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Robert Cameron

Bob Today

Bob Age 7

In 1942 I wa
s nineteen and had lived through more than a year in the L.D.V.C. Local Defence Volunteer Group (The Home Guard!). The dark days of Dunkirk were just behind me, and already some of the young men I had been raised up with had been killed, or drowned.


Most of the crowd I had run with since school days were either away or waiting their call-up papers. My occupation, farming, was reserved, but in my heart 1 knew I would have to go, as the thought of meeting the parents of a pal who had been killed was unbearable. There was a silence between my parents and myself, and I think they knew the road I would take.
They had experienced the horrors of the 14 - 18 war in the stories of those who came back, and were full of dread. There was no dread in my heart, only a sense of adventure in the unknown, and dreams of great deeds of bravery.


My training regiment was at Catterick in Yorkshire. We were given a Black beret and a mailed fist cap badge, the emblem of the "Royal Armoured Corps." Our training consisted of drill, P.T. (physical training), rifle, Bren Gun, Besa machine Gun instruction and firing; also the 2 pounder Gun, which was fitted in the tanks. The training and route marching did not bother me, as I
had walked many miles behind horses at home. They made me a Lance Corporal (unpaid), and at the end of maybe eight or ten weeks we were sent on leave. By this time I knew how to rough it, and I remember sleeping below a table in a railway station waiting room with my small pack for a pillow.

The Convoy

We were sent to a camp in the South of England called "Bovington" but were soon going back North to liverpool, where we embarked on a ship called Athlone Castle. This was to be our home for almost two months and our draft of 700 men were billeted in the ship's ballroom, sleeping in bunks four tier high. The two nights we were tied up, Liverpool was bombed, and on the third night we joined a convoy of close on forty ships and sailed round the top of Ireland and into the Atlantic. As was usual, roumours were floating about, but our main concern., although no one voiced their fears,. was the thought of being torpedoed.

All the ships sailed in lines. And the fastest had to match the speed of the slowest. We were escorted by Frigates and Destroyers, and the few there were of them kept chasing off to drop depth charges. We passed our time sun-bathing and desert navigation. At this time, the big push was on from "Alemein," so we knew we were going to join the 8th Army, "Monty's Desert Rats,"

During the night, we guessed we must have been near America, the convoy split up and in the morning only the "Athlone Castle" and her sister ship the "Stirling Castle" were sailing South which we learned afterwards. The next morning we sighted land and later were docking in the most exotic of places.


The scent from the land was a heady perfume, and the inhabitants were stately black people. We were told over the ship's loud speaker system that it was the port of "So Salvador da Baa de Todos os Santos" (Holy Savior of All Saints' Bay), a city in Brazil. It was otherwise known as Salvador.
The next day we were route marched through the town, took on fresh water, ate many pineapples, and whether because of one or the other, after we set sail again everyone on board had the "SH--S". The latrines for our draft catered for ten. One can picture what it was like when five or six hundred wanted to use them at the same time. Quite a mess to clear up in the morning

South Africa

I think our two ships relied on their speed to keep clear of U-boats. The next land we sighted after spotting an albatross on different days was "Cape towns" Table Mountain. We hugged the coast right round to Durban and were treated to that now famous welcome. This was supplied by a Durban lady singing "Land of Hope and Glory," through a loud hailer.

This city was a haven of plenty plenty to us who had come from a blacked out and strictly rationed country.

We were ordered to march from the ship to a transit camp four miles away, carrying full kit, dressed in battle serge in what was Durban's warmest weather. After almost two months on board, everyone was soft and on the march they were dropping like flies. What we looked like to the inhabitants of Durban one can only guess. That did not diminish their generosity and kindness towards us. 1 think that's what took so many ex-soldiers back there after the war.


Our visit lasted a week, and our next ship was the "Felix Rousell," which was to take us up to and through the Red Sea to Port Tewfik (or Port Taufiq). The smells here were the opposite of those in Brazil, and the natives were expert at thieving. I even saw specs. being stolen off a chaps nose.

A train ride took us up to the outskirts of Cairoto "Heliopolis" barracks. Once again we ere in training; this time in morse code and wireless procedure. The bugs in these barracks were something to behold, and on Sunday morning it was either Church parade or debugging. I went sick with a rash, which was diagnosed as bug bites, but finished up as scabies. It is small wonder as we were using blankets from the store which had not seen water since the year one.

After a week in hospital forty or fifty of us were sent to join the "Derbyshire Yeomanry" for desert training. Their camp was at "Sidi Bish" outside Alexandria. Here we had our first taste of the desert and trained in ancient armoured cars called "Marmon Herringtons." From the crowd in training about twenty were selected, put on a boat at Alexandria docks, and sent up to Tripoli. Gerry wasn't clear of the Mediterranean at this time, and we had a few scares on the road up. Still we did not know what was to happen to us, but on being dropped at a camp site outside Tripoli, we were informed it was Monty's forward headquarters and we were to crew a troop of armoured cars, Humbers this time and act as bodyguards to "Monty."

Italy & Sicily

This we did during the Sicily campaign and finished camped at "Taormina" at the Southern end of the Straits of "Messina." It was here I met an old Monkland lad called "Tom Reid" who was reared in Atholl Place. He was in the signals and married Isa Kane , They went to Africa, but both are now deceased.
It was evident that Italy would soon be invaded, but we did not know that we would be there till the end of the war. Our road through Sicily took us through Svracuse and Catania, the home of the "Mafia," and when we embarked for Italy it was from "Messina." I had a narrow escape when the wireless aerial of the "Humber" hit a wire stretched across to grenades on either side of the road. I saw the wire in time, and ducked into the turret.

Crossing to Italy we had our first taste of American rations. It was an American landing craft, and where we had been living on bully beef and hard biscuits and anything we could scrounge, on our crossing, we had fried chicken, all the trimmings and peaches and ice cream.

After we landed we were back on our own rations and did not take too kindly to them. Disembarking, we were dive bombed and so unused to this we felt like veterans after it was over.
Monty also had a tank, but it had not been used by him since the desert. The driver was friendly with the driver of the Humber I was on. Both went on the "passion wagon" "to Naples and my driver caught "V.D." He was completely different after that. I think it affected his brain, as he had been a staunch family man.

After Monty went home to prepare for the invasion of Normandy, we thought we would have gone with him we did security work for his successor General Leese. Leese commanded the Eighth Army at the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944 -when the bulk of the army was switched in secret from the Adriatic coast to Cassino to strike a joint blow with the United States Fifth Army.

By this time we were longing to join a regiment and lay down our roots. My mate Ernie Randall from "Swineshead" in Lincolnshire and myself after going into transit were sent to join the Xll Lancers. He went to 'A" squadron and I went to "B." The regiment did "recce" (reconnaissance) work, and "B" squadron took four hundred prisoners outside Venice and all the spoils that went with them.

All members of my troop had revolvers, cameras, watches, daggers, etc., which would have
been claimed by troops in the rear who run no risk. The partisans started to get brave when "Ted" was about knocked out and were often a nuisance. The last action we saw was at "Gorizia" in Yugoslavia. We pulled out quickly, as it was an internal
war and no Tedeskis (as Italians called Germans!) were involved.

"A" and "B" squadron pulled back down to South of Trieste to "Palmanova" and were sent on leave to "Gubbio" on the Adriatic. Knowing that the war for us was over we could relax sunbathing and swimming. After everyone had rested, they moved us into Austria on to a "Fleigerhorst" or Aerodrome. From here the longest serving men were sent home on leave under a scheme called L.I.A.P. I was going on leave!! They loaded us into three tonners called Chevrolettes. About sixteen to a lorry sitting on wooden benches. We stopped each night at a transit camp and in five days we reached "Calais." On the boat over to Dover, I threw two revolvers and two pairs of binoculars overboard. Maybe I was being selfish, but I had worked too hard for them to just calmly hand them in.

It took a while to get used to all my friends and family again, as it had een such a long time since I had been home. I suppose I was impossible with my English accent due to being amongst Englishmen for four years, and possibly being too cocky being a conquering hero. We did not know then how hard some of the other fronts had suffered. The leave flew in and on setting out back to the regiment, I felt I was going back to my other home.

On the way back I applied for "B" release, as I felt my father and mother were getting too old for the amount of work that had landed on their shoulders.

When we got back to the regiment, the rest of the younger lads were sent home and we had an easy time until they came back. I don't think I saw an Officer for weeks. The rations were still poor, many of the items finding their way on to the black market before they got our length. Our last Christmas dinner in the army was spent in Austria and soon after we pulled out back down to Italy. No one tells you anything in the army, but rumours were usually correct. They said we were going to Palestine to keep the peace between "Jews" and "Arabs."

Our vehicles were left at "Trieste" for shipping and we travelled all the way back down to "Reggio Calabria" by train. This was where we had landed - Oh so long ago. Waiting in the transit camp there, my "B" release came through and it was with mixed feelings I set out back home to Scotland. I was sent to "Catterick," where I had done my training, issued with a "de-mob" suit, and sent home with only my memories left to remind me of my war years.

The Corporals of the 12th Lancers c1945
Bob is in the front row - first left


Writing this more than forty years on, I feel it would help the thinking of today's young people if I try to clarify my views on the struggle in which we were embroiled. My main reaction, as is renewed every "Armistice Day" is utter dejection at the horrible waste of good young lives. Memories of those known and close to. me are the most poignant, and I shed unashamed tears.

Did we have to go? Yes. Unless we were under age, conscientious objector (usually based en religious views), medical reasons or in reserved jobs. At the start, when war was declared, due to "Hitler" over-running innocent nations, in his quest for world domination, we were living in a dream world and thought it would be a walk-over; us doing the walking. What a surprise we were in for. Germany was and had been preparing for ten years and their slogan "guns before butter" was strictly adhered to.

As their conquest of Europe and Scandinavia was completed and Britain forced to withdraw to their tiny island, the materials, labour force and stockpile of priceless treasures grew to huge proportions. Also the fodder for their concentration camps and gas ovens, which was finally made known to us, topped the six million mark. This was chiefly made up from European Jews, and the sights of survivors, what few there were of them, on being liberated from the camps never fails to nauseate me.

Why Hitler pursued this extermination policy still puzzles me. I can't see how it fittled in with "God's" scheme of things. Many thousands went to the gas chambers with their babies in their arms.

The civilian war

The evacuation at Dunkirk was completed under German noses and this rifleless army was brought home in tiny boats to. be armed for some time with pitch forks and pick handles. They also came home to severe rationing, as German submarines were taking a heavy toll of supply ships
coming from America. At one stage I'm sure we were nearly starved into submission.

With the scarcity of food, farmers were exhorted to plough for victory, and the humble potato. was made a war winner. Everyone was security conscious. Posters warned against the "fifth column." Everyone was on the lockout for spies. Heavy bombing of large cities caused many deaths and at one time it was safer in the forces. Women were conscripted into the services to release men for front line duties. Also they entered munitions factories and in the case of my wife, the W.L.A. (Womens Land Army.) The whole country was blacked out and wardens were appointed (unpaid) to. ensure that the black-out was strictly observed.

People started digging holes in their gardens and erecting "Anderson" shelters. These shelters were curved corrugated sheets and on being covered over by soil from the hole, they were a t leas t mora le boosters. Some were fitted with bunks, and on the sound of the sirens heralding a raid, people would go to these or other shelters. The subways were popular and photographs of whole platforms packed wi th sleeping people were often on view. Baffle walls were built on pavements opposite close mouths in tenement buildings and many an accident they caused in the black-out.

Even after spending a sleepless night people were expected to do a twelve hour shift in the factories. This heavy work, on top af the worry of having someone away in the forces, was maybe a harder burden to bear than suffered by those actually in the front line. A well known Scottish family lost three sons flying with the R.A.F.

Great deeds of bravery were performed by services and civilians alike, and many by the unlikeliest of people. Whether these people were Christian in their beliefs or not I don't know, but one thing I do know is that there can be no bigger christian act than laying your life on the line for your fellow man. What disturbs me is the thought that maybe this person has had
his finger on a trigger minutes before.

So the years rolled on towards victory. Not the victory we imagined, but one tainted by high politics, power and wealth. The victors finish up poorer than the defeated, except in the knowledge that in spite of setbacks, defeat, suffering, starvation and great loss of good young lives, we acquitted ourselves well and received our reward in the freedom of our minds and spirit which undoubtedly would have been quenched in defeat.




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