WW II, a British focus  




memories of Pte Tom Barker
1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders


I joined the Army in Sept 1938 and served seven years with the colors, albeit four of those years were in various German POW camps, where I continued to harass the enemy by sabotaging his railway wagons. But then the war came to an end and after being de-mobbed I spent some time in a resettlement unit near Peterborough. Then I married and settled down and was working at a Chemical factory in my home town. One morning I got a letter and a rail warrant instructing me to report to Barnard Castle to spend a fortnight going on maneuvers with some Territorials. Since I could drive and had a license I was told to report to the M.T. Section There I was given a 30 cwt truck with a four wheel drive and told to look after it.

One day I was told to report to C coy square with my truck and wait for some blokes to fall in and wait and the usual inspection. The blokes drifted out of the barracks and got formed up. Then as I sat there in my nice warm truck it began to rain. I thought, 'God, a fortnight of this is going to drive me and the truck up the wall'

My reverie was shattered by a voice screaming , 'right you'se blokes ---on truck' There was an almighty bang as some one let the tail door of my truck drop and it suddenly stopped swinging as some one prized the metal step down that was attached to the door. Hob nailed boots suddenly began clattering in the back of the truck then the side door opened and a second lieutenant got in and said, 'right driver when you are ready go to the main road and get into the convoy and just follow the truck in front of you' I had not heard the back door being fastened so I thought I ought to check it. 'what are you doing' snarled the Officer as I opened my side door. I said, 'I cannot set off with the back door down, sir' 'I told you to go, now go' almost screamed the officer. 'Sorry sir' said I, and I jumped out and sure enough the tail gate was still down. The blokes sitting inside grinned and one said, 'Och we were juist noo tossin' wha wus gonna shut the gate fer ye' I paid no heed but slammed the tailgate up and put the securing pins in then went back to the cab and got in. The fuming Officer had a little notebook out and asked me for my name and number. Having written it down and white with rage he very quietly asked, 'do you think we might join the rest now' I made no comment but set off for the main road.

I waited for a gap in the line of other trucks that were on the road and having got in we moved more or less at walking speed until about quarter of a mile had been covered then the speed picked up. We arrived at a wooded area near a farm and our truck was told to park near the haystack.

The young officer said to me, 'right you can join the rest in digging a trench over there' and he pointed indicating the haystack. He added with a tight smile, 'If you think you are going to sit in that truck and watch us dig you are mistaken' It did not bother me one bit, I had seen this type so many times they became boring. Then the unbelievable happened. With his stick he drew a line in the dirt at the rear of the haystack and told us to dig a slit trench.

'The enemy will advance from over there' he quaffed, and taking hold of his field glasses he peered at some cows grazing on the side of a hill.

One of the blokes digging next to me caught my eye and grinned, 'where the f-k did ye find him' and nodded after the officer striding toward the farmhouse. I said I had not found him but we were saddled with him for this exercise but he was a pain in the butt in my humble opinion.

We dug the trench and I suggested we pull some straw out of the stack to put over the trench to disguise it. One bright bloke said, 'If we lay our rifles ower the top they will hod up the hay and no bugger will see us and we can git wa heeds doon I said, 'this trench should be the other side of the stack, we have no field of fire here it is blocked by the stack' One Geordie bloke said, 'wha gis a shit, ahm gitt'n mah heed doon,' ge's a shoot wen the ass'l gits back tae wha' Then suddenly a Lockheed Lightning plane flew over and Geordie grumbled, 'it's al reet fer hem he's gan ter be hame fer hi tea an' his missus while us silly buggers is sittin' yer in the f-n' mud an' rain.'

That night the blokes were scattered all over the place, no one knew what was happening and we were just going through the motions so to speak. I got into my truck that night and got under the tarp and went to sleep.

The next day we got back to Barnard Castle camp and I was told have the day off because I had been out all night on the exercise.

What turned out to be a long boring day suddenly brightened up that evening when an officer came into the room and asked, 'are you a driver?' 'Yes sir' I replied.
'Good' said he 'let us get to your truck, we are going to Darlington'.
I told him 'But sir I do not come back to duty until tomorrow, I was out on an exercise last night'.
'My dear chap' said the officer in pleading tones, 'there are about thirty of our chaps drunk and in the lock up'. 'The Police Sergeant has assured me if we get them out tonight they will forget about it, but if they are there in the morning they will have to go before the Magistrate.'

On the assurance that I would get tomorrow off we got into the truck and took off for Darlington.

The officer must have known the area because he guided me to the local nick where we pulled up and the Officer jumped out. I got out and dropped the tail door in anticipation of the blokes coming out of the police cells.

Soon they began to trickle out in twos and threes, most holding each other up. On spotting the truck one bloke guided the others to it.
'right me lucky lads this way fer the sky lark, Hic'
Then nodding at me he said, 'didnie tak ye lang ter get 'ere frae oor camp laddie'
But we showed that f-n' shower the neet, why aye man, we 'ad us a right f-n'punch up wi the locals'
'Ah divvant nah wa's gan tae pay fer the mirror, why aye, sum bugger pur a bawtle through his prize mirrer'
They all got loaded on and I shut the tailgate and put in the securing pins. The police Sergeant was telling the officer, 'they won't get a second chance next time'
Some mumbling and from the officer and, 'you have my word sergeant'

With the tail gate secured and the officer in his seat and the blokes in the back singing "I belang tae Glesca, dear old Glesca toon, whit's the matter wi' Glesca cos it'e goin' roon an' roon, ah'm ony a common auld worrkin chap, as ony yin 'ere can see, but when ah get a couple o' pints on a Sa'erday, Glesca belangs ter me.'

I started the engine and bearing in mind I had blokes in the back who were battling to keep their feet on firm ground I took off.

There was another truck turned up so I only had half of the drunks in the back of my truck. Every time I went round a corner the feet in the back did a rat a tat tat to keep their balance. I was the leading truck and the time was coming up for 3 in the morning and I wanted to get to bed so I began to gun the pedal a bit. These trucks with four wheel drives tend to whine quite loud when traveling at high speed. Two trucks screaming through the night loaded with drunken singing soldiers. I think some of the local villagers were wondering what was going on. We sped round bends and the Officer at one point was quite pale as he gripped the dash board and quavered, 'have you been driving long?' I reassured him I had been driving in the desert during ww2 and now drove an ambulance in my home town. He calmed down a bit but still hung on the dash board. We pulled into the camp and the other truck pulled in 5 mins later. 'Bloody 'ell mate you had yer foot down, I couldn't catch up wi' yer' The Officer said, 'damn good bit of driving, you have beaten my time from Darlinton to the camp and I have a sports car.'

The happy beer sodden swaddies were tumbling out the back of the truck and one bloke shouted to me, 'that's the best f-n' hic ride hic ah've hed of a long while hic, thanks mate and with a wave he staggered away with his mates. When I woke up the next day it was midday and the following day I left for home. I wonder if any of those blokes who where in that cop shop in Darlington that night would write and verify this yarn.

Tom Barker 1999

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker

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