21 Anti Tank Regiment:
2 October 1944: RHQ moved to Elst.
12 October 1944: RHQ with LAD and A Echolon moved to former NIJMEGEN.
12-31 October 1944: RHQ remained at NIJMEGEN for remainder of October 1944. During the month the situation remained static as far as this RHA was concerned. Communications near by him - the rear link was not opened.
4 November 1944: Major TAYLOR DSO (Second in Command) received the MC from Commander 30 Corps.
12 November 1944: The Regt moved from NIJMEGEN area to OOSTERHOUT.
30 November 1944: Regt still in SITTARD area RHQ remaining at OOSTERHOUT.
WAR TIME AS A TEENAGER
James R McBey
1923 to 2006
I was 16 years of age when war was declared and had just returned four weeks previous from a Boys Brigade camp at Portstewart in Northern Ireland.
When I turned 17 in 1940 I joined the Local Home Guard along with most of the local lads of my age.
In late 1941 I had to register for National Service at the age of 18, and in due course was called for a medical examination which was successful. Everyday when I came home from work at suppertime my first words to my mother were “any mail for me today”. I was beginning to get impatient, as most of my pals had been called up. Eventually there was mail for me, I had received my call-up papers. I had to report to Redford Barracks at Collington in Edinburgh. This was to be the beginning of a great adventure (we all thought that).
After spending 6 weeks on initial basic training which everyone had to go through, and where at the end of 6 weeks everyone had been assessed to what they were most suitable for, I along with a few others was posted to the 38 th Signal Training Regiment, Royal Artillery which happened to be in the Cavalry Barracks next to the one we were in. Others in our squad of 24 were dispersed to different units and regiments all over the country.
During the first 6 weeks at the Signal Training Regiment we went through the usual square bashing, gun drill on an 18 pound field gun which my own father had trained on in 1915. We learned to drive army vehicles and ride motor cycles, some of this part of the training was quite hilarious as the tram cars were still in operation in Edinburgh and naturally there were a few bumps and near misses. We were also learning to read and send Morse Code and wireless procedures. After the 6 weeks were up, we got 7 days home leave.
On returning to Redford we then embarked on an intensive course on reading Morse Code at a faster speed, wireless procedure and repairing wireless sets, changing the correct valves, etc. At the end of 6 weeks we had to sit a test on all this work and those who classified were posted to artillery units all over the country, some even going abroad. However, just at this time they introduced a new classification of ‘Driver/Operator’ which could earn you an extra sixpence per day if you qualified and as our existing pay was only 14 shillings per week an extra 3/6’ was a lot of money. This test meant reading Morse at 12 words a minute while various other sounds and noises were being made in the room including BBC Classical music. Five of us classified and could only be posted to another unit by the War Office direct.
After spending another two months at Redford doing odd jobs while waiting for this posting they suddenly decided to move the Training Unit to a camp 3 miles outside the town of Rhyl in North Wales. On the night we moved, we were conveyed about midnight to Princes Street station in Edinburgh by a convoy of tram cars, something I would never see again, and then by troop train through the night to Rhyl.
After a month at Rhyl I was finally posted to the 21 st Anti-Tank Regiment who were situated in Scarborough on the opposite side of the country. I could not understand being posted to an anti-tank unit as the guns in this type of unit were always towed by vehicles.
After quite a horrendous journey by train with all my kit, I was on 4 different trains, Rhyl – Crewe – Manchester – York – Scarborough, arriving at 7 pm in the evening. I was met at the station by a Sergeant who took me by truck to a street in the south bay area of Scarborough where we were billeted in commandeered guest houses, but what struck me immediately in the dark, was the outline of tanks covered by tarpaulins lining the street. I thought to myself what have I landed myself in.
Next morning I could not get out of the billet quick enough to see these vehicles in daylight. I then learned these vehicles were not tanks as such, but American M.10 Tanks Destroyers and my new unit was part of The Guards Armoured Division. In due course we learned to drive these diesel propelled vehicles and my present driving licence still covers me for tracked vehicles.
We carried out all out training on the Yorkshire wolds, all the Guards Tank Regiments doing the same over a large area of Yorkshire. When I watch programmes on TV such as Heartbeat or Peak Practice, the countryside shown brings back memories.
The Guards Armoured Division consisted of armoured battalions from the Grenadier, Coldstream and Irish Guards forming the 5 th Guards Armoured Brigade and again the Coldstream, Irish and Welsh Guards made up the 32 nd Guards Brigade (Infantry).
At the end of March, beginning of April 1944 we moved by troop train to the south of England and finished up in a large country mansion near Robertsbridge in Sussex, surrounded by woodland in which the tanks were dispersed and over a period of time we carried out the waterproofing of all the vehicles. That’s where we saw the first V1 Flying Bomb, we thought it was an aircraft on fire, as there were continuous bombing raids across the channel at this time, and we were shouting for the crew to jump.
While we were there a number of us were selected in our best bib and tucker to Brighton, only to discover on arrival we were part of a large gathering of representatives of all units of the Division and drawn up on three sides of a square, still not knowing what we were there for. This is where I had my first experience of RSM Britton, Grenadier Guards, the loudest voice in Great Britain. After a short period who should appear but General Eisenhower, who stood on the bonnet of a jeep with a microphone and gave us a pep talk. Later he went around the lines of men and spoke to some, myself included. In due course I could always say I spoke to the President of the United States.
We left our country mansion about 10 days after the invasion of Normandy had been announced and went by road to a tented embarkation camp somewhere near London, and in due course travelled through the east side of London to go aboard the Landing Ship tank (LST) at Tilbury Docks. The women in the East End were out with buckets of tea and packets of sandwiches handing them out at street corners where we had to slow down as we travelled along.
We eventually landed in Normandy after a fairly smooth crossing via the Straits of Dover and landed on Gold Beach just west of Courseulles, the front line was by this time 5-6 miles inland. Shortly after we landed there was a very bad storm in the channel so the transporting of the rest of the Division was held up, so being on our own the Battery was sent forward to support the 15 th Scottish Division in what became known as the Scotch Corridor. We lost two tanks in our troop on this occasion, one crew being lost the other bailed out and got back safely. After this episode my tank driver had to give up driving, so they approached one of the drivers who delivered the replacement tanks if he would join our troop, which he did and became my driver, driving the rest of the campaign. This drivers name was Jack Thomson, who eventually took over the family business of Henry Thomson, Haulage Contractors, Sauchen. In those days Sauchen could have been a place on the moon, little did I realise then, that in the future I would be living a few miles from there. We have met since.
Incidentally I celebrated my 21 st birthday in Normandy. The Germans firing a special barrage that morning to mark the occasion.
A few prominent people in this locality served in the Guards Armoured Division. Lord Forbes, Captain Farquharson, Whitehouse and Sir Arthur Grant, Laird of Monymusk. Another prominent figure I met was former Foreign Minister Lord Carrington. I also remember the day Sir Arthur Grant was killed. Through my periscope I saw a figure fall beside a Sherman tank about 100 yards away and I later learned who it was. Unfortunately Sir Arthur was killed in Normandy a few weeks after landing.
Time wore on and eventually we broke out of France and crossed the River Seine our objective was Brussels. It was when going through this countryside by- passing places like Beaumont Hamel, Cambrai and the town of Arras where my own father was badly wounded in World War 1 that we passed on each side of the road, cemetery upon cemetery of the first world war. We just stared in amazement. Eventually we entered Brussels on the evening of 3 rd September 1944, 5 years to the day from war being declared. I think the whole population was on the streets, and how hundreds were not killed or injured I don’t know, as they completely filled the street and as each tank came along they just managed to squeeze back enough to let a tank through.
The next day we set off again reaching Bourgleopold near the Dutch border, where we stopped for two or three days to maintain the vehicles. We were called together on the morning of Sunday 17 th September 1944 and told we were moving that afternoon to cross the Escaut Canal and breakout on one single road our objective being the Zuiderzee taking in Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, Airborne troops were to be dropped ahead of us. Early that afternoon there was the sound of a tremendous number of aircraft and we saw hundreds of parachutes dropping in the distance. This was the 101 st American Airborne Division who we would meet on our travels. After a number of serious hold ups on this single access road which was to become known as ‘Hells Highway’, we eventually went through Eindhoven the next stop would be Nijmegen. We met up with the 82 nd American Airborne division as we approached Nijmegen, however they had not succeeded in taking the large bridge over the River Waal, so this created another problem. Most of the armoured column was drawn up on the roadside on the approaches to Nijmegen, while the infantry tried to clear the town and bridge approaches.
We got instructions about 11pm that night to send two M.10s into the town as there were some German SP’s running about. My troop Commander on whose vehicle I was the Wireless Operator, decided to go forward himself with one other vehicle. There were a great number of houses burning in the town, so he positioned the other vehicle in one street while we proceeded further down the main street, went through this 4’0” high stone garden wall and finished up in the front lawn of a large mansion house. During the course of the night I realised I was the only person on board the vehicle, all the others had disappeared. I had to remain with the two radio’s which I now had on board, complete with two headsets. One radio was on the battery network, the second radio was on the Brigade network, the reason for this, we were now working in battle groups. About 2 am in the morning a voice suddenly called out, “are you there Mac” and here was ‘Busty West’ our gun layer handing me up a plate of hot boiled potatoes, fried bully beef, onions and peas. This was our first meal since breakfast the previous morning. The large mansion we had parked beside was the Nijmegen German Garrison Officers Mess, the crew had entered the house and in the basement kitchen had discovered stacks of food, and had lit the fire in the large range and cooked the meal. Just as well it was a quiet night, I could not have done much on my own. Next morning I received instructions to move back to join the column outside the town, but being inquisitive and thinking I had missed something, I went into the house before leaving. On the ground floor was a large dining room with a table capable of seating about 20 people and above the fireplace was a large gilt frame containing the photograph of Hitler. I took down the frame and smashed it over the fireplace and removed the picture, and here it is.
We eventually got control of the bridge and within the next few days got to within 7 miles of Arnhem, when operation ‘Market Garden’ was abandoned. You all know the rest of the story.
We went from this turn of events to the Ardennes over Xmas and New Year during the German breakout. When this cleared up we returned to Holland for a spell before crossing the Rhine at the beginning of April 1945.
The war finished on 8 th May 1945 and on the 9 th June at a large parade of the Division attended and inspected by general Montgomery at Rottenburg airfield, just north of Hamburg, the 5 th Armoured Brigade of the Guards Armoured Division was disbanded, the guardsmen who crewed the Sherman’s being returned to Britain for ceremonial duties.
We in turn joined the 7 th Armoured Division and spent the winter of 1945/46 at a village called Marne about 45 kilometres from the Danish border. In the spring of 1946 we moved to Osnabruck where I eventually became Troop sergeant of ‘C’ Troop, which I had first joined at Scarborough as a young Wireless Operator. I was eventually demobbed in May 1947, a few weeks short of my 24 th birthday.
We had all started out as enthusiastic teenagers, but returned home as men, probably older than we were in age.
I often think of the lads whom I knew and grew up with in the village of Lennoxtown in west Stirlingshire, which was not much bigger than Alford and where we had a very strong Boys Brigade company. Most of the lads who were lost during the war were ex BBs and in the Air force, approximately 90% being aircrew. My best pal at school being one of them and the lad who lived next door to me, and was about 3 years older, was commissioned in the Air force as a Navigator and shot down and killed over Selonica.
At the end of the day, one says to one’s self, what for.