Walter Stockley and his wife Margaret both traveled with us to Normandy with D-Day Revisited for the Anniversary Commemorations on three occasions. Wally kindly shared his memoirs with us, so we could share them with you..."
I was born in Liverpool on the 11th February 1925. I have been asked many times to tell of my experiences during the war years of WWII. Finally the time has come for me to put pen to paper or finger to typewriter.
This is my story and I shall call it ‘A Journey through Northwest Europe’. I dedicate it to all of my brothers in arms, some living, most are dead, but all are never more than a thought away.
11th February 1943
It was my 18th birthday, a day I shall never forget; for it was the day I went to enlist at the local Labour Exchange in Walton. Another young chap the same age as myself was enlisting at the same time, we were told that we would have to go for a medical in 2 weeks time at Renshaw Hall, Renshaw Street, Liverpool. Both of us past our medicals and two weeks later we received our papers and were told to report to Saighton Camp in Chester. There I did my basic training with the other young chap and we became good friends.
Over the next six weeks we did training on how to fire a rifle, throw grenades, bayonet training and how to march. It was during this six week stint that I had an interview with an officer to decide on which roll would suit my capabilities, the outcome of this was that I was to become a Driver Operator.
2nd May 1943
I had to report to Rhyl, to start my Driver Operator training and remained there until the end of July 1943 when I was posted to Whitby in Yorkshire. Here I continued with the same training course until the beginning of November 1943 when I went back to Chester, to be posted to the 212 Anti Aircraft Regiment. I was sent on 14 days leave the very next day.
26th November 1943
I reported back off leave and was posted to Rhyl on an advanced signalling course, where I stayed until early January 1944, after which I was posted to the 3 R.H.A. (Royal Horse Artillery) in Norfolk.
Along with the other drivers, I went to Guilford Essex to pick up new replacement vehicles, the one that I collected was a 15cwt. Canadian Ford which I would keep until March 1945 when I would get the job of Battery Captains Driver, more of that later. Anyway in the cab of the vehicle that I had collected was a tatty old leather jerkin I decided to keep it as I thought it just may come in handy.
The Regiment moved to just outside Brentwood Essex, where the drivers all waterproofed their vehicles, this entailed covering all the electrical connections and fuel connections with a thick greasy plasticine.
6th June 1944 – D-DAY
We were anchored off Normandy at Arromanches, it was frightening seeing and hearing the Royal Navy firing their big guns for their shells to land on enemy positions further in land. Seeing H.M.S. Warspite firing its big guns was a sight never to be forgotten, every time its guns were fired the smoke from the cordite practically hid the ship from sight.
When the time came, we were told to stand by, and LCT’s (Landing Craft Tanks) came alongside the Liberty Boat. It was then that all our equipment was lowered onto these, the men gained access to the LCT’s by climbing down climbing nets which hung over the side of the Liberty Boat.
This was happening in the late afternoon of the 6th June, the LCT had to drop its ramp a little way off shore, which meant I had to drive through the water before reaching the beach.(Our beach being code named GOLD BEACH) I was more worried and frightened as to if I had done a good job of waterproofing my vehicle back in England than anything else at that particular moment, as seeing a couple of vehicles stop suddenly before reaching the beach knowing water had affected their engines, I prayed like I had never prayed before that I had done my waterproofing right.
My Guardian Angel must have been in the cab with me that day because we reached the beach OK.
On the beach was a Royal Navy Beach master, wanting the beach cleared he was shouting “get off my bloody beach” quietly I said to myself since ‘when did it become your beach? I thought it belonged to the French!’.
After landing on the beach, it was a case of getting to an area which happened to be a field, to get on with the job of stripping off the waterproofing. I donned the tatty old jerkin which I knew would come in handy and started de-waterproofing the shells whistling overhead did not make this job any easier, and so it was with wearing the tatty old jerkin and smudges of grease on my face that the NCO in charge of the signallers on my vehicle shouted, “Come on you Taggy B*****d we’re moving on!” Taggy was the name that stuck with me for the next three years of my service with the 3rd Regiment Horse Artillery, never once was I called by my name Stockley or even Scouse Wally. I think I must have been the only person in the army who was called this.
On leaving the beach we saw a little white haired dog, we stopped and picked it up. With signallers on my truck all having served in North Africa with the Desert Rats, it was decided that the dog should be named Swia which I believe is Arabic meaning small or little. He stayed with us from that day until a day in June 1945, which you will read about later. Swia shared our rations, his favourite meal being M&V. (meat and vegetables) out of a tin mixed with some hard tack biscuits. His place in the vehicle was lying on a blanket on top of the engine cover in the cab.
After moving on from the beach, the first distressing thing that I saw was the sight of four British Soldiers lying dead in the corner of a field, just a little further on down the country lane which we were driving along lay two dead German soldiers in the hedgerows at the side of the lane.
The time spent in the Battle of Normandy lasted from the 6th June until 20th August a total of about 80 days. During this time the countryside was littered with carcasses of dead cattle. They were lying on their backs with their legs pointing up towards the sky, their bodies were bloated and blown up like balloons. As the weather was hot at this time of year the smell of rotting flesh was nauseating added to this there were flies everywhere which didn’t help matters.
Driving without lights in the summer when there were not many hours of darkness was not too bad, but as winter approached it was quite nerve racking.
Our job on my vehicle, known as M1 (Monkey One), was the laying of the phone line from the forward Observation Post to the Battery Command Post. Laying the phone line did not mean climbing telegraph poles, far from it. I would drive the vehicle very slowly with the cable being reeled out at the rear, and two of the lads placing the cable close to the hedge on the side of the lane.
This being completed the signallers and I would take our turn manning the phone for Fire Orders. Whenever the line went dead we had to find where it was broken and fix it. I suppose it could have been due to rabbits or other small rodents gnawing through the fine cable, but for some reason this always seemed to happen at some unearthly hour during the night!
Later on in France before crossing into Belgium, I was doing my turn of duty on the phone. This particular day at about 11am, the Command Post Officer left the command post to answer the call of nature. It was while he was away that Fire Orders came through on the phone for the guns to fire on a target. It was a bit frightening no officer being present. So I had no other option but to pass the target on to the guns and when they were ready tell them to FIRE.
It was only when the guns had finished firing that the officer appeared wanting to know what was happening; this officer was a dour man I had never seen him smile. It was then that the phone rang, it was the Battery Commander at the Observation Post wanting to talk to the officer who had just come back, while he was talking on the phone he kept looking at me. I thought I may be in trouble for doing something wrong, but the officer said he had a message from Sunray for me, (Sunray was code for Battery Commander) “My Compliments to the Signaller – Good Shooting!” Although elated it was a position I didn’t want to find myself in again.
One afternoon we were in Belgium just outside of Ghent, having just fixed the phone line after it had been damaged. We were about to pass a big house with a large driveway when we saw a little old, or should I say elderly, man shouting and waving his arms frantically! Not knowing why he was so excited, we went up the driveway and approached him. He took the four of us into a large room inside his house. He sat us at his table, then brought in five glasses and two bottles of champagne which he had buried in his garden. He filled the five glasses after which he started singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary” in broken English. It was sad that we had to drink up our Champagne in a hurry, and leave the old chap celebrating his new found freedom all alone.
Then it was leaving Belgium into Holland, taking up many new gun positions along the way. Late November we took up position in the area of Dinther. Early in December we had been out repairing the phone line. Why the lines always seemed to cause trouble during the hours of darkness I don’t know! Could have been due to rabbits or other small rodents gnawing through the fine cable. On the way back to our position this particular night it was bitterly cold. But at least there was a moon out which made driving without lights a little less treacherous. We came across a small cottage in the middle of nowhere. We approached the cottage and went inside for a few minutes only to find a young chap and an elderly man sitting by the fireplace, and at the table sat a young woman and an elderly one. On the left side of the fireplace on the hearth was a pair of small children’s clogs and on the right side of the hearth was another pair of small clogs. When we asked why the clogs were placed in the positions they were, the answer we received was that, this night 6th December was St Nicholas Eve when St Nicholas brought presents (just like our Father Christmas) knowing that there would be no presents forthcoming for these children, we left a tin of sweets by each pair of little clogs and then went.
Those children would now be in their late sixties. I wonder if they still remember the night St. Nicholas arrived in British Battledress left their presents and then vanished into the night.
It was shortly after this that we finished up over the Christmas and New Year period in Sittard, driving to Sittard was horrendous. The snow and icy conditions were the worst that I had ever experienced, the Dutch people said it was the worst winter for many years, to this day I have never experienced a winter as bad.
New Years Eve 1945
At midnight the Battery fired shells on the German lines to let the New Year in, it wasn’t very long before the Germans returned the compliment.
January and February 1945
We moved across the border into Germany. On the night of 25/26th March 1945 we were near the River Rhine, on that night our guns along with the guns of other Royal Artillery Regiments took part in firing a barrage across the river to give cover for the troops landing on the other side.
Continuing through Germany, we reached Harburg. It was here that I was given some devastating news. The young man, the same age as myself who I had enlisted with, did our signal and driver training together and joined the 3RHA with had been killed in action. This was only about a couple of months before the war ended. In my grief I thought “there but for the Grace of God go I.”
While in position in Harburg, we found a barn in a farmyard, somewhere to be comfortable in our bedroll when not on duty. It was only when a young Dutch lad who acted as the battery interpreter went up into the loft first to check it out, started shouting to us as he jumped seven or eight feet from the loft that we saw six German soldiers coming down from the loft. What would have happened if that young Dutch lad had not warned us does not bear thinking about!
I swapped my Canadian Ford to become Battery Captains Driver to Captain Charles Aitcheson which meant driving his jeep. What a great little vehicle that was, and the Captain, he really was a gentleman, along with my Battery Commander Major Jack Tirrell; nobody could wish to serve under two better men.
We left Harburg arriving on the outskirts of Hamburg at 2pm and at about 4.30pm word came round that the war was over this was on the 8th May 1945. As at this time I was Battery Captains Driver, it was decided that we would go in the jeep, to pick up another officer with a Dingo (a small armoured scout vehicle) and then go to Denmark, where we stayed overnight. The next morning returning to Hamburg we passed lots of German Soldiers marching back to Germany. this time there was no singing as there had been when things were going in their favour, their heads down, quietly subdued not wanting to make eye contact.
From Hamburg we moved to the little town of Elmshorn, a distance of 32 kilometres from Hamburg. We were stationed here until early June when we moved on to Berlin. At this time an order was issued by 21st Army Group HQ. That there would be no fraternising with the German people, women and children included. Travelling along the Autobahn to Berlin to prepare to take part in the Victory Parade, it was during a ten minute break from driving that we let our little dog Swia out of the vehicle to do whatever he wanted to do that he ran into some trees at the side of the Autobahn, and sadly never came back. There was no time to for us to try to find him as orders were given to move on. All we could hope for was that one of the drivers at the back of the column would see him and pick him up, but alas we had no such luck.
July 21st 1945
We were stationed in Berlin in the Olympic Stadium, our billets were the swimming pool dressing rooms. The Victory Parade took place along the Unterdenlinden, and the Charlottenburg Chausee, it was the 25 pounder field guns of the 3rd RHA that fired the nineteen gun Salute in Berlin that day. It wasn’t until September that we left Berlin to return to Elmshorn.
I received a letter from a young girl who had reached the age of sweet sixteen in November 1945, she asked if she could write to me as a pen pal, I was more than happy to agree as I only received one letter from home every so often, although I was always being accused of cradle snatching by my mates.
I was granted nine days leave in England and it was while on leave that I decided to take a trip to Halifax to meet my young pen pal. When I arrived in Halifax by train, I found out which bus would take me to my destination – a little place between Halifax and Queensbury. The area consisted of one shop, one pub, one chip shop and a school. When getting off the bus unsure of which direction to go in so I asked a young girl directly in front of me if she knew where the address that I had written down was. She looked at me and smiled before saying sorry she had no idea. I smiled back and thanked her anyway.
It took me a while but I eventually found the house that I was looking for. When I was invited in there was the young girl who I had asked for directions from standing by the table. This was Margaret my pen pal she had just wanted time to get out of her work clothes before we met for the first time, as she had been working in the Dean Clough Mill weaving carpets until the firm changed over to weaving webbing for the army. On my part it was Love at first sight, but on returning to my regiment after my leave I thought my letters from Margaret would stop. I thought that with me then being 20 years old and her being just 16 years old that she would think the age difference too much, I was so pleased when the letters arrived more often.
Some time later I moved to Oldenburg to be stationed in the Flak Barracks. We were not there long before one of my mates who was on duty driving the passion wagon (so called because it took the lads into town and back to the barracks later) asked me to park the 3ton Austin outside the barrack gate for him, which I did.
A couple of days later I was called to the Battery Office and told to wait. Two big chaps came in minutes later, one a Warrant Officer, the other a Staff Sergeant who introduced themselves as SIB (Special Investigation Branch). One night an army vehicle had knocked two German civilians down and didn’t stop. They said that I was the person seen driving the vehicle that night, I told them I had but only as far as the Barracks Gate. The Sergeant was a big arrogant sod who didn’t believe my story. An hour or so later they left saying “We will be back”. They never did come back once they realised that they had got the day of the accident wrong and the guilty person was found. Still, from then on I did no more favours.
The bombardier in charge of the MT office was granted fourteen days compassionate leave, plus a month’s course in England. I was put in charge of the MT office for the six weeks. The work in the office could be quite hectic, for instance recording the daily, weekly and monthly petrol issued to each vehicle, recording daily, weekly and monthly mileage done by each vehicle, the VOR State etc. This apart from detailing vehicles for their daily jobs, and getting their Work Tickets signed by an officer. Once the Bombardier returned, I got back to my normal duty as a driver.
The next ten months past over and the time came for my demob at the end of June 1947. I collected my discharge book, gathered my kit together and travelled to the Hook of Holland to board a ferry for England. The ferry docked in Harwich, from there I caught the train to London then from London to York. After reporting to Fulford Barracks to hand in my kit and to be issued with a suit, trilby raincoat, shoes, shirt and a tie I caught the train back home to Liverpool.
In December 1947 Margaret and I were married at Queensbury Parish Church exactly one month after her 18th Birthday. We went on to have 8 children, 16 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. On 20th December 2009 we will have been married 62 years.
Sadly Wally passed away in December 2011. He was warm, comfortable and surrounded by loving family.