Resting

 

Resting

 

Thus 30 Corps, of which 43rd Division formed a part, was now temporarily allotted a static role defending the flank of the British Army between the Rivers Waal and Maas, east of Nijmegan. However, planning was going ahead for the eventual resumption of an offensive on this front and, for three or four weeks, extensive preparations went ahead including the establishment of a battle school and a model was constructed in a barn near Molenhoek. The ensuing weeks reminding me very much of the stories of the ‘static warfare’ of the First World War. I recollect exercises on the table model with a planned attack taking us through the Siegfried Line to a depth of 10,000 yards or more into Germany. This attack did not eventually take place until February.

Immediately south of Nijmegan, there is a belt of sandy wooded hills from the crest of which the German frontier, the Reichswald forest and the bright green church tower of Kranenburg could be seen quite clearly. I think it was on 9th October that our Regimental guns moved into position at Mook in Holland in this sandy wooded area and they fired a salvo of shells for the first time into German territory. The weather took a turn for the worse. It became damp, cold and somewhat muddy though the soft ground made it possible for the gun pits to be dug quite successfully. In fact, there was a Regimental competition to see who could produce the best gun pit. Walls were reinforced with sandbags reminiscent of First World War stories and the competition was actually won by a subsection under the leadership of Sergeant Stewart. The gun pit was complete except for a bar and that was remedied by the prize – a barrel of beer!

The situation was quite static for a whole month and, within the Division, the three Brigades were moved alternately, giving each one in turn a period of rest. This interchange took place approximately every seven days so that each Brigade had an equal experience of the Front which lay in full view of the dominating heights of the Reichswald so that any movement by day resulted in enemy retaliation. All reliefs had to be carried out by night, including the supply of any hot food which, to isolated posts, was a very difficult problem. It was here that I saw for the very first time what we called Weasels (they were in fact a light form of Carrier with very wide tracks and were able to negotiate the most awful mud without sinking in too far) but nevertheless it was quite a miracle the way any hot food was brought up to forward Companies and certainly to OPs. Of course, the interchange of Brigades on this system gave no respite to the Gunners and Divisional Artillery remained in action in their fixed gun pits for the whole of this period, firing in support whenever they were required by each Brigade in turn.

I recollect an occasion when 214 Brigade were out of the line ‘resting’ when the 5th DCLI invited Major F.W. Finnigen, popularly known as ‘Tosty’, and myself over to their Mess for an evening’s entertainment. We set off in a jeep ‘X2’ and had a jolly good evening at the DCLI Mess where we were entertained by David Wilcox (now Sir David of international fame as a conductor of music) on the piano. We enjoyed a good meal and a sing song and left later in the evening at about 11pm to return to the gun positions.

I was driving the jeep with Tosty alongside me when we heard the dreaded Moaning Minnies (so called because of the terrible noise they made) coming in our direction. However, there was little I could do except to put my foot down and go for it. The next we knew, there was an almighty bang and we were thrown into the ditch alongside the road somewhat dazed! I recollect thinking that I had been severely wounded because of the trickle of blood running down my neck but it turned out that it was only splinters of glass cutting my forehead. However, Tosty was in some trouble having caught a splinter of mortar shell in his backside and the jeep was lying on its side in the ditch, wheels spinning.

It’s amazing how, somehow, we managed to tilt the jeep back onto its four wheels only to find water streaming out of the radiator and the two front tyres flat. Nevertheless, the engine started up and, with Tosty lying on his side on the back seat, I managed to get back to the gun position and was much relieved when the Battery Sergeant Major took charge of the situation and Gunner Price, my faithful Batman, got me down into a splendid shelter where my camp bed and blanket were already waiting for me. In these static positions, the shelters were comparatively comfortable. The one Price put me in was about five feet deep covered with old doors with sandbags and earth piled on top and it was quite cosy. With the morning came a nice hot cup of tea and eventually the jeep was revealed with the white star of the allied forces on the bonnet charred black, front tyres flat, radiator dry. It was quite a miracle that neither Tosty nor I had been killed, although he was evacuated for a while with the injury to his buttock!

 

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