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Part Five - Home to England, and Beyond!

The next morning we boarded a small craft (not a civilian ship, more like a converted merchant vessel) and set sail. We watched the Belgian coastline fade into the distance and had our first glimpse of dear old Blighty a few hours later. We made our way up the Thames Estuary and berthed at TILBURY DOCKS. We were then soon en-route to CLACTON-ON-SEA, a town I was conversant with having been on holiday there several times as a kid.  

We were billeted in a boarding house taken over by the army and after a few formalities and documentation we were issued with our leave passes and were soon on our separate way’s home. Thankfully we only took just as much of our kit as we needed and this included a few “trinkets” that I had acquired during the campaign.  

The date was 11th July 1945. As I sat on the train I reflected that it was to be only weeks before I would be on a bloody troopship heading for INDIA, for how long I did not know, but it transpired later to be for 2 years!  

What can I say about my leave? – except to say it was great to be with Ma and the family and old friends again, to sleep between clean white sheets, to take that uniform off!, to have a beer or two down dear old Chantrelle’s, good old home cooking, one of Uncle Ernie’s haircuts!, a walk round the fields etc etc, and, last but not least, to have a good old bash on my dear old “Schupisser” GERMAN piano at 2 Clare Street!  

Like all leaves it passed all too quickly and with a slight lump in my throat I found myself on the train, being propelled towards CLACTON, but with my moral slightly boosted by the knowledge that I would have 14 more day’s embarkation leave before I left England.  

In spite of everything, however, I must admit also to an undercurrent feeling of excitement and a sense of adventure and anticipation of what was to come! The only drawback at this moment was the fact that the war with JAPAN was still on and I might end up in BURMA – Bugger that!  

On arrival at CLACTON I spent a couple of days in the boarding house where I was billeted, then I was transferred to “Butlin’s Holiday Camp” which had also been taken over by the army. Once again I was with a completely new set of chaps who, like me, had been recalled from various units in Germany and who were also on the BURMA draft.  

We were this time billeted in the camp’s chalets, only two to each one. Now this camp was something. We had good grub, with a choice of menus, in the largest dining room I had ever been in. We had exceptional amenities, snooker, table tennis, piano (complete with stage), a private beach belonging to the camp (but restricted for obvious reasons), our own post office, own shops, gymnasium (which had been converted from the Viennese Ballroom, in fact all the scenic arrangements were still there!), ad-infinitum. Added to this we had the whole of CLACTON, no wonder we were only going to be here for four weeks!  

We were paraded and told that the camp was indeed a “kitting out” centre for the East and our time here would be spent in doing just that. Medicals, vaccinations, inoculations, a fair few lectures on the various things we would have to cope with when we got “out there”, in fact a big “pre-embarkation unit”. Thankfully, “bullshit” was at a minimum and I can’t remember doing one guard duty. We also had quite a lot of “keep fit” games and exercises etc.  

In the evenings we wandered around CLACTON itself and had some really enjoyable times. I managed to have a play on a few pianos and we had some good old sing-songs.  

Then came the news that really boosted our moral. Over the radio came the announcement that an Atomic Bomb had been dropped on HIROSHIMA and, after hearing of the terrible effects of this new weapon, we all realised that the end of the war with JAPAN was in sight. The date was the 6th August 1945.  

Three days later, on the 9th August, another bomb was dropped on NAGASAKI. Five days after this, on the 14th August, JAPAN surrendered. What good news this was for us, we now knew that even if we got as far as BURMA, our chances of survival were that much greater. I must say, however, that, in common with a lot of people, although the JAPS were a bloody cruel lot, I had mixed feelings at the indiscriminate extermination of thousands of men, women and children, and the terrible after effects that would result from radiation and burns.  

However, I came round to the way of thinking that, terrible as these weapons were, there would have been many thousands more people killed and maimed had the war been allowed to continue. But even so, deep down in my mind I wondered if it was a good thing for mankind (and indeed all other species) that these and perhaps even more potent weapons would be available in the future. To this day I am still not certain in my mind.  

The day after JAPAN surrendered I was off again on embarkation leave (15th August 1945) and this I thought was the last leave in England I would get. So on arrival back in Raunds, only three weeks after my last leave, I carried on from where I left off.  

At the end of the 14 days Ma came with me to Wellingborough station, and we stood there, waiting for the train to come, I really did this time feel very, very homesick. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw the engine coming, then watched as it slowly pulled alongside the platform, then grind to a halt with a hiss of steam and squeaking brakes.  

It was one of the worst moments I have had as I said cheerio to Ma and boarded the train, for this time I was going a long way away, and for how long I did not then know. Thankfully this moment wasn’t prolonged and as I leaned out of the window, waving until Ma was out of sight, I suddenly felt at that moment very alone. Once again, however, I found myself with other squadies who were in the same boat, and I was “back in the Army”!  

Two days after arriving back at CLACTON we were ready to move. Fully kitted out with all our “tropical gear”, we were (hundreds of us) transported to the railway station. A special troop train was waiting and soon we were on our way. After a rather slow journey we arrived at LIVERPOOL DOCKS, the train pulled right into the docks, almost to our “boarding point”.  

In a very short time we were standing alongside our “transport”, a giant (to me!) liner called “THE MONARCH OF BERMUDA”. We were all very aware that we were standing on English soil, the last time, for a very long time!  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

At this point the Diary ends, but Ivan’s war didn’t for he was to spend the next two years in India serving with the 180th Field (Medium/Heavy Battery) Regiment.  

Did he record his experiences whilst over there?  

We probably will never know, but thanks Ivan for your wonderful account of at least some of your “life in khaki”!