Kenneth Taylor's War Diary – 3
Related entry: War Diary.
Friday 30 June, 44
Went to bed 0200hrs and got up 0300hrs to relieve Adjt. Managed a few shell-interrupted hours of sleep in the morning. In the afternoon went to Bayeux. Quite the most amazing contrast of environment I have ever experienced in so short a time. Had a lovely bath and walked round the town. No sign of any war damage but packed with British soldiers. Only thing to buy in the shops is butter and cheese. Couldn't believe I wasn't dreaming, to be walking about in a town and seeing civilians. Didn't feel much like going back.
Returned to find another signaller, Leek, had been wounded. Moved to new position at 1700hrs and soon had lines working. Quite a number broken by shells during evening and I got to bed late as usual.
Saturday 1 July, 44
Bn HQ has the most amazing dug-out I have seen in the front line. It looks as though we are here for months instead of a few days (I hope). The C.O. is driving people scatty with his elaborate schemes and pamphlet doctrines. Laying lines all over the place. Despite new position, still being shelled but not too heavily except for one big one 10yds from exchange. No-one hurt but I made the quickest descent ever to earth.
Saw a marvellous sight in the evening when hundreds of Halifaxes came over in open formation at low altitude to drop 1000 tons on 2 Pz Divs at Villers Bocage. Could see the bombs dropping. Fighters swarming about like flies 1000s of feet above. Saw none shot down despite usual terrific FLAK. Weather still very wet and spirits rather damp. Lovett and Jardine both wounded but not very seriously. Very short of signallers now and no time to get reinforcements used to things. Sgt Smith still unfit, but comes up in a day's time.
Sunday 2 July, 44
Went out at 0015hrs to lay line to A Coy forward platoon in pouring rain. Platoon only 200 yds from daytime Spandau positions. Layed line and spoke on phone without being challenged once. Had to waken someone to tell them phone was there. Most extraordinary! I think I could bring a whole German battalion thro' our lines at night without being stopped. Went to bed at 0230hrs and slept thro' stand-to until midday for which I felt much better.
Still pouring with rain and lines being broken all over the place thro' mortaring. Signallers absolutely dead beat and fed up although no-one seems to realize it. 21/C wanted lines to A Echelon but I refused. Talk of changing position with 7GH tomorrow as they are in a quieter spot than we are. Looking forward to a rest but shouldn't be surprised if C.O. has us doing drill parades. We have been nearly a month in the line now and still no sign of relief. Went to bed early and had undisturbed sleep. Received cigarettes from U.H.
Monday 3 July, 44
Woke up in pouring rain again. Moving today. Went over to 7GH to look at new position. Seems much better than ours. After Tiffin weather cleared up and we had a fine afternoon and evening. The sun put some new life into me and enabled me to acquire a reflective mood for the first time for days. Thought mainly about Anglezarke and meeting Pat there. Just going to move when Carrier went up on a mine and caused some delay.
Tuesday 4 July, 44
At 0100hrs arrived in new position and went straight to bed in a nicely prepared trench covered by two old doors. These unfortunately leaked and contrary to my expectations I woke up wet in the morning as usual. It rained as usual. This part of the world is very peaceful compared with the one I have just left. We have even got a Mess which I am reluctant to use at first but soon corrupted. Compo supplemented by fresh butter and vegetables is excellent.
The nearby buildings all destroyed except for a farm which is still occupied. Farmer gets very excited because people have been taking his potatoes and planks. He says that dead cows, ruined buildings, and civilians shelled cannot be helped. C'est la guerre – but taking his potatoes, his living, is unnecessary and will make the British very unpopular in France. Unfortunately it is difficult to prevent and to tell him that he can claim damages from civil court in Bayeux causes a certain amount of scepticism.
De Gaulle might be a good thing, but he has bandits and scoundrels in his Govt – i.e. anyone with leftward tendencies. Strong pacifism in French peasants, and fatalism about war.
Wednesday 5 July, 44
Not much work to do. Lines behaving. All Coys having fairly peaceful time except A Coy slight disturbance. Managed a spot of sunbathing. Weather still showery. Read NS and N. Had to stay up all night – quite interesting as there were plenty of Patrol reports. Having a fairly lazy time letting Sgt Smith do the work. I wouldn't mind a change of job. Battalion HQ is a dreadful place.
Thursday 6 July, 44
Received more cigarettes. Rien a faire. Hot sunny day for a change. Slept. Thunderstorm at night but kept dry. It was true – I actually saw C Coy doing drill this morning.
Friday 7 July, 44
Woke up feeling lousy – bad stomach and sick. Survived morning and went to see M.O. Did a bit of vomiting and was sent to ADS and from there to FDS, who decided they had no accommodation for officers with gastritis. I would have liked to stay there as it was a lovely old monastery. Another uncomfortable journey to 10 CCS just near Bayeux. After a great deal of fussing and talking I was allowed to go to bed in the officers' ward/tent. Sheets, a spring bed, and a roof that doesn't leak.
Saturday 8 July, 44
Had a perfect sleep and woke up feeling completely well. Rather shaken to find I was on a fluid diet. Feeling very hungry but Sister would give me nothing to eat. Anyway the rest is very welcome and I can write a few letters. Saw M.O. and persuaded him there was nothing the matter with me. Said I could have some food and return to duty tomorrow.
Most people here seem to think that 50 Div is having a rest. I enlightened them that we have been in the line for 32 days and still there. Had some cheese, marmalade, cocoa, and BREAD. The first bread since leaving the ship on D-Day. I had almost begun to wish I had asked to stay here a little longer as the food seems grand. The best feature is that there is no wireless here, although I expect soon the patients will have to contend with this added discomfort.
Various sorts of Padres arrive periodically with chocolates, cigarettes, and communion. I accept all but the latter, which is not required to secure the former. I must also add, to the credit of 10 CCS, that they don't come round every few minutes to straighten the bedclothes. The idea of having a Sister to attend to one was rather cheerful but this particular one does not stir my fancy very much. Received news yesterday that Margaret has heard from Ronnie at last. I am thrilled at the thought of her joy and relief. Slept and wrote letters.
Sunday 9 July, 44
Left CCS at 1400hrs. Arrived at 205 CRC hoping to be sent straight to the Battalion. Found myself a prisoner for the night with the possibility of remaining here indefinitely and then being sent to God knows where. There are about 20 officers here, most of whom depress one immeasurably. They are mainly people who have been found unsuitable by their units or who have failed at the critical moment. Their presence is most demoralizing. Their object seems to be to get cushy jobs somewhere out of the line and their behaviour either hysterical or decrepit.
Went out after dark and sent a message to the Adjutant asking him to retrieve me. I hear 50 Div is putting in an attack tonight and feel rather low about it. Went to the cinema and saw Song of Russia. Met Frenchman whom I met 3 weeks ago at Folliot.
Monday 10 July, 44
Woke up about half an hour after breakfast finished but managed to scrounge some. I suppose they thought I was one of the irresponsible inmates. Made further enquiries about getting out but replies rather vague. Went to see my friends at the farm who gave me cider and Calvados. They are strongly pro-British and accept even our pillaging as inevitable. De Gaulle the only possible govt for France. The Normans are conservative about the Russians and the Communists.
There is one officer here who had breakfast in his steel helmet this morning owing to our barrage about 5 miles away!
Staff Captain picked me up at midday and took me back to Bn in time for lunch and to find we were moving in to a position further West to relieve the Essex. Moved 1500 to NW of Bois de St Germain. Essex counter-attacked here this morning. A moderate amount of shelling as we arrived and only one line laid. Did the remainder before going to bed in the rain – not much sleep.
Tuesday 11 July, 44
Bn HQ moving in afternoon. Glad, as the area is filthy and depressing. Installed new exchange in the morning – in a nice circular mortar pit. Moved in fine weather and had a very pleasant hole to sleep in. Nearly big enough for a four-poster bed.
[ First published February 28th, 2006 ]
Related entry: War Diary.