitter fighting with heavy casualties in extremely hard, terrible winter weather. Don’t knock the yanks please!  

After this things quietened down and monotony was the chief enemy. We spent a lot of time maintaining our instruments and guard duty etc – but the weather had worsened, snow lie thick, and we were in the grip of a severe winter. However, 48 hour’s leave to Brussels was reinstated and on the 24th January, a friend (not Eddie) and myself were lucky – our turn came early in the rota.  

We arrived there and were billeted in one of the hotels which had been specially set aside just for B.L.A. troops. We were issued with a map of the city and a leaflet with Do’s and Don’ts written on it. We had a damned good time. It is a lovely city, and believe me, the Belgian people did treat us as hero’s, they wouldn’t accept any money on buses etc, and were most kind and friendly. We went on quite a sight-seeing tour, and in one area, which seemed to be all café-come-brothels (it was legal there!), it was quite an experience for me (an inexperienced 19 year old) to see the ladies of these establishments standing in the doorways, banging on the windows and shouting “Come on in Tommy!”  

My mate, who was a town dweller and older than me, dragged me in one “café” and once inside we immediately had one young girl each sitting on our laps! We did, amongst much laughter, manage to get a drink and finally escape with (speaking for myself) my “virginity” still intact. It was all good fun. We went to a cinema etc, and all in all had a bloody good time, which all too quickly came to an end. But this break was just what we and all the other blokes had needed!  

Back at our gun-site I remember Bombardier Searle, a kind “fatherly” older chap, asking me with a twinkle his eye “What did you get up to Summers? – I’m surprised at you!” My mate had a sense of humour and had slightly “embroidered!” our experiences. We had quite a bit of good humoured leg-pulling!  

February came and as the days dragged on, the weather changed to a mixed bag, alternating between snow, sleet and heavy rain. Our site was literally all slush and muck. Near the end of February we were again ordered to move (as the danger of a German breakthrough had diminished), this time our destination was to a place near KNOKKE. I think we were all rather relieved if only for a change of surroundings. KNOKKE itself was situated just inside the Belgian border, with Holland a few miles to the east, and was overlooking the Schelde estuary at its widest part.  

To the north, across the other side of the estuary, was the island of WALCHEREN. To reach ANTWERP our ships (vital to maintain supplies for our army) had to pass between us and WALCHEREN. ANTWERP had fallen into our hands way back on 4th September 1944 but was then unable to be used as a port until the Battle of the SCHELDE Estuary had been decided.  

This battle commenced on 2nd October 1944 and ended on the 8th November in our favour after bitter fighting. ANTWERP was reopened as a port on 28th November 1944. Our role was to supplement existing forces in the area and help protect shipping from German aircraft and miniature submarines which were operating in the area.  

We waived our farewells to JODOIGNE and started on our cold, damp journey, huddled in our greatcoats in the back our lorries. We skirted Brussels and passed through AALST and then GHENT. We had a short stop here and had a brief walk about and in the short time available found it to be a nice, oldish sort of town, with the people again most friendly. We touched on the outskirts of BRUGGES. On arrival at our gun-site, we found it again to be in the wilds so to speak – KNOKKE itself being a couple of miles or so away.  

To get to our gun-site we had had to cross an area which lay below the sea-level. It was an area that was criss-crossed with canals and rivers. The roads were built on narrow embankments with trees lining the sides and the countryside was flat. Also, off the roads it was soft (rather marshy and boggy). Our gun-site once again turned out to be a German site, perched on the top of the great embankment built to hold the sea back. It was not a heavy coastal battery fortification but was used I think for almost anything – observation point, gun-site (with mobile guns), Ack-Ack or whatever the need of the moment.  

It had a commanding position overlooking the approaches to the Schelde estuary. The billets, ammunition stores etc were all thick concrete, completely underground, built slightly into the sloping ground at the rear of the embankment. The cook-house was right at the bottom of the rear of the embankment (below sea-level) and we had quite a walk down to get our grub! – but it was a well organised position. I think it was probably used in fact as a heavy anti-aircraft site by the Germans.  

To the rear of us, looking into Belgium, we also had a commanding view, a panoramic view, we could see for miles looking downwards. It was very sparsely built on, the nearest building being a farmhouse or similar kind of establishment. It appeared to me to be the kind of place where we were going to do a lot of writing home! We soon got organised and found the Germans’ concrete quarters quite comfortable (relatively speaking). Our time was spent on guard duty, spotting duty rotas, day and night, and gunnery drill.  

A few days later we watched as the first convoy passed between us and Walcheren Island, on their way to ANTWERP. After this things changed, the days were quiet but come night the German bombers came, plus call outs for miniature submarines which were operating in the area. Every night and during the early hours of the morning we were in action. The planes droned overhead and once again came the memories of Normandy. The bells would go, our predictor detachment, of which I was now part of, ran to our ports, as did the gunners, height finders etc, and before many seconds had passed all hell was let loose (there many other batteries, including Bofors, in the area.  

I found out that doing my job on the predictor required absolute concentration and this, coupled with the fact that I was doing something to hit back, was far less frightening than sitting on the edge of a bren gun-pit, as I was in Normandy, just watching. Also, we weren’t on a crowded beach-head here! – at least if we were straddled with a string of bombs there was more space for them to land in.  

We had several successes here, we shot a few planes down (or at least we claimed them, it was difficult to be certain as there was so much “shit” being chucked up by the other gun-sites) but that didn’t matter a jot anyway. It did seem that the new equipment was proving itself to be superior. To add to the “fireworks”, Jerry dropped numerous flares, and although I could not look directly at them (having to follow radar on my panel) they at times lit the whole site up, rather eerie in a way, it made one feel exposed. Those of us not on duty said that at times you could pick out the silhouettes of ships on the estuary.  

This nightly pattern continued, but fluctuated now because as we were only in early March we started to get some rough weather, indeed severe at times, and I can tell you we appreciated those concrete bunkers. We were stuck on the top of this great embankment and there was no natural barrier either out to sea or on land (being dead flat) to shield us from the bitter winds, from whichever direction they came from. But no grumbles, we had good grub (bless our cooks), a warm comradeship, this was a good crowd of chaps, and how I thought many times over how lucky we were compared with the poor “bloody” infantry, we all owe a debt of gratitude to them and other assault units.  

New from here on 28 July 1914:

As spring drew nearer, night activity continued according to the weather. On off duty periods we were allowed a “liberty” wagon to visit BRUGES. Eddie and myself managed it two or three times and found it to be a lovely old town with a large clock tower overlooking the square, lovely canals and medieval buildings. It was really like a step back to the past. However, it had had a good shopping centre and cinemas and the people were friendly. I remember going into one café cum drinking place where they had a marvellous old continental organ that almost filled one wall. I could have listened to it all night, real atmosphere it created.  

Back at camp we used to stand on top of the embankment watching V2 rockets being launched from sites in Holland on clear days. We followed them as they left the ground slowly to us (as they were a distance away), heading upwards, out towards England over the sea. We thought “There’s another of the bastards, I wonder how many poor buggers that one’s going to kill?”  

Also ANTWERP was having a terrible hammering from these vicious weapons. It was a well known fact that after LONDON, ANTWERP suffered more than any other place. There were 734 Allied soldiers killed by those V1’s and V2’s alone, and 1,078 seriously injured. The anti-aircraft defence of the city consisted of 18,000 troops and 500 anti-aircraft guns! That gives you an impression of the carnage that was caused by these weapons and the importance we attached to combat them - but how could you? You couldn’t see the bloody things coming!  

The days started to lengthen, the weather improved, and we spent off duty nights reading, writing letters home, and playing cards. One of my delights was to get on a cookhouse fatigue – spud bashing! – we could always rely on a cup of “real” good char and scrounge the odd bit of grub that was going. At certain times during the day we also had another “light hearted” diversion. Down in the farmhouse, several hundred yards away below us, there was a rather pretty Belgian girl, and although we pick her out much with the naked eye, we suddenly found another use for our optical equipment!  

Before long it was the spotter’s post that seemed to be the most popular part of the site and caused exclamations of “Cor – look at that!”. We grabbed hold of the binoculars one after the other, it was all good fun. I often wondered afterwards it that girl ever realised she was the focus of so much attention – I don’t think she did really.  

The dismal winter days were now replaced with more spring-like weather and this helped at lot with our moral, it’s quite amazing what a bit of sun can do to one, the whole scene changed (just like it did in dear old England in spring!).  

We were also cheered by the way things were going in general on the front lines. Our lads and the Americans were pushing the Germans back and were “knocking on their door”. It really seemed now just a matter of time, but there was a terrible price being paid, thousands of poor lads wouldn’t see the end of the war, and they had come so far!  

We still were in action but on a reduced scale at nights and in the early morning hours, but one thing helped us along – B.L.A. leave to England (for one week) had started, and one or two chaps each week were allowed to go home. I started counting the days when mine was due and was told it was to be on 25 March 1945. Then one week before I was to go a most frustrating and infuriating thing occurred.  

We all used to take turns through the night and early of the morning to man the spotter’s post, four hours on and four hours off (the same as guard duty). It was the practice of everyone to wake the one who was to relieve you, then slope off to bed. This of course was wrong, you should always wait until relieved (but no-one did), we all assumed in blind faith that once you had awakened your mate he would get up and be out there before you had even got into your bunk. This was the trust we had in one another.  

Came the night I was on spotter’s duty. I was on my last shift and duly awakened the chap who was to relieve me. He said “OK mate, see yer” so I went to kip and was soon in the land of nod. I thought no more about it. After morning parade, after all personnel had been allocated their various duties for the morning, I was told Captain Harrapp wished to see me in the command post tent. I wondered what the hell for, although I did not feel too apprehensive because Captain H was a good, kind sort of chap.  

He stood inside the tent and said “Stand easy Summers” then continued “I’m afraid you’ve got a mate Summers”, with a touch of scorn, “the duty officer found the post found the post unmanned this morning, the gunner who should have been on duty has admitted that you did awaken him, but also admitted that he dropped off to sleep again! I’m very sorry Summers, but I have no alternative but to put you on a charge. He has also been put on a charge”.  

Captain Harrapp was almost apologetic and said he was sorry about my leave and quite frankly seemed rather upset about it. The word soon spread around the site what had happened, and although I bore no malice towards Mick (that was my “mate’s name, and after all I should have waited in truth), everybody else blamed him, and nobody would speak to him for a long time. I think it was because my leave was put in jeopardy that made them angry, plus the fact that they had all been doing exactly as I had done, but this was the first time that anyone had been dropped in the shit!                     

Mick and myself were duly marched (with cap and belt off) to appear before “Tojo”, our battery major, who sat at his desk like an inscrutable “Jap” and he fixed us with an expressionless stare. I think that a slight smile from this bloke would have been the equivalent of someone else bursting into uncontrollable laughter! However, after reading us the “riot act” from King’s Rules & Regulations, he gave us seven days jankers, which under the circumstances I didn’t think was too bad.  

Much more to my relief, I was told that someone else would take my place to go on leave and I would take his place a week later – Phew!  

Came the great day, another chap and myself were whistled by lorry to the nearest railway station, where we were both soon having our first taste of continental railways. The train was bloody uncomfortable, too woody and hard seats. It was crowded with both civilians and our troops going on leave. It was an infuriatingly slow journey, with countless stops. Still, we had a good laugh, there’s always a few “wags” about.  

We eventually arrived at CALAIS and after following directions were soon aboard our ship. The sea was very rough and I felt really sick by the time we reached ENGLAND, the boat seemed to be not at all that stable in these conditions. However, I soon got over that. We docked at NEWHAVEN, where a special leave train was waiting, and in no time we were in LONDON. Liberty double-decker buses were waiting and they had B.L.A. in big letters on the front, we got quite a few cheers and waves as we crossed LONDON. It made us feel appreciated, but we all knew just how much the Londoners had suffered from bombing etc.  

We arrived at St Pancras and how good it felt when I boarded the train, I was now in familiar surroundings and on the last stretch home. I can’t describe my feelings as I arrived in dear old RAUNDS and Ma greeted me, together again with all the family. Only one was missing, Ron, and he was in Italy.

New from here on 15 August 2014:

My first pint down CHANTRELL’s (The Foresters Arms) was like the “Nectar of the Gods” – gosh!, it was good to be home. By luck, Horace Nunley, my schoolday’s friend, was on leave from the Navy at the time and we did celebrate a bit! (Why not? we were only home for 7 days). The week passed like lightning, before I had really settled down I was again saying goodbye to Ma and within hours was crossing LONDON, this time to TILBURY DOCKS, and from there back to CALAIS, then to KNOKKE, where a lorry was waiting to whisk me back to the gun-site.  

What a stark contrast! What a difference a few hours had brought. Still, it didn’t take long to get back in the “groove”, my mates saw to that!   The day after I arrived back we once again were on the move, but this time to another site not many miles away to an immense German Coastal Gun fortifications on the coast not far from CADZAND, just inside the Dutch border. This time, however, our gun-site was situated not on top of the great embankment overlooking the SCHELDE Estuary, but a hundred yards or so inland on the sandy ground below it.  

We were therefore back to living out in the open so to speak. There were, however, a few wooden huts around and we soon used these as bivvies. The Germans coastal gun fortification (which we were soon having a “deck” at) was massive. Great concrete bunkers and ammunition stores were built into the reverse side of the bank, I had the feeling that a shell would never have breached it, while the actual gun fortifications, which pointed out to sea, were awe-inspiring.  

Although there was not the same amount of objects around here, as there were at the other sites we were at, we still trod carefully and kept our eyes open! This part of the continent was certainly a most vital area to the Germans and now was to us.              

As we entered the site another H.A.A. battery from another regiment had just vacated it and was lined up ready to move off. We had a few words with some of the fellows and as they began to walk towards their lorries, lo and behold!, there in front of me stood an old school mates from RAUNDS, Ted Lawrence, who lived in Hill Street. After our initial surprise we had a good old chin wag. What a small world! But in just a matter of ten minutes or so he was called away, but how great to meet an old school mate even for just a few minutes.  

We watched the convoy slowly move off and then set about getting settled in. We were now in early April. Our stay at this site was the shortest yet (about one week) but one I will never forget, for two reasons.  

The first was on the second night we were here. Our alarm bells went about 10 o’clock at night and I was not on duty rota, so together with other mates I reminisced in our hut. Before long all the guns in the area opened up, including our own. We assumed that the planes we could hear droning overhead were after the shipping on the SCHELDE and we stood in the doorway of our hut watching proceedings. It took just a few seconds for us to realise they weren’t, they were straddling the coastline.  

The dull heavy crunch of bombs, the tremor of the ground, sent us quickly back into the hut. There were no slit trenches or buggar all, we were just sitting ducks! The German gun fortifications (which would have given us protection) were about 200 yards away, but to reach them we would have had to run through our own gun position, who were well and truly in action, so that ruled out that possibility. The bombs seemed to be landing on the site area near KNOKKE where we had just come from, just up the road.  

We all huddled in our flimsy hut and we could hear the crunches getter nearer. We looked at one another in deathly silence, there was nothing we could do. The ground shook and this, plus the din of the barrage, plus the knowledge they weren’t after the shipping made this an unnerving experience. One almighty thud that bloody near shook our hut down signified a very close thing. Later we discovered it was just on the perimeter of our site, and as the ground was soft and there were no immediate concrete bits about, it didn’t do much damage or cause any casualties.  

The raid carried on for some time and quite a few bombs landed in the area, but not as close as the previous one. Gradually the activity decreased. Then just as quickly as it had started, it became quiet. The lads on the guns and instruments were stood down and the general topic of conversation was “That was a bloody close call – but what were they after?” The only thing to connect it with something was the next “event” that occurred while we were at this site.  

A day or so later, fairly early in the morning before the first parade, I was hanging about waiting for roll call. To fill the time in I wandered over to the massive concrete German gun fortifications to have another deck at them. It was a clear, rather crisp, but beautiful sunny morning and so quiet and peaceful, a real Spring morning. The lads were walking about, talking, joking, just a normal atmosphere. Then suddenly to the east, just a couple of hundred yards away, fighter-bomber planes appeared from the sea direction, travelling at high speed and at tree top height, just skimming the top of the great sea embankment.  

They came so quickly! In what must have only been seconds I watched, and assumed they were ours on a low flying exercise, but then BOFORs, who were perched on the top of the embankment to our east, opened up and in a flash I realised they were Jerry planes. In those few seconds everyone else had realised they were too. I was on the duty rota, and the next thing I remember was running like hell (as were everyone else) to get to my port.  

Bells were ringing, the BOFORs were clouting away, our 3.4’s were already firing at Gun-Control (without instruments), men were running in from all directions. I glanced at the planes as I ran and I could see the pilots, they were so close and low. They had taken both BOFORs and us completely by surprise. In the confusion the next thing I remember was following the buggars through my scope, automatic procedure was followed, this is where training and discipline came in, you did your job without thinking, as I say – automatically.  

Orders were barked, guns were fired, A.A. shells were bursting amongst the planes, with a very short fuse due to the low altitude of the planes and the closeness they were to us. Through my scope I could see the pilots clearly through the cockpit covers. I was the layer for angle and a bloke called HEWITT was the bearing layer. One plane we fixed on had just passed us, when a trail of smoke burst from it and it was going down on fire. We immediately switched to another plane, it was hectic but there was no time to be afraid, it all happened so quickly.  

There must have been 70 or 80 planes and then it was over! – almost as soon as it had begun. But what an experience, it was a bloody good job (for us) they were going somewhere else, they could have blown us out of sight and wiped us out with machine gun fire. We had no protection around us, I sat on my predictor seat, completely in the open, no sandbag surround at all. We all assumed afterwards that they must have avoided detection by flying under the radar screen at almost sea level for most of the time and just lifting up at the last moment to clear the sea embankment.  

We discovered afterwards what their mission was; it was on both the news and headlines in the papers. It was a surprise attack on Brussels, completely indiscriminate, more as a last defiant gesture than anything else. A lot of people were killed by the raid, but a number of planes were shot down, some by fighters, on the way back as well. On reflection we wondered if the raid the night before was to try and knock a few guns out and at the same time try to pinpoint where the Flak was the lightest (by the flashes).  

We never did find out the truth.

New from here on 9 September 2014:

As I have said, we were here only about one week and a couple of days or so later we were once again on the move. This time we were told it was to be “somewhere in HOLLAND”. We travelled about 100 miles north-east and found Holland to be rather a different kind of country to BELGIUM, very clean, the people were friendly, but rather more “reserved” than the Belgians, not so open. In some ways it was more like we “reserved” English were supposed to be.  

There were a lot of cobbled streets and long straight roads. After a journey of (as I stated) about 100 miles we arrived at a large tented, well organised camp, and it seemed to be a kind of reception camp, there were other troops there as well. It was in the area near NIJMEGEN. We found the organisation to be good, and we were soon marshalled into our allotted part of this large camp. The weather was good, the grub was good, in fact really a welcome change. What we all were wondering was “Where Next? and When?”  

After reveille and roll-call etc the next morning a list of names were read out, including mine. We were told to remain behind after the others had been dismissed. This we did. Then along came our battery Major (Tojo). We wondered what the hell was going on. He told us to stand easy and told us that a number of men were to be transferred to another HAA Regiment, who were to be deployed in Germany, used exclusively for police work in the occupation army.  

After expressing his thanks and regret at us having to leave, he then said (believe it or not) “You chaps have been chosen because of your military bearing!” I could have fallen through the floor, I couldn’t think of a less military bloke then myself, but there you are, I was one of the youngest and reasonably upright.  

We were to go the very next day. I must admit I was sorry to be leaving this regiment, and all the good friends I had made, particularly EDDIE, and had a bit of a lump in my throat as we clambered aboard a special lorry which had come to fetch us the next day. We waved goodbye to a great lot of blokes and were soon on our way. Our armies were now well into Germany, but the war wasn’t over yet, but vast areas of the Reich was now in Allied hands.

Next - Through Germany

Continued in Part 4