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Les Sims

Date of birth: 1926
Area: Castleford
Regiment: Suffolk
Rank: Private

War Service

“I received my call-up in a letter from the Ministry of Labour and National Service dated 25.7.44 saying “owing to the absence of vacancies, it is regretted that it has not been possible to accept you for any other service than the army”, (I still have that letter).I had to report to Hadrian’s Camp, Carlisle on the first of August 1944. Within 48 hours I was on a boat! The first of 12 sea voyages I would make before I was demobbed. So I did get a bit of sea service.
We went to Northern Ireland for 6 weeks General Service training in the Enniskillen barracks in Armagh. Our drill sergeant was an Irishman, Sergeant Duffy, who proudly told us that his country had been at peace for 500 years. We were in squads of thirty, there were eight squads and as we were called up in August, the squads were named August 1, 2, 3 squad etc. I was in August 3 squad. The parade ground was massive, as big as 3 or 4 football fields and sometimes there were 4 squads drilling at the same time. The drill sergeant would stand at the other side of the parade ground to where we were. We had to listen for his words of command and ignore all of the others. We marched to church on Sundays with the Royal Enniskillen Pipe Band. We were taught to handle various weapons, the Rifle, Bren gun, Sten gun, Tommy gun, 2 inch mortars, P.I.A.T. (Projectile Infantry Anti Tank). Other activities included throwing grenades, bayonet practice, route marches and assault courses.
At the end of the six weeks, I was posted to the Suffolk Regiment. There was only one other chap out of the whole eight squadrons who was posted to the Suffolk Regiment, he was Eric Fox and he came from Heckmondwike. We travelled together to Bury St Edmonds where we had another ten weeks of infantry training. After this we went home on seven days leave. On return we moved to Weybourne Hall in Norfolk. We were in Nissan huts in the grounds and the officers were in the Hall. On our first parade there we were inspected by the Commanding Officer, who was introduced to one of us, a chap called Chipperfield, because he was the youngest of us, having joined up at seventeen. We slept in bunk beds, one up, one down and Chipperfield was my bunk mate. Our blankets were neatly folded and our kit laid out for inspection every morning and if we were not using our rifles, they would be propped up at the end of our bunks. One day, the inspecting officer found some mud on our rifles. We were put on a charge. I thought that as Chipperfield had been particularly pointed out to the C.O. on our initial inspection, he might get off with a warning. If so, I could hardly be treated any differently. We were marched in front of the C.O. who lectured us on the importance of keeping our rifles clean and that a dirty barrel could have serious consequences. The barrels were not dirty, it was winter time, the area around Weybourne Hall was muddy and there was some mud on the butts. The C.O. said. “I normally give seven days C.B. (confined to Barracks) for this offence”. I thought Yippee! We’re going to get off! Then he went on, “and I don’t see why I should do anything different now, 7 days C.B.”
After Weybourne Hall, we moved to Blakeney, a small town on the Norfolk coast. We finished our training there and then went on embarkation leave. We caught the train at a place called Holt, a small town near Blakeney. The train pulled out of the station, but the driver saw another soldier running to the station. So he stopped the train and shunted back to the station and picked him up. I don’t think you would see that happening these days. When we returned from leave, we were told that anyone over nineteen years old would go to the Far East, anyone under nineteen but over eighteen would go to France, anyone under eighteen would have to remain in England. Chipperfield pleaded with the C.O. to be allowed to come with us, but they would not let him go. My pal Eric Fox was nineteen so he went to the Far East. I went to France.
I went to a place called Corbie, a town near Amiens, to No 42 R.H.U. (Reserve Holding Unit). That was as near as I got to the front line. We were staying in some French houses that had been taken over by the military. They were three storey houses, there was no furniture, floor covering or lights. It was here that I contracted a carbuncle on the back of my neck. I was taken by ambulance to 25th British General Hospital in Amiens. On the way there we passed the prison, which the Mosquitos of the R.A.F. had bombed a hole in the wall to enable members of the French resistance to escape.
I was treated with a brand new wonder drug, Penicillin, which was injected every 3 hours for 48 hours. It did the trick. I was in hospital for a week or two. Anyone discharged from a military hospital was automatically given 7 days leave. I set off for Ostend, from there to Tilbury and then to a transit camp in Sunningdale, Surrey. I went home on leave from there. I had to report back to Sunningdale on May 7th. The next day was V.E. Day, so we were given the day off and went to London. I don’t think that London has ever seen, or is ever likely to see, a day like that again. I have seen on television celebrations for our cricket team winning the Ashes, or our rugby team having won the World Cup, but I think it fair to say that, at least 60% of the people in London were not aware of what was being celebrated, not being cricket or rugby fans. On V.E. Day everybody, but EVERYBODY, knew what was being celebrated. I was fortunate enough to be in Whitehall when Winston Churchill, the great man, came out on the balcony of the Ministry of Health and addressed the crowd below, a wonderful experience! Then back to Sunningdale and on to Tilbury and then to Ostend.
In June I was transferred to the 1st Battalion the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and returned to England. We were under canvas in Biffrons Park in Canterbury. We later moved to Sussex, we were doing jungle training in preparation for S.E.A.C. (South East Asia Command) to fight the Japanese. But the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended, much to our relief.
We had a pleasant stay in Sussex and then moved to Southampton and boarded the SS Strathmore. We sailed on 5th of December and arrived at Port Said on the night of the 14th. Port Said was a beautiful sight at night with all the lights, but the next morning not quite so beautiful. We boarded a train of cattle trucks and travelled down, by the side of the Suez Canal, to a place called El Quassassin. We left there just over a week after bound for Haifa. We had been chosen to be the Demonstration Battalion to the Middle East School of Infantry. We arrived at our location, under canvas, a couple of miles north of Acre on the evening of the 23rd. The next day, Christmas Eve, because guard duties had not been sorted out, one company had to stay in camp and perform all the guard duties. That company was “B” Company, my company. I knew that my brother, who was in the R.A.F. Regiment, was stationed somewhere near Haifa. So next day, Christmas Day and no guard duties, I was getting ready to set out to try to find him, when he appeared! The day before some of the other chaps, not in “B” company, had found the R.A.F. camp about a mile down the road at a place called St Jean. My brother had seen their D.C.L.I. shoulder flashes and found out where we were camped. He came and picked me up and we spent Christmas Day together at his camp. A day to remember!
I had not seen my brother for over three years. Before Palestine he had been in Italy and before that in North Africa. He had sailed from Gourock on 10th December 1942 in the SS Strathallan. They were due to land on 22nd, but on the night of 21st they were torpedoed. There were some 5,000 troops and 200 nurses on board. Fortunately they were in a convoy and were not far from land and there were relatively few lives lost.
Soon after arriving in Palestine I received a parcel from home. It was addressed to our camp in Sussex and we had left when it arrived. It followed me out to Palestine and one of the things that my mother had put in it, bless her, was an orange, they were like gold in England and here I was in the land of Jaffa’s and oranges 25 for a shirt button.
During the first half of 1946 we were busy with our engagement as Demonstration Battalion. I think we acquitted ourselves very well. The battalion football team did very well too, winning all their matches. Not surprising since our captain was C.Q.M.S. Ramsey, who later managed the England team that won the World Cup.
About the middle of June, terrorists blew up a bridge on the main Haifa to Beirut road, about 4 miles north of our camp. We were sent, along with some battalions of 1st Guards Brigade, to cordon and search the Jewish settlement of Eilon.
On 25th June we ended our period as Demonstration Battalion to the Middle East School of Infantry and joined the 1st Guards Brigade and moved from our camp near Acre to Megiddo camp near a place called Afula. At the end of June we set out on operation “Agatha”. During the next 3 days we were involved in searching 5 Jewish settlements. We did not know what to expect, however things passed off peacefully. Our battalion arrested some 50 male Jews.
In the first week of August we moved to Nathanya, a seaside place near Tel Aviv. We were held there as a reserve whilst the 6th (Airbourne) Division were carrying out a search of Tel Aviv. The search was uneventful and we returned to our camp at Megiddo. There we were constantly going out at night making road blocks. We would block one road and check anyone for proper identification for a couple of hours and then move somewhere else and do the same and then somewhere else and so on until daybreak. One night over 80 Arabs were sent to jail for evading the curfew. On one occasion our last road block was just outside Nazareth and as dawn broke the sun was big and red, Nazareth lies in a valley and the sun caught the top of the buildings first and coloured them brilliant red. It was a wonderful sight.
We were told that sometime in the autumn the Brigade would be moving to TransJordan for a month’s training. Our battalion was given 24 hours notice in the middle of September to move into TransJordan, at a place about 4 miles from Zerka. Our job was to prepare a camp for the Brigade. All around there was nothing but sand with one road running through it to Amman the capital. The rest of the Brigade arrived in early October. We spent a month doing battle training exercises, seeking what shade we could during the day and using our towels as scarves when the sun set. It soon turned from boiling hot to very cold. King Abdullah came to watch us one day.
We returned to Megiddo at the end of October but not for long. We moved into Peninsular Barracks in Haifa on the 11th of November. On about the 20th we were moved to Jerusalem to guard about 50 miles of railway lines, which the terrorists had been constantly blowing up. I was in H.Q. Company and battalion H.Q. was set up in The Greek Monastery of the Cross, so called because, it is said, the Crucifix was made from a tree growing in the Monastery. The Monastery was one of Pontius Pilate’s residences. It is believed that we were the first troops to occupy the building since Pontius Pilate’s bodyguard.
The battalion moved back to Peninsular Barracks in the middle of December and we spent Christmas there. Whilst we were there, the Stern Gang blew up the police headquarters in Haifa. It was a busy night for the battalion, we rounded up some 500 curfew breakers.
We moved back to Nathanya in mid January. I came home on leave from there. After arriving in Port Said, we were told that we would be the first to come home all the way by sea, previously the route was by sea to Marseille and then overland and across the channel. We thought we would have a quicker journey. Our ship was the SS Ascanius. Its safety certificate expired before we got home and it took us 30 days, non-stop, to reach Liverpool. The streets were covered in snow all the time I was at home. I travelled back on the SS Empress of Australia and it took us just 7 days, calling at Malta and Piraeus.
After returning from leave, we prepared to move to Cyprus. We were not sorry to be leaving Palestine. British troops remained in Palestine until the end of the mandate in May 1948. During the three years from the end of the war in 1945 to May 1948 784 British servicemen lost their lives and are buried in Palestine and if you watch the parade pass the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday, as no reference is made to our forces in Palestine, you might think that it never happened!
We sailed from Haifa in H.M.S. Battleaxe to Famagusta and by road from there to Dhekelia camp. Our duties there were to guard the Illegal Jewish Immigrant camp at Xylotymbou. I think it is a holiday resort now. We were doing a twenty four hour guard, one day in three. The 1st Battalion of the South Wales Borderers Regiment were stationed in Nicosia and they loaned us one of their companies to make it one day in four. I remember them singing in our N.A.F.F.I. and it was obvious that they came from the land of song!
As the end of my service approached I applied to go on a demobilisation course. This course was held in Port Said. Myself and another chap (I forget his name) suggested to our C.O. that it would be pointless us coming all the way back to Cyprus as our demob group number (62 group) would be due out about then and we would have to turn round and go back to Port Said again. He agreed and told us to go on leave after our course until our group number came up. This we did, the leave camp was about 5 minutes walk from the transit camp and when our group number came up, we were the first into the transit camp. We were there about a week before others of 62 group from our battalion in Cyprus arrived in Port Said. Because I was there a week longer than them, I got on a boat before them. I boarded H.M.S. Cheshire bound for home and demobilisation. Strangely enough, on board, I met up with my pal Eric Fox from Heckmondwike, also on his way home and demob. I feel that’s a nice way to end my story”.

Family Life

“August 1939 was a warm, sunny month. I was 13 years old and with my younger brother was camping out in the front garden, next door but one, with their three young sons. I don’t know what the neighbours thought about five young boys, probably awake at first light! Things went swimmingly until, I can’t remember just how, but we became aware that war was imminent. So we struck camp and went home to sleep, we were not taking any chances.
Monday 4th September, the day after war was declared, was our first day at school after our August Bank Holidays. We were taught the French national anthem, in French. We later dug up part of our school playing field to dig for victory. I learnt how to do trenching, the way to properly cultivate meadow land, which I was able to put to good use much later in life when I had a garden of my own. I did not stay in school long enough to see the fruits of our labours. I left school at the end of July. I started work, in September, at the Post Office, as a telegram boy. People were glad when we passed their door, they were fearful of the message we might bring of someone missing or killed in action. We had rationing, blackouts, air raids, gas masks, there were warships weeks, to raise funds to buy warships and Spitfire funds, I think £5,000 would buy a Spitfire. We had frequent air raid warnings when Sheffield, Rotherham, Liverpool, Manchester and Hull were being attacked. We could see the searchlights, hear the planes and the sound of bombs and anti aircraft fire. But we were lucky in Castleford, we were only bombed once. Sweets were rationed, I gave my coupons to a girl, who is now my wife, so it was a good investment.
I wanted to go into the navy when I was called up and so went to join the Sea Cadets, but was told that I could not join as I was over seventeen and a half and would have to await registration when they would decide which branch of the services I would go into, or perhaps be drawn to be a Bevin boy. However, the chap running the Sea Cadets said that if I cared to attend his classes, he would teach me the Morse Code. This I did and when I had to go to register, he gave me a letter saying that I wanted to be a Wireless/telegraphist and had attended his classes and achieved nine words a minute in the Morse Code. When I went for my medical examination, I was pleased to see that all the doctors were Naval Officers. I passed my medical and was told that I would be a Wireless/Telegraphist in the navy”.

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