LIFE IN THE ARMY - Chapter 3 – A Trip to France to
By Actiondesk Sheffield
People in story: ARTHUR WARD, Cliffe Teale, May Burnie, Gnr. Goodhall, Norman
Harrison, Sgt Burkett
Location of story: Wydale, Malton, Catterick, Otley, SALISBURY PLAIN, Halifax,
Galasheils, Scotland, Selkirk, Aldershot, Plymouth, BREST, Leval, Rennes, Le
Mans, Alencon, Cherbourg
Unit name: 279 Battery 70th Field Regt. R.A.
Background to story: Army
This story was submitted to the People‟s War site by Roger Marsh of the „Action Desk –
Sheffield‟ Team on behalf of Arthur Ward and has been added to the site with his
permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
LIFE IN THE ARMY
Chapter 3 – A Trip to France to “Save Paris”
We had quite a few recruits who lived in "The Gorbals" which had a reputation of being a
very rough district in Glasgow, but they were "the salt of the earth" as mates and we all
got on with them very well.
One man who I remember very well was called REA and pronounced' Ree-ah' and what a
laugh it caused when his name was called on parade as he was a gunner, hence "Gunner-
Another incident at Wydale when one weekend some of our officers took part in the local
'hunt' for foxes.
We were all disgusted when a fox ran into an outbuilding only about 6'-0" x 3'-0" and
several dogs piled in after it. The screams from the fox upset us all.
The dogs tore the fox to pieces and it did not have a chance. The huntsmen in their red
coats thought it very amusing and the young ladies with them were just as bad, one of
them proudly carried away the fox's tail which was covered in blood. Our officers who took
part lost our respect for quite a long time.
Whilst at Wydale we had a run in a truck to Malton where we visited a cinema to see a
concert organised by NAAFI.
Here we learned the words of "Land of Hope and Glory" which we sang with great gusto at
other concerts and usually after a good night in a pub!!!
April 11, 1940
We travelled by truck to Catterick camp on a very wet and miserable day and for the first
time we fired rifles with live ammunition on the firing range.
I was never much good with a rifle!!!
I was also in trouble with the Sgt. Instructor when I asked a question about the rifle and at
the same time pointed the rifle at him. We soon learned that in the army it is an
unforgivable sin to point a rifle at anyone, although in this case it was not loaded and the
safety catch was in the 'on' position.
We also learned to sing the 70th Field Regt. Regimental song which was sung many times
(usually after a good night out!).
The battery was formed at Otley which is in the Valley of the river Wharfe The song was
sung to the tune of the American Navy Song "Anchors Away" and the words were:
We are the Wharfdale (or Wyedale) boys
We man the guns, We'll go to France one day,
To blow those bloody Huns away,
We'll hang old Hitler's mob,
On the Seigfreid Line,
We'll meet in Berlin soon,
So fight to the last man,
Fight, fight, fight
NOTE: Seigfreid Line: Concrete defences built by the Germans between Germany and
Huns: British name for German or Jerry.
After our episode in France (to be described later) we were a bit shamefaced about singing
this song after a 200 mile retreat.
April 14, 1940
Parade at 0530 hrs in full FSMO (Full Service Marching Order) kit - this was the
kit we have to wear when in action. We marched to Sawdon Station and boarded a train
complete with guns and travelled via York, Sheffield, Nottingham to Aymesbury then to
Bustard Camp, Larkhill on Salisbury plain. Here we slept 8 men in a 'bell tent'. At this time
I had a part time job for 2 hours a day looking after 2 Sgt. Majors as a kind of batman.
This excused me a few parades and fatigues.
April 19, 1940
Another first - we went out on the plains and fired live ammunition. At first we were
frightened to death with the loud explosion when the gun fired but we soon became used
Our gun fired 15 rounds of high explosive (HE) and 10 rounds of smoke (this was to hold
me in good stead at a later date when my last gun alone fired 8,000 rounds in a few
months in Italy.
Another tiring job at this time was making camouflage nets. The nets were about 20 feet
square and we had to thread rows and rows of jute about 3" wide and coloured black and
light brown in and out of the squares of the nets and then they were draped over the guns
and vehicles so that they were difficult to see from the air.
I had a pal from Horsforth called Cliffe Teale - he was a cook and he persuaded me to work
with him in the cook house. I was not too keen but the advantage was that we were able
to have extra grub and I was a very big eater!!!
We had a visit to Artillery HQ at Larkhill where we saw many of the guns used by the
May 02, 1940
Cleaned up the camp ready to move.
I learned that we were moving to Yorkshire and I saw the route to be taken by the road
party and it was due to pass our house in Swallownest and I pleaded with the Sgt Major to
let me travel with them but he would not allow me to do so (I had to travel by train with
the main party of gunners). I learned later that the convoy had stopped for a meal on
Aston Common and my No. 1 (Sgt Burkett) had been talking to Mr Armstrong (my old
My mother and dad (with the majority of people in the area) had watched the guns drive
past without knowing at the time that it was my Regt.
We arrived at Halifax and were billeted in a chapel in "Winding Lane" (Sion Chapel).
May 05, 1940
Church Parade at Halifax Parish Church.
May 07, 1940
48 hours leave. I took my rifle and ammunition home for the first time to the great dismay
of my mother.
During our stay in Halifax Bill Turner's mother, Dad and Sister came for a day when we
went to the pictures, then for a drink.
May 13, 1940
Travelled in front of a truck on a road convoy to Galasheils, Scotland.
We went to a dance at the Town Hall and I met May Burnie, a nice looking girl who made
quite a few of my mates envious.
We only stayed in Galasheils (which was a very nice market town) for 2 weeks then we
moved a few miles to Selkirk.
This was my first visit to Scotland and I still remember how goad the local people were to
the soldiers, we were often invited into local houses for meals and very often for a drink of
their favourite whisky.
At Selkirk we were billeted in an empty mill on Burchurch Road called Haugh Mills Bridge
on the River Tweed.
This mill was overrun by rats which we did not like very much.
During our short stay in Selkirk May Burnie came over on her bike to see me and she
brought with her a friend who was a blonde girl about the best looking girl I have ever
My mates were all interested in her and she went out with Gnr. Goodhall but we only ever
saw her that once.
At Selkirk I had a new experience as on one moonlit night about 2 am we sneaked off to
the River Tweed and from a bridge we hung a rope into the water with a hook attached
and we caught 2 large salmon. It took 3 of us to haul them in and they were used for
dinner in the officer's mess.
In Selkirk it was a common site to see a man running through the town with a sack over
his shoulder with a salmon inside, they caught the fish then sold them to one of the local
hotels for use of their guests. Of course this was poaching and a large fine would have to
be paid if they were caught by the bailiff.
In all I went salmon fishing 3 times and the fish we caught weighed 61/2 lbs to 81/2 lbs.
We had dances at the Town Hall and May Burnie came to these several times and usually
on her bike.
(Note: In 1977 whilst touring on holiday in Scotland we spent a few hours in Selkirk but
were surprised that we could not find the river but a local woman told us that it had been
diverted as the water was not required for the woollen mills (which had been shut down).
Quite often we had a swim in the river but it was very cold.
We paid several visits to the local institute club and had a hot bath which cost 6d
(sixpence) - This was real luxury.
June 05, 1940
Packed ready to move Reveille 0530 am. Left Selkirk by truck at 0600 hrs to Melrose
where we boarded a train. We stopped at Newcastle for a meal then on to York,
Mexborough, Swinton, Rotherham, Darnall, Woodhouse, Beighton where we stopped with
all lights out due to an air raid alarm.
Here we were only a couple of miles from home. We stopped for ½ hour but did not hear
or see anything of the air raid. I soon fell asleep and woke at Banbury and finally arrived
at Aldershot where we were billeted in bell tents at No. 47 Emergency Camp, Beurley. We
found out that we had been in Scotland ready to travel to Norway where an advance party
had gone but they had been overrun by the Germans and all captured so our plans had
been changed and we were waiting for a new destination.
The first night here I was on guard and some of my pals went into Aldershot town and
came back with tattoos so fortunately I missed out on this.
We knew we were going abroad but we were able to write home when I let my dad know
as I had arranged a special code with him. On my letters if I underlined the date it meant
that we were in the fighting, little did I know at the time that I would be underlining the
date for many times in the next 6 years.
My address now was: Gunner A Ward 954330
70 Field Regt. RA,
c/o Army Post Office.
June 09, 1940
We paraded at 2215 hrs.
Boarded trucks to Aldershot station.
Boarded train via Salisbury, Exeter, Plymouth where we arrived at 0745 am and marched
to the docks.
A brass band comprising of 16 men was playing on the Quayside and tables laid
out with plenty of food which we tucked into with great relish. We had tea, bread, lettuce,
luncheon meat (Spam), and then we boarded a Belgian cargo ship called El Monsour which
was anchored out in the bay.
We had our first experience of continental toilets - a hole in the floor with 2 pads either
side to put your feet on before squatting over the hole, also 2 handrails which we had to
hang onto when the ship started rolling.
At 2015 hrs we left for an unknown destination in a convoy with another ship full of troops,
2 destroyers and 1 aeroplane circling above. We had to sleep on deck in very crowded
June 10, 1940
Reveille 0615 hrs. France was in sight at 1010 hrs. We docked at Brest. We disembarked
as quickly as possible and marched to the outskirts of the town.
On this march the streets were lined with cheering French people who thought that we had
come to save them from the advancing Germans. Boy scouts and Girl Guides gave us fresh
strawberries and bunches of flowers.
On reaching the station we boarded a typical French train which was a very long one with
a steam train pulling and one pushing at the rear.
I was one of the lucky ones as we were in a carriage which was pretty basic but it did have
seats. Most of the train comprised of wagons which were still marked 'Chevaux 8 (8
horses), Hommes 40 (40 men) as relics of the first world war.
On land adjoining the station were many barrels of red wine and some of the troops broke
them open and we all had a taste. I thought it was terrible and I think it was just raw vino
which had not matured. Some of the lads had too much to drink and Norman Harrison one
of my mates from Barnoldswick drank so much that he went wild and it took several lads
to hold him down until he "slept it off'. Before this he had lashed out with his fist and made
a hole in the train compartment, right through to the next carriage. Fortunately for his fist
it was only thin plywood!!!
At 1615 hrs we left Brest and travelled via Leval, Rennes, Le Mans (later the home of Le
Mans car race track) and arrived at Fresnay Sur Sarthe (Fresnay on the River Sarthe) at
1100 hrs the next morning during an air raid alarm.
We marched 6½ miles in heavy rain to Alencon where we were billeted in a hay loft on a
Later we found out that the town of Rennes (including the station) had been wiped out by
German bombers and 4,200 people had been killed only 24 hours after we had passed
The guns and quads arrived at 2015 hrs, I was on 24 hour guard the first night which was
awkward as we had not had time to get our bearings properly before dark.
However, on my own about 2 o'clock I was in a very dark area of the farm yard when I
heard a noise (which just about frightened me to death) and I shouted "Halt, who goes
there?" twice - there was no answer, only more rustling noises so I fired a shot and a very
frightened horse ran away into the fields. I realised that I had missed it from a few yards
away so my hands must have been shaking. I do not know who was scared most, the
horse or me!!!
At the time the skyline was being lit up by flashes and we could hear the gun fire so the
front was not far away.
Another incident on this farm was Sgt Burkett waking up when it was getting light to find
that a snake had been sharing his bed. His shouts woke everyone up so it was an early
Reveille but the snake was killed by a rifle butt, but was said only to be a harmless grass
I forgot to mention that we went to France with the 52nd Scottish Lowland Division and
our object was to "save Paris".
The evacuation at Dunkirk had taken place about 2 weeks previously. The trucks came up
with our spare clothing and equipment and we were not very pleased to find out that most
of our kit had been stolen by the French people who were fleeing from the German
Our orders were that we were going up to the front line on the next day. Then more
different orders until they were all disorder and finally our instructions were to get to
Cherbourg as quickly as possible to be evacuated.
We learned that Paris had fallen and the Germans were advancing towards us at high
We were delayed at times by the local people carrying all their belongings whilst trying to
flee from the advancing Germans.
June 14, 1940
Reveille 0500 hrs. We set off in Quads pulling the guns to travel 240 miles to Cherbourg at
At first we were advancing towards the front line but we swung north through St Lô and
finally arrived in a wood about 4 miles from Cherbourg about 12 midnight.
June 15, 1940
We tried to grab a few hours sleep but the noise of gunfire and dropping bombs was
almost continuous. A great deal of shrapnel was flying about amongst the trees.
June 16, 1940
During the day we counted 17 separate air raids on Cherbourg as ships tried to get away
with troops on abroad.
We had carried out over 200 miles in retreat without firing a shot.
Now organisation went mad!!!
We were told to take up defensive positions to hold off the advancing Germans, then
prepare to evacuate. Cancel, prepare positions then bury all ammunition, then dig it up
again. Then stack it ready for demolition by Royal Engineers. The idea to bury the ammo
was that we could use it when we came back to the area!!!
I think in the end we just left it where it was.