Dad on the Morritts
Recorded by Sylvia, Swinstead, 31.7.14
Grace Morritt is the wife of Major Henry Morritt. He came to Rokeby in 1890, I think it was. It was very complicated because Henry’s brother was killed in South Africa. The death tax was to pay and unfortunately before that another one had died so that was two died in three years and Morritts couldn’t afford to live at the Hall at that time, so they didn’t come until about 1919. But Major Morritt was wounded in the Boer War, and his brother, and he took the prisoners over to Bermuda. And on the way back something happened and he was poorly and they put hot water metals on his feet and caused damage. He never walked properly again. So when the second War came on he couldn’t go back to the army, even though he was a major. He bought a big Riviera car with a massive back, like a 7-seater or 9-seater. He took this car to the war and used to drive to the front line and put the stretchers on the back and took them to hospital. He did this as a civilian.
He painted my picture when I was about 13 in 1933. He couldn’t afford to go to the Hall and so they let the Hall and the farm to Ben Irvins from Scotland. When we went there the farm was covered with black cows with the white belly, Scotch cattle.
Dad’s story: Childhood to gardens
Reminiscenses recorded in 2014 by Sylvia
My first memory
Mum and I had been to Mortham Towers, across the Greta, and the two old people (the Yorks) had died and we laid them out, and we were walking back to the Cottage, West Lodge, and the lightning was bouncing on the fence, steel fence, all the way up. It was a very fine metal mesh, to keep the rabbits out of Rokeby. They had lovely gardens and at that time of year, it was overrun by rabbits. So I can’t tell you whether I was 5 or seven. That is my first memory of being at West Lodge. I don’t remember Whorlton. I was born there and only a baby then. The Yorks only had a small place, a flat in The Tower at Mortham. It was all part of the farm at the time. He had been a solicitor in Barnard Castle. They are buried in Rokeby Church.
We got two bell tents from the Army and we got a little patch of land on the way down to the Meeting of the waters. We put in steps to climb over the ditch to this bit of land and we had two bell tents, one to cook in and one to serve in. The following year we got a hut so that we could cook in the hut and the two bell tents to serve in. And the next year we had the hut and we got a marquee, a big marquee. People were encouraged to go to the Meeting of the Waters then and there was a lovely walk on the road side from Abbey Bridge, right down on the riverside, then a bit across the road, and came down to Meeting of the Waters; only a walk, no cars or anything like that. There was one time, I can’t remember the year at all, but we had nine Bee Line buses, one Sunday night from Hartlepool, and only enough room for four buses from the Tea House to West Lodge, but they were parked up the road almost to Bowes View.
We got the marquee and then we got a bigger hut and turned the little hut into a lavatory, ladies and gents at either end, not flush toilets, a bucket with a piece of wood on top! Most houses were like that then, no toilets, a chamber pot; 1930ish. One morning we started at 5.30am because there was an eclipse and I think it was at 6am. To see it properly you had to go nearly to Scotch Corner, to Gilling Bank, and at the top you could see right down to the east of the Penines.
In the field that we had there was a massive chestnut tree, and we were going to build a tea house. Someone from Bowes built it. It is a house now, but we used it as a tea house. In the meantime we used the Dairy Bridge as another tea house and my cousin, Lovice, used to run that one. There is a window in Dairy Bridge House that goes out over the river. I have seen trees come down the River Greta. Trees! And suddenly they get across the rocks and block it and then you get a flood. Of course, the estate used to shift them, pull them round and let them go further down. When the Morrits had the farm, which we had later, that was the dairy. They used to take the milk down to the dairy and back to the Hall. And we converted it to a tea house. Before that it was a gamekeeper’s house. There were seven gamekeepers on the estate at one time.
We were well noticed throughout the North East for the teas. Mam made all the cakes. There were sandwiches of all descriptions and one of the favourite sandwiches – we used to get boxes of cress… fish used to come in boxes. People used to buy herring in boxes from the fishmonger, and The Gardens used to put the soil in and grow mustard and cress on the top. We used to get a box of mustard and a box of cress and you mixed it, and they were beautiful sandwiches and people used to come from all over for them! We put tomatoes in the sandwiches, sometimes beef, anything that was on the market at that time. We bought the bread from Barnard Castle from Collies, in sandwich loaves which I don’t think you ever see now, square, and two foot long. We used to cut them up into slices.
I used to help with everything, make the sandwiches, serve on… I was very popular with them, being only young. One of the favourite cakes was a butterfly cake with the wings, a cake cut in two, with butter cream, and the wings put on. Dead easy! But another real favourite was the coconut cake, in an egg cup, plenty of butter around the egg cup, turn upside down in the coconut, cherry on the top. They used to go down massive. Mam had worked in the Hall with all the cooks in the Hall. She had a good idea of what to do. We were very popular. As I said nine Bee Line buses, of course the driver got a free tea! We needed a lot of sandwich loaves, about 6 on a Friday. The best days for serving teas were Saturday and Sunday.
Barnard Castle School had Wednesday afternoon off and Saturday afternoon off and the parents used to go round on a Wednesday, pick the bairns up and bring them out to us – a good feed and then take them back again.
I won a scholarship for Barnard Castle School, and was paid for. You had to sit an exam to get into the school. They brought the prices down, £24 a term I think it was. Mam paid for me. My first school was next door to Rokeby Church. There were two class rooms. Boys and Girls toilets outside. The teacher lived just across the road at the Vicarage. But, my mam got really upset, the school teacher, Mrs Kirkbride – not a good teacher by any means. It wasn’t a good school, Mrs Kirkbride and two girl teachers, every time they went out, her husband walked 10 yards in front of her. Mam would see them come along the road and she would be so angry. In those days there was an heir, no heiresses. He took everything and the man walked 10 yards in front of his wife, and she was a teacher. They used to walk down through the woods to Bowes View and then cross the road into Barnard Castle. Mam had become a nurse. It took a long time, first in Bishop Auckland and then to Leeds, both General and Infirmary in Leeds. I was taken away from the school when I was seven, and went Frosterley School where my grandma lived.
Mam had gone to Frosterley School, a good school, and I was there from 7 – 9 years old, then they brought the prices down at Barnard Castle School and I sat the exam. But I went to the dentist for seven weeks at 9 years old because you had to have your teeth done before you could go to the school! I was absolutely mad, because for an extraction you had an injection, but drilling the teeth in those days was by a foot pedal, up and down, beside you, and a great big wheel with a cord on went up and twisted the top and a lead down to where the needle is.
In the Prep School, the Headmaster of the Prep was a maths teacher, the girl used to teach French in the main school and a couple more. I did French from 9 and Latin. I couldn’t see the point of that (Latin). It was a good school. They used to go to College from there. I once saw a boy fall from the staircase. That was naughty. It was part of the school, fooling around they were and he fell over the balcony.
In Winter they used to do 9-12 every day and then off till 4pm. As a day boy it was mad for me. I used to ride my bicycle there every day 5 miles there and back, first by fairy cycle! Later on when I was about 13, dad bought me an acetylene light, nearly as big as the bike, a wonderful light compared with the battery lights we used to use in those days. I got this light and it was a chemistry lesson. I went up to the labs and the teacher said we will have a Bunsen burner lit. So I lit it and was accused of having cigarettes, and told to go to the Headmaster. I stood there for about three quarters of an hour and got 5 belts. I had matches for the light, but no cigarettes. They wouldn’t believe me. Pull your shirt up to see if you had any books, and then five lashes. There were a lot of things done as a deterrent. It was a ploy to ask for the Bunsen burner to be lit, to see if you had cigarettes.
We lived in West Lodge until I was ten and a half, then they made Dad a butler and we moved into the Coach House. Then when the Morritts moved out of the Hall into where the agent lived at Bowes View, we moved into The Gardens. Someone from Newcastle had The Gardens, Hill and Company had the Gardens and they just robbed it. By that time we had packed the tea house up and dad did the farm and mam the Nursery.
Major Morritt painted my portrait when I was 13. He had been poorly and I don’t know what was the matter with him, but my mam cured him. She looked after him. It wasn’t from the First World War, he was barely in it. He was in the Boer War. And the poor fellow, took some prisoners to Bermuda, South Africa, and he caught something. I don’t know what it was, and they thought he had died on the ship coming back home, and the nurses/aid people stuffed tin plates, not hot water bottles then, on his feet and did away with all the nerves on the soles of his feet. So in the first World War, he wasn’t allowed in really. But he got two cars, a Riviera was one, and he used to put a stretcher across the back of the car. He used to drive the car into no-man’s land, then drive them back to the hospital. Mam pulled him round and he wanted to do something for mam and painted a picture of me at 13 years old. It was so boring, every Wednesday afternoon, when it was half day from school, sports really. It was in the top of the house in a studio. I used to go fishing with him, too. He loved fishing, absolutely mad, but because of his bad feet, he was dead scared of going. There were certain pools that he loved, one at Mortham(?) and one not far from the tea house. I used to go with him at 13. He was only 17 stone, so what I would have done if he fell in, I don’t know.
I think it is the book Rokeby that has the legend of a cave in the big cliff at Morton Bridge (Mortham?), where he loved to fish. I spent hours looking for this cave, but it was just in the book, I think. Not Sir Walter Scott’s cave, not far from Dairy Bridge on the Greta, that is there, but this was another cave. Walter Scott had a really stupid table in there. He had a seat in for writing, but the table was made of canes cut in half and laid across the top of the table and the bench. Very uncomfortable and I don’t know how he managed to write on it. He wrote his book in there, so they say, anyway. I used to take people to see the cave. Years later some lads threw the table and seat into the river.
Dad used to work in the Hall, doing odd jobs, then they sent him away to train to be a butler, in Cliff Hall, near Piercebridge. Dad served in the First World War. Major Morritt was a great soldier friend to anyone who had been in the Army, and they got on very well. Dad was in the cricket team, the football team and we had a cup for the mile race, but I don’t know where it is. It started in the field next to the Morritt Arms at Greta Bridge, over the style, through the Hall gates and then up the drive to the front of the Hall, and Dad had to do this twice to do the mile. And dad won it and we had a cup for donkey’s years. That’s three things I really miss, the cup and a pair of portrait photos of dad with his gun belt around his shoulder and mam in her nurses uniform. We have mam’s picture, but I don’t know where dad’s is.
Dad on his father’s war
In the First World War my dad was in the Royal Engineers, and in those days they supplied the troops in the Line, just like the RAC (Royal Army Service Corp) did in my day. They used to take a wagon load of food in through the night, dump it, put a load of casualties on, take them back and maybe do two trips a night. He had two horses in front of the cart and the shells were bursting all the time. It must have been terrible. The enemy knew where the tracks were and just lined the tracks. All right if you got through but if a shell comes over you’ve had it. It’s all gone. He must have had a terrible war. He did his full 8 years, including the War.
After the War, I was to go to Burma, but because I had done so many years abroad, it was taken to Parliament and they squashed it and I couldn’t go.
Dad was mentioned in Dispatches. He must have had a terrible time. Take the summer time, the nights are very short, even in France, and he had to get these loaded up, take it through and then bring a load of casualties back, and maybe do it twice. He was all over in France. He was in the 18th Battallion.
Mam used to write to him in the War, and it was expected she would marry him, but I don’t know if she had found somebody else, but after the War, he got in touch with the Matron and she said she wanted to see Mam’s birth certificate. On the certificate mam was Jeanette, though she was known as Janet. She was christened as Janet, but the recorder put it down wrong. The Matron went mad about the name for some reason, and took dad’s side. They got married just after the War.
Dad’s story: from Cyprus to Palestine
Recorded by Sylvia 15.4.14, Swinstead
After having the wound in my knee, I was taken to England the day before Dunkirk.
We went out from the Suez Canal on destroyers to the port in Cyprus. The navy lads got the wind up. If they are in dock and the planes came over they were static, but if they were at sea they could do a bit of zig zagging and the planes have got to catch them. We tried to get our stuff off the ship and they were just throwing it in the water. We had to get divers to dive in the water and get them. It was all a trick, I think, in a sense, but by rights they wanted to get away while it was still dark. They just throwed everything, kit bags and all, over the edge into the water. They didn’t try to get it on the beach or anything. Ha ha. Not waterproof just packed ready for the ship! It was supposed to be taken on the trucks and away.
We got there and went into Nicosia and spent a day in the Headquarters of the Sherwood Foresters. Honestly, the coal was painted white, to be clean! They had been in action but this was just part of the cleanliness of the regiment. We went to a little fishing village and we camped in an orchard, with rows of bushes like olives, and the sea was beautiful. But it was full of jelly fish with a sting on the top! Talk about bitten, they swelled up like mad. Ha ha I was about 20 at the time. We were there for quite a long time and it was beautiful. A few shops, cafes and we could go down on a night. We could write home, but it took a very long time, 9 weeks on the ship.
From there we went right into the middle of Cyprus and it was partially desert but they had one or two water holes and the poor horses and donkeys used to go round and round on the pump. They had shutters on so they probably didn’t know what they were doing, but I was really sorry for them, the poor things and they were all over this desert, but we had fresh water and that was something.
I borrowed a bike a couple or three times and we had two gallon red petrol cans and also two gallon water cans painted white. I had one of these water cans and I found a brewery and took two gallons back. The lads went mad. So I had to do the same thing the next night. Haha haha. I was a bit fortunate at that time because there was a bit of a motor cycle trial going on and I was supposed to be in training for it, but honestly I couldn’t compete. There was a Captain Black, so wide you could hardly see the bike, but by, he could hold it. On a motorbike if you get on a slope you need a bit of weight and I had no weight at all. We had fun!
I don’t know why it was, I was properly MT (Multi-Transport) at that time, and a fitter. Before we left England I had been away on a course and I came back as a driver-mechanic. I had a round disc like a bronze driving wheel. That was a mark of promotion and I was showing this off nicely when the Platoon Sergeant Major started putting on the cloth bugle badge. I was told it was too much like his so I had to take it off. I didn’t bother.
It was in Cyprus. I had spent weeks training to go to Buckingham Palace to get my MM medal, but they bombed the palace before I could get there, so that was out. I don’t know why it was, but we got to a stage when I wouldn’t sign my name in the pay book, using the MM. And they wouldn’t give me it. I think the Major had something going on there. I got no pay for three weeks. We didn’t get much money because they took off for your blanket and brasso and all the rest. I lost three weeks pay, because I wouldn’t sign the MM after my name. I can’t remember why, but they had upset me over something. I had got the medal, but I wouldn’t sign it. After the War, the medal came in the post.
In England, after we got off the beaches and more settled down and the invasion had gone then we started a dance band, and they were in demand. I used to drive the band all over the place and unfortunately we lost some instruments in France, but we had two or three troop melody boys and they were in one of the famous dance bands in Durham, before the war. A band of 10. I had a great big laundry van, no bonnet, just straight down the front and as high as a room. A beautiful van. We had a drummer, pianist, and Frankie Annie used to play the accordion and the saxophone and my boss in the MT was a professional saxophone player.
In Cyprus we got nits in our hair. In the next village to us we weren’t allowed in because the women used to get syphilis in the winter and then in the heat of the summer it died off. So we got nits in our hair and we shaved all our hair off. We got called out to do a dance in Nicosia, capital of Cyprus. We went on down there and kept our hats on all night. Ha ha ha. It was a wonderful night, mind. So I drove the band around in Cyprus. We basically had the same band in Cyprus as in England, with a few changes.
No fighting in Cyprus, but we were training all the time. There was a bit of destruction in Cyprus, even then, they were wanting to split it. The Turks wanted Cyprus. Another of these countries where the British held the boot, held the title, and the people just worked with us, but we were there to control it. Iraq at that time was controlled by the Air Force, that’s why the Air Force Regiment came in so they could be on the ground. Most of that was done by spotter plane. We went from Cyprus to Palestine.
George Edward Iceton
From the gardens to War: France, Belgium and Cyprus
Recorded by Sylvia 15.4.14 at Swinstead
1938 and The Gardens
After the War we were in The Gardens, having moved from the Coach House, which is at the bottom of the stable yard, where the Stephensons lived. I was ten and a half when Brian was born and we moved to the Coach House, 1931/2. Dad was butler till about 1938 and that is when we took over The Gardens. When the Hills from Newcastle lived there, there were seven greenhouses and fires with piped heating and when we took over there was one greenhouse and one fire. It went fairly well pre-War, Brian was catching up with me. We served fruit and veg to some hotels: Scotch Corner, Morritt Arms, the Unicorn in Bowes, Bowes Moor, and one in Brough. We used to do a lot of the farms, taking fruit and veg to them. We started this business as soon as we went in The Gardens. I was 18. I also ran a private hire car, using my car, a big Austin 16 with an Austin 12 chassis. I can’t remember where the money came from, maybe hire purchase. Mam had made money with the teas business but she paid for mine and Brian’s schooling. Bobby Errington bought it for us at Barney, a wagon driver. He used to take cattle to the market. And we were doing quite well then, the pig trade. We were breeding pigs and we were selling them off at about 20 weeks to the bacon factory, they used to come and collect them.
A story about a pig… Steven had left school and just started working for an electrician. Dad gave me a sow and we took her to the boar and back. She had 19 piglets and they only had 12 breasts, so he had to keep changing them over so they all got a feed. We sat with them night after night and reared them, 18 survived and we got £72 for them. £3 a piece was a lot of money then.
We started on shorthorns, because they were dads breed, like the ones in the picture. They only had a horn that curved round.
The first years of World War II
In 1939 I joined up: joined up on the Thursday night, called up on the Friday and war on the Sunday. We went to France and only had a few days leave back in England, so I didn’t really come home at all during the war. I was in hospital in Belgium for 6 weeks, after Dunkirk and I got a letter from my boss, Major Jeffries, that if I wasn’t back within a few days, I wouldn’t get back, and they wanted me back. He was the Colonel then. I thought that was great. If I go back as the Colonel’s driver it meant becoming a sergeant, but the poor fellow came to us as a Lieutenant in 1938 and made a temporary captain. In 1939 he was made Second in Command on exercises and then of course before Dunkirk and after Arras, we lost the Colonel and Jeffries was made Colonel on the field and I thought that would have held, Colonel on the field, but he got back to England and was superseded quite a bit, so he was made Second in Command, which upset me a bit because if he had been Colonel, I would have been sergeant! Ha Ha.
1940: The MM medal and France
I got the MM medal when I got the knee injury. The CO said, You are wounded Iceton, you can’t go back. I had given my message over and got our tanks back to do some fighting for us and I was walking away from him and maybe limped. It wasn’t bad, although it was down to the bone, so he put me in the back of a Daimler, a scout car, and they took me to Belgium, to hospital. And the funny thing was we went past a roundabout and in it was the Cenotaph from one of the big battles in the First World War. Dad knew it very well. Anyway we went back into Belgium and the following morning I was asleep on the stretcher. I had left everything in my truck and I had only what I was standing in. The following morning I got up and walked down to the town, and they’d all gone. There were no people there, and I walked into this chemist shop and took myself a toothbrush and shaving brush, a razor. But there was nobody to pay.
Motorbike message and the 5th Army
While we were in Belgium, the Italian headquarters were in a very big house. I settled my major in the Duchesses room. Silver hair brushes just left there. I was going off to get a meal for myself. He was still tramping around putting the lads right, you know, and I was tramping around looking for some food. It was time for the toilet so I went round to the toilets and the lads were still digging the trench in the field with a board across when they had finished. So I used a tree! Policeman came across, What’s your name? Iceton. Come and see me in the morning, 9am. I think my boss must have got to know about this because at night he said Can you ride a motorbike, Iceton. So I said, Yes. The Major said: I have a message to go to the 2nd Battalion which is the other side of Brussels. So I borrowed a bike from George Little, from Barnard Castle, and I put the message in my pocket.
It was main road really, so I got on the road and it was absolutely solid with people coming out. One side, absolutely solid. So I was all right going because my side was clear. I thought, champion, and was really enjoying myself on this bike. Then a car came down, a big black car, and it never stopped, and I was in the ditch. I had to fish the bike out of the ditch. Five times that happened with five black cars. I thought that’s a bit rotten, but thought its people trying to make up. I delivered my message and got his reply and came back again, which again I had to be on the wrong side of the road because it was still blocked. This time I was going the same way, but the side I should have been on was blocked, prams, push chairs, horse and carts. People trying to get away from Brussels. I don’t know where they were going. Anyway I got back and I told them about these cars, and they said Oh it’s the German 5th Army. They were the people who were to take over the running of Belgium. It was all arranged. We knew nothing about it. These people just came down – and put me off the road!
Marching to Arras
The following morning we started back into France to do this attack. The Germans by now had got to Boulogne. They cut through France and found a gap in the Belgium line and waltzed through to Boulogne. And so we were cut off. Churchill thought, yes we’ll put two divisions down and we’ll go across this line and cut them off. General de Gaul, France, went two days only – wanting to make a name for himself. He got knocked back. Finally instead of being two Divisions we had two Battalions the 8th and 6th Battalions to do the Arras attack.
The poor lads in three days marched 85 miles across country, because they couldn’t get on the roads. They were absolutely blocked, and we had to drive across country. I was picking people up in my truck, trying to keep up with the major but he was way in front of me. The truck was so full at one stage, when I met my sergeant – he had been my sergeant, Jackie Chat in Barnard Castle. He was really crippled, poor soul, so I put him in my seat, told him how to put it in bottom gear and tried to walk beside him. Put your clutch in now, put your brake on. Aye, it was absolutely packed, and I lost my temper a little bit because two of the ack ack lads travelling with us with two bren guns in the back of the truck started firing at a plane that was miles off in the sky. They might have seen the flashes from the gun, but the bullets were getting nowhere. So I went mad, and they stopped. Nearly five miles the lads did. They were supposed to be marching, but this was across fields. We worked down to De Bassey by the canal and thought we could make a stand there. We didn’t. The lads formed up at De Bassey and the Colonel, Major Jeffries and I, we went off to a Canadian battle field in the First World War. It was marvellous. The trenches they had dug had grassed over. It was really beautiful. We could see right down the valley. We stopped there and that’s where the lads were supposed to make their way, but we couldn’t get any trucks to work on the uneven ground, so the lads had to march. We were supposed to be a motorised division.
They eventually got there about 11 o’clock at night, but the major and I had gone off further down the road and we saw a farm house. It was empty. It was ideal to stop in, so I went out and milked the cows that hadn’t been milked for two days, had a look in the kitchen. They had just walked away, lots of food in, porridge, meal, potatoes, carrots and I made a stew and fed a tank gun just across the road and we fed anyone around and the Major got himself a couple of carriers down and he went and surveyed the route we were to take the next day. We were supposed to start at half past ten in the morning, but the lads hadn’t got there ‘till 11 at night, then they had to feed and all that, so it was put back to half past twelve, but nobody told the tank people. They went off at half past ten. We never saw the tanks. They had gone. They had done a lot of damage, we found out later, but we should have gone together. Daft as it seems, the tanks were still on the Belgium radio and we were back in France, so we couldn’t communicate with them. The Commander of the tanks stood waving at us, and the Germans shot him. His tank had broken down and he was trying to tell us he had arrived. But he was dead.
One in ‘C’ Company a big corporal, big Charlie Cooper had his rifle going up and down and this was a signal. The number of jerks told you how many were up there and he was dancing, so I went back to see what was going on. The roads in France were very narrow with a ditch on one side or a bank. You couldn’t turn around. Anyway, I backed right up and got down there to see what was going on. I said What’s the matter, what are you signalling? And he turned round and I could see the white of his teeth, his cheek had gone completely. We put him in the truck and whipped him straight back. He’d been signalling he had been hit. Not a very pleasant sight. Anyway I took him back and I dropped him off and went back, and tried to catch them up again and I took another couple back. I got the MM at this time for bringing these lads back, under fire.
Arresting German prisoners
Then I got a message to say I’d got to take the LAD (Local Aid Detachment) people to come forward, because we were getting a few injuries, so I set off and I was leading them and then they dropped off to pick people up and I saw this shell go across the road just in front of me, it bounced on the road in front of me. Afterwards, they told me that when I got under the wagon there was one behind. There was three, but there was no way I could get off the road. I had to drive right past my major and find another road to turn round, until I was coming back the other side of the valley. There was a railway embankment. They often have a hole in the road so they can get cattle and so on though, and I got up to this hole in the embankment. There was a truck there, with a, I think it was an anti-tank gun, with seven blokes. I jumped out and shouted at them and asked what they were doing and so on. Saw they were Germans. But I didn’t take my rifle with me. So I had to go back to get my rifle – I had to turn my back on them to get it. I got my rifle and made a point of putting a round in, but I didn’t put the bayonet on. I went up to them and shoved my rifle around a bit, and they put their hands up straightaway, no bother. The tanks had scared the wits out of them. So I marched them back. Of course then I had to turn the truck around, and keep my rifle out of the window. Oh dear me. Anyway they walked on and I got myself turned round and I followed them down, and I handed them over to ‘C’ Company.
The Germans had fired at their own earlier on, because a lot of prisoners had been marched down this road and they were sat down waiting to be taken down to our lines and the Germans came over and dive bombed them. They thought they were dive bombing us.
Then by that time it was starting to get a bit dusk and I finally found my Major, well I didn’t find him. The LAD vehicle parked up. It was a crossroads with a house and I had used a bit to park on. They had parked there, and I had to park down this other side. I am looking for my boss again and they told me he was putting hand grenades into the tanks, which is a marvellous thing for a bloke to do. Oh dear. He had to climb up, open the top and drop a grenade in. That was the type of bloke he was. German tanks left behind. Our tanks, we couldn’t get in touch with them, as I said, they were coming back and turning down to the right and shooting away and we thought they were our tanks coming in. We didn’t know they were Germans, until on the other side from the house up the lane, a lot of the Daimler cars were parked up and they just had Bren guns and they were firing at them, but every time it went dark, he would set fire to one of these and make it light again. I had to creep down and I got across the road and couldn’t see my Major at all. And my truck was there and I went to tell the Colonel, Miller. You’re wounded Iceton. You can’t go back. But I left everything, all my gear. I just had what I was standing up in.
Before these tanks changed over from ours to theirs, we went out into no man’s land and picked up a lot of people there, some of the tank people as well. We whipped them back. The LAD wagon, 15 cwt, with big red crosses on it all the way round. But the Germans still set fire to it no bother. It was lucky, because I had been parked there, and then had to go around this corner. This was May 1940.
I was in hospital 6 weeks. You were allowed 6 weeks in hospital and after that you were sent back to base. You weren’t taken back to the Battalion any more. I reported back to base on the coast in Dorset where we had two men and five busts. I had to collect dummies from London and put them in the trenches, so the Germans would think we had manned the trenches. We were dead lucky they didn’t invade us. There were the underground people, very secret, we didn’t know about them, secret Home Guard.
We were in England for a while because when we left the beach we went in about 10/20 miles and formed a mobile unit, all civilian troops, hardly any army troops, all civilian commandeered and we found a motor cycle battalion. If there was an invasion, we could be split anyway on the beach. Like a second line. The Home Guard were front line – dispensable you might say. If they lived they lived. First line of defence on the beach, but it never happened fortunately.
Then we went off right round the South African Coast, stopped in Durban for five days, then up to Suez Canal. 9 weeks on a ship. We thought we were going straight up to the desert, but the tanks didn’t go up and we didn’t. We went to Cyprus and were there 6 months. There was a lot of waiting in war and a lot of the time you were still under fire, long range, not rifle fire.
After I came back from Sicily I met mam, Mary. I was in hospital 14 months at that stretch. The first time was a little scratch on my knee and this time was a broken leg. The only foreign plane I saw in Sicily, it got me. The American found his way soon to the capital and
had a victory celebration parade through this capital, and we were fighting like mad. The 8th and 9th Battalion got mauled under Privisoli Bridge and we were fighting across country taking the Germans on, the Americans should have caught up with. We had just arrived back from the middle of Sicily, got back down to where this bridge was and into the field where we were all preparing for the attack that night, when this plane came over, and stopped me through the night. And that was me out for 14 months. I was very disappointed because the lads had a rough time, no doubt about it, but they had to fight their way through to pretty well the north of Sicily and they had a month or five weeks resting in a seaside resort.
Dad on the Blightys
I was two days in the hospital, then they sent me a stretcher and fastened me on. You’ve got a blighty. At that time they only took stretcher cases, so I couldn’t get out and went down to the ship. So I was a blighty coming back. In Cyprus, when I got back to Tripoli, but before I got there, I don’t know if you have looked up the side of a ship, but the docks are 5-10 feet above the water, so in Cyprus they took us out on the barge right underneath the ship and you looked up and it is a massive thing when you look up. They dropped a cable down with four ropes on it and I am on a wooden stretcher with the four corners tied on and hauled up. All casualties were taken like this as they couldn’t get the ship in. It took a long time and apparently I was eight days before I got to the hospital at Tripoli.
Then 8 months stretching the leg on a splint. They put a steel pin through, and you are on a pulley with sand bags on. And apparently I was 8 months like this, trying to get it back in line. They reckon I was 10 inches short. I was 14 months in Tripoli in all.
My Uncle More and his blighty business!
After 14 months in Tripoli, we came back to England and landed in Liverpool on Christmas Eve. All the nurses had vanished, just one old girl about 50. I don’t know what happened exactly but the bloke next to me, we were sat on the bed and dangling our feet, first time out of our splints. The bloke across the road, I don’t know what he did but I just saw his left leg go from the splint from the joint in the opposite direction. So I shouted at the poor old girl and she came down and she started crying. She was on her own. I never saw him any more.
1944 I had a week in Liverpool and on New Year’s Eve they moved us to Manchester, then back to Sedgefield into the Asylam at Winterton. Every Asylam had a hospital at that time. From there I was sent to a rehabilitation centre at Halifax. The RSM there had been my RSM in the DLI consequently straightaway I was put my shoes on marched down to a dance in Halifax. But I couldn’t get away with it. The shoes were very heavy. Walking back about 11pm and I followed this girl back all the way from Halifax right up to… I couldn’t run at that stage. That was Mary. The next day in the Lance Corporal’s Mess, I was talking to the girl Betty, and she shouted Mary. They must have been talking. The rest is history.
I was running over the moors later on. I got upset because they wouldn’t send me back to War. I went to the Rehabilitation Centre again. I was a fitter then and downgraded physically, the DLI didn’t want to know me. I joined REME. They wanted to send me to Burma. I went down to Aldershot to start a new workshop, to go to Burma, then dad got hold of it and told the MP and it went to Parliament. I didn’t go. REME eventually sent me to Raby Castle. I had a big car park. From the gardens to the trees, a very big car park and I looked after the cars. Raby Castle was a storage place at that time.
In 1945 I was demobbed with a wife and son and went back to Rokeby with them.