order to kill time, we went into a bookie’s shop in an entry off
I then had to go up to the pigeon hole at the betting shop counter and give the teller my bet, which my new friend had suggested should be 1/- each way. The teller wrote out the bet and gave me a copy. However, when the result came through, my horse was unplaced!
But we stayed on, as my friend wished to have another bet. I, however, did not follow his example this time, as ‘once bitten, twice shy’, I did not want to risk losing more money. But while we were still in there, I had an unexpected stroke of good luck, because it was suddenly announced, that an objection to the winner of my race had been lodged and, as a result of the subsequent disqualification of the winner, my horse had been placed 3rd at 100/6. A quarter of the odds at 100/6 was roughly 4/1 and I got back 5/- for my 2/-, a 150% profit!
Because it was going to be a long wait till
the boat sailed at ,
my friend decided he would go to the greyhound racing at
The racing started and although my friend began punting, I decided I wouldn’t, as I couldn’t afford to lose. However, in the last race that we were able to see before going to get the boat, there was beautiful big dog called ‘Moonlight Blue’ and, throwing all caution to the wind, I had 2/6d on it at 8/1. It duly won and I had another pound!
When I got paid my winnings, we caught the train to High Street, Belfast and walked to the boat. The passage we had booked was steerage, which was very rough, primitive accommodation with hard benches. However, after getting a big mug of tea and some ‘Paris’ buns, we found a quiet place and eventually managed to get some sleep.
On arrival at Liverpool, my friend said “good-bye” and I never saw him again.
I then made some enquiries about the journey to London and when I found that I could get a single ticket on the bus for 10/6d, I duly paid up and got a seat. I don’t remember much about the journey, except that we did stop at a number of places, where I was able to get refreshments. I think I arrived in London at about 4 p.m. and after bumping into a Salvation Army representative, who was there to help young ‘runaways’ like myself, I was duly booked into a Salvation Army hostel for the night.
The next day was April 1st, ‘All Fools
Day’, and I had to make up my mind once and for all, whether I should I go to
Newmarket to see if I could find myself a job working with horses or go to
Aldershot and join the army. After some
consideration, I decided upon the latter and, on
On arriving at
On April 3rd 1931, when I found out where the army recruiting office was, I made my way there and announced that I wished to join the cavalry. When asked if I was 18 years old, I lied that I was and gave some date of birth, which I have long since forgotten. I was duly accepted, subject to a medical examination, which I passed.
By April 4th 1931, I had become Trooper Walter Lavery, 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, although it was not long until all the others started calling me ‘Paddy’, which is a name that stuck with me throughout my whole army career and also after I left the army.
I initially joined for 6 years as a Regular
Soldier and 6 years in the Reserve, pay 2/- per day, and I was posted to
Warburg Barracks, just a short walk away from the Salvation Army hostel. After being ‘kitted out’, I was sent to join
1 Troop ‘B’ Squadron under the command of Lt John Anderson (later Lt Gen Sir
John Anderson), whose family lived near Downpatrick,
Army routine was quite a novelty. Reveille in the summer was at when the bugle sounded. It was then out of bed and, after getting dressed in fatigues, it was down to the stables, which were below the barracks rooms. We then had to muck out the stables, which involved shaking all the horse dung out of the bedding. If it was a dry day, we used to carry the hay outside in armfuls and spread it out to dry for reuse. On the other hand, if it was a wet day, it was piled behind the horses’ stalls.
After that, the horses were led out to the horse trough for a drink and then back into the stables, to be fed on oats and bran. When all this was done, we troopers went back up to the barracks rooms, where a mug of tea was provided, cost 1 penny. Then we had to go and wash and shave, although I did not have to do the latter, seeing as I hadn’t any hair on my chin yet.
When we were dressed, it was off to the cookhouse for breakfast, which was usually porridge, tea, bread and fried sausage, bully beef or fried egg etc. It was good food, which I much appreciated. After that, it was back to the barracks rooms to do sweeping and bumping (bumping involved putting polish on the floor and using a long handled bumper, which we moved from right to left all over the floor, in order to bring it up to a high level of shine). Then the beds were made up, with the blankets and sheets folded and the pillow placed on top of the ‘biscuits’, which were coir pieces, 3 to a bed. Everything had to be very tidy, as the rooms were inspected by the troop officer every day of the week, except Sunday.
When all these chores had been carried out, it was back down to the stables to take the horses out for exercise. In my case, I had to go to the riding school to be taught how to ride. It was great fun and I enjoyed my new way of life - a warm comfortable bed, good food and being taught to ride was heaven.
We also had to learn to march on the
barracks square and go to school to be taught regimental history, in order to
pass the 3rd Class Certificate of Education.
We were taught how to ‘bone’ our boots, in order to give them a high degree of shine. There were also ‘make do and mend’ classes, where we learned how to darn socks, sew on buttons and repair tears etc. Each recruit was given a ‘housewife’, which was a linen pouch, containing darning wool, sewing cotton, buttons and needles etc.
We used to crease our trousers nightly, by dampening them and putting them under the sheet and under-blanket, so that by morning, we always had a nicely pressed pair of pantaloons or dress trousers. During morning break, between and , we would go to the NAAFI or coffee stall and get tea and cakes for 2 or 3 pennies. In the evening, egg and chips were a great favourite and beer could be had for about 4 pence per pint. I didn’t drink till much later in my military career.
On Sundays, church parade was compulsory and involved us being lined up on the barracks square, where we were inspected by the officer in charge, before setting off to church behind the regimental band. All religions were catered for.
After church, we had dinner and then we were allowed the rest of the day off, unless one happened to be on guard or stable duty. Both these duties came around about once per week.
I remember one amusing incident around 1933 that occurred at the Aldershot Sunday church parade. The Squadron ‘B’ had lined up with other squadrons on the barracks square, ready for inspection by the commanding officer while the band was playing. Unfortunately, this was the third Sunday in a row that Tpr Ling had been ‘checked’ for poor turnout. So after we had been dismissed after the church parade, he was surrounded and then frogmarched to the nearest drinking trough, where they threw him in. I vividly remember him sitting up in the trough and making swipes at his tormentors.
After recruit training and a passing out parade, we started to learn military tactics and the general role of the cavalry.
As far as I was concerned, life in the army was very pleasant and the next thing was that I was promoted to be an L.U.L.C (local unpaid lance corporal). I must have been considered suitable, as I was soon paid 3/9 per day, which included a bonus for 3 years service, even though I had only served one year (this was mainly due to the fact that I had passed my 2nd Class Certificate of Education). I was subsequently promoted to LCpl., which was followed by promotion to Cpl, Lance Sergeant and then Sergeant.
I was also Regimental Rifle shot, having been deemed the best shot amongst all the ranks of the Regiment.
I also became a PT (physical training) instructor, which was a very pleasant occupation, especially as it meant I did not have to do any stables or guard duties.
During my climb up the ladder to sergeant, I became a member of the Musical Ride and Trick Ride and, during the summer months, we used to go off by train with the horses to various towns and cities in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. It was all great fun and I was pleased to get away from the usual army routine.
However, it was not all plain sailing. Some time during 1936/37, when I was still a
member of the Musical Ride and Trick Ride, we were at Olympia and my lovely old
chestnut mare ‘Nipper’ over-jumped at one of the jumps and crashed to the
ground during one of our Musical Ride displays.
She was unhurt and so was I, but in the audience was the Duchess of
Then at the Balmoral Show,
I remember another incident that occurred when we were carrying out Army manoeuvres with horses around 1934/35 on Salisbury Plain. As part of the exercise we had to be up before dawn, have breakfast and be ready to move off before daylight. Needless to say, the cook had been up very early and he had the breakfast ready at the appointed time, with bread and margarine, boiled sausages and tea on the menu.
The bread had been laid out on a metal tray near the tea and the cook was in place to dish out the sausages. However, one character came along and proceeded to wash his dirty plate from he previous day’s meal in the tea. This caused the cook corporal to attack the offender and, as a result, the bread, margarine, sausages and tea were all trampled underfoot. Although some members of the squadron searched around the ground for edible food, a lot of us went very hungry till lunch time.
In 1936, King George V died and I was selected to be part of the Regimental Unit to participate in the funeral.
In 1937, I was again a member of a ceremonial party at the Coronation of King George VI, being escort to the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Craigavon.
When war was declared on September 3rd 1939, the regiment was stationed at Colchester, Essex and we were told that we would have to go to St Nazaire in France. I had been promoted to Troop Sgt Major by then and had command of a troop of 3 Carden Lloyd tracked vehicles, armed with a Bren gun and a Boyes anti-tank rifle.
I never found out the reason why, but we went off to war with no spare magazines for the Bren gun and no tools for the repair or adjustment of the Carden Lloyd tracked vehicles, which caused a few problems. For example, on the way to Avonmouth for embarkation, my driver had cause to change petrol tanks, but didn’t have the tools to do the job. So I eventually had to stop one of the light tanks, which the squadron was equipped with, and borrow the tools necessary to repair the Carden Lloyd.
After a rather rough sea passage, we arrived at St Nazaire on 29th September 1939, having existed on tea, army biscuits and bully beef (corned beef) on the voyage over. We then proceeded up to a camp on a high plateau above the port, where we were allocated tent accommodation.
The squadron cooks then set about making a hot meal, which was one of the best I have ever eaten. First of all, they cut the tops off some ‘Flimsy Petrol Cans’, which were then placed on petrol burning cookers to get rid of the fumes and smell. All available hands were then pressed into peeling potatoes, onions and carrots, which were chopped up and placed with water and bully beef into the ‘Flimsys’ on the stove and well cooked.
While this was going on, someone else went to the nearest French store and purchased some meat flavouring, which was added to the stew. The result was a beautiful hot stew, which was ‘quite unforgettable’ after days of tea and army biscuits.
After a few days wait at St Nazaire for our light tanks and Carden Lloyds, we set off on the long journey by road towards the Belgian border. We moved by daylight, but when night fell, we would stop at the nearest village or hamlet and make use of their barns and other out-houses for rest and sleep.
At one such stop, I purchased a long French baguette and ate some of it before going to sleep. It had been my intention to eat the rest the following morning. However during the night, we were continually disturbed by rats running over us and, in the morning, we found that the French bread had all been eaten, obviously by these rats. So to overcome this problem, we subsequently tied pieces of cord round the middle of our long loaves and then used nails to hang them from the ceiling. By doing this, we were able to enjoy the French bread and didn’t have to eat army biscuits.
Day by day and in all kinds of weather, snow, ice, rain etc., we made the long journey north towards the Belgian border. During this journey, we stopped at one large rail centre to change the tracks on our vehicles. But when we uncoupled the tracks and got ready for the changeover, we discovered that the replacement tracks were the wrong type. So the old ones had to be put back on again, so that we could continue on our way northwards, travelling through Rennes, Argentan, Rouen, Amiens, Roubaix, Arras, Douai and Lille.
One of our stops for a few days rest was at Bethune, where I was billeted out with a French family for sleeping only. On my way through the snow from their house early one morning, I saw a lot of miners going into a large cafe and when I went in there to see what was going on, I found the miners drinking large mugs of black coffee, laced with a large black rum. So I decided to try it myself and found it most exhilarating. During our week’s stay in Bethune, that café became my regular early morning stop. It was there that I also enjoyed lapin (rabbit) with pomme de terre frites, which was very good value at 6d (4 francs).
It was at Bethune, that we eventually managed to change the tracks on our vehicles. We had also, by this time, received the box of Bren gun magazines and, as a result, we were now ‘battle ready’.
During the time we were in the Lille area, we were kept busy doing tactical exercises and war games and generally becoming efficient enough to take on the Germans, when the ‘balloon went up’.
However, one day I was told to report to the CO’s office and that’s when Lt Col Anstice told me that I was to be sent on a short course, to ascertain if I would be suitable material for commissioning. I ventured to say that I would rather stay with the regiment, to which he replied that “it wasn't what I wanted that counted, but what the army wanted”. So I duly went on the course, where I was tested in education and leadership. During the process, I was also asked to demonstrate my ability to lecture by giving a 5 minute talk on a subject of my own choosing. I talked about horses and I hope the audience were able to take in all my ‘words of wisdom’.
When we were billeted in a French village called Houvelain, there were church services on Sundays and these were conducted by one of the squadron officers in whatever suitable venue could be found. On one particular Sunday, the service was being held in a very big barn right beside the road and it was decided to leave the doors open, even though this meant that they protruded over some of the road.
The congregation then formed a circle inside the barn and when Major Mike Ansell and Capt John Anderson arrived, the service started. Trooper Snow proceeded to play ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ on his mouth organ and all was going well, until a convoy of British Army lorries passed. Unfortunately, one of the lorries hit one of the barn doors, which flew into the barn and knocked some of the congregation flying. Major Mike Ansell immediately shouted “God rot you man” and rushed outside into the road waving his whip, closely followed by Capt Anderson. However, although they tried to catch the offending vehicle driver, it was to no avail.
Although Houvelain was a rather pleasant little place, it was at the same time somewhat depressing, as it had a First World War German cemetery, which was very unkempt!
while we were at Houvelain, we arranged with the French lady owner of the
village ‘Estamonet’ to make our morning tea and she was given a bag of tea for
this purpose. However on the first morning,
we found to our horror, that she had used the WHOLE bag of tea to make just
May 1940, I was eventually sent back to the
was quite a daunting task, but I set about doing all the right things. I also watched how the public school boys
behaved, especially with regard to eating and drinking. One of two friends at that time was a chap
called Callard of the Callard and Bowzer confectionery business. He used to spend most weekends in
My other friend was a chap called Denny of the Denny’s Bacon family. He also spent most weekends away and once related how he had got caught up in an air raid. Although all his other friends had immediately headed for the air raid shelter, he’d stayed put and calmly finished all the brandy.
Sandhurst was mainly drill, lectures in tactics, driving lessons in tanks, armoured cars and on motor cycles, map reading exercises and tactical exercises without troops (T.E.W.Ts). Cadets were required to get up from time to time to proffer their solutions to scenarios that were being discussed. It was a great life with good food, a nice bedroom, hot baths and plenty of spare time to enjoy walking, playing billiards, swimming and following other pleasant pursuits.
While there, I met a number of cadets from the North Irish Horse and became very friendly with them. One of them was Sammy Walker, who had been captain of the British Lions rugby team during the previous 1939 season. On one occasion, poor Sammy drank too much Port (at 6/- a bottle in the ‘Fancy Goods’ store) and unfortunately he ‘wet’ his bed. The GOC Major General Carton de Wiatt (a friend through rugby connections) punished Sammy by making him sleep in the Guard Room, where he was wakened every hour. This put Sammy off the Port.
When I eventually passed out, I joined the N.I.H., after having been persuaded by the N.I.H. cadets that it was the best regiment for me.
I was also writing regularly to my fiancée Una in Donegal and it was
during that time, that we decided to get married after I had passed out of
Sandhurst. So prior to my joining the N.I.H. at Portrush, I was given leave and Una
and I were married on
the way to Donegal, we stopped off at Lisburn, where I purchased a 1934 Morris
Ten car for £25 plus a 30/- ‘luck penny’.
After I had got it taxed and insured and also obtained petrol coupons,
we stayed at Uncle Alec’s house at Twinem Terrace,
that time, Una made arrangements for the bonding of the car, so we could take
After about 3 weeks, I still hadn’t had received any news about when I had to report to the N.I.H. So I wrote to the War Office and was told that I had been ordered to join weeks before and that I should report to the Regimental HQ N.I.H. at Portrush as soon as possible. So off I went, leaving Una behind in Donegal.
When I joined the N.I.H., I found that my accommodation was a room in a house overlooking Portrush harbour and my furniture was just a camp chair and a camp bed with army blankets. I spent the coldest night of my life in that room in Portrush. But the following day, I learned that I could hire a bed and blankets etc from the White House, Portrush, which I did and as a result, my second night was heavenly.
After I had settled into the regiment and
was given command of 1 Troop B Squadron, I decided to apply to the Adjutant for
permission for Una to join me. Happily
this was readily granted and so it was off again to the ‘White House’ (they were
also the local estate agents) to enquire if there were any houses or bungalows
for rent over the winter. Fortunately
there was and they arranged for me to take possession of
After I sent a telegram to Una requesting her to join me, she duly arrived and was charmed by her new abode. However, on our first night together there in January 1941, we had to sit in the dark, because the electric light suddenly went off and it was only the next day, that I found out that the meter needed a 1/- piece.
It was around this time that I decided to take rations instead of rations money. But after a couple of weeks, I found that the rations sent down to me by my batman Bob Magee were far too much for us and so I reverted back to taking the money instead.
couple of amusing incidents occurred during my time in Portrush, which have
stuck in my mind. The first related to a
time when Major Ronnie Booth was in command of ‘B’ Squadron. During a wireless exercise in armoured
cars, the Squadron was in the area of the
the second incident, Major Arthur Coly, ‘C’ Squadron (who talked with an
American accent, having spent a long time in America), was taking his squadron
on a dawn patrol. His squadron was
billeted in a row of newly built houses on the
It had been his intention to lead the squadron and when he felt everyone was ready to move off, he went back down the column just to make sure that all was well. However, whilst he was carrying out his inspection, the local milk man drove up, made a delivery and then moved off. The commander of the lead vehicle mistook the milk van for the Squadron leader and moved off, as did all the other members of the Squadron.
It was some time before Arthur got it all sorted out and at the inquest, he was reported to have said: “You bloody people would follow a red light to hell!”
During the N.I.H.’s stay at Portrush, the regiment was equipped with 1920 Rolls Royce armoured cars and other small three man open armoured cars.
In May 1941, the regiment was posted to Ballykinlar, Co Down, where we took over a number of tanks and so became a tank regiment.
It was at this time that Una realised she
was pregnant. So I drove her down to
Downpatrick and she got a room with Miss Fitzsimons at
Unfortunately, I was not able to join her, as we were involved in intensive training and members of the regiment could not live out. Furthermore, because we were so busy, I didn’t see much of Una and David, except on the odd day off and so Una decided to go back up to Donegal, where she found a house at Rathmullan, overlooking Lough Swilly.
By this time, David Dawnay had assumed command of the regiment.
In late 1942, the regiment moved to Westbury, Wiltshire and eventually to Didlington, Norfolk, where we were ordered to prepare to move overseas. I was quite happy that Una and David were safe in Co Donegal. By this time, I had been promoted Captain and had the job of liaison officer, which involved maintaining links between squadrons and other regiments, when on exercises and manoeuvres.
at Westbury, I remember an amusing incident while we were in the Officers’ Mess
Anti-Room after dinner one night. The
conversation sometimes embraced Northern Irish politics and Lt Stanley Robinson
(who was the nephew of the
Another amusing incident involved Major
Pomeroy. The Regimental Headquarters and
Officers’ Mess were at Rood Ashton Hall, a lovely big English country mansion
with its own chapel in the grounds. At
that time, the recognised national alarm for the invasion of
The next morning, Major Pomeroy and other officers were seated in the Officers’ Mess dining room. Major Pomeroy, being quite senior, always sat next to the Commanding Officer when dining, so when David Dawnay came in and sat down beside him, Pomeroy said: “Good morning Colonel, did you hear the church bells last night?” David Dawnay replied most sternly: “Yes I did and I want to see you in my office at .” What took place at the subsequent interview wasn’t ever disclosed, but Pomeroy went in a major and came out a captain.
Pomeroy later left the Regiment and took up duty on a troopship. Prior to his leaving the Regiment, he consulted me to ascertain if he could appeal against his demotion by the Commanding Officer. My advice was no. As for Sergeant Sammy Walker, who was also involved in this incident, he later had to leave the Regiment, whereupon he joined the Indian Navy. He unfortunately died shortly after the war ended, leaving his wife Dulcie behind him.
On another occasion, Queen Mary visited the Regiment and was presented to all the regimental officers. Prior to her visit, we had a dress rehearsal to learn how we were to behave, if she spoke to us. So all us officers had to line up in our best uniforms, with boots well polished etc. A demonstration was then given by the Adjutant acting as Queen Mary and we were told how to reply if spoken to and so when he took each of us by the hand and asked if we were well, we had to reply “Yes Ma’am”!
During the time the regiment was at Didlington, my sinus was giving me quite a bit of trouble and a Dubliner, Doc Waters (also known as ‘Muddy Waters’), had me admitted to White Lodge hospital, Newmarket. When I went there, my next bed mate was one Peter Pope, who had shattered his knee, when trying to ride through a half-open gate on a motor cycle. After I had had my operation, I was soon up and about. However, Peter was confined to a wheel chair and we used to wheel him around the hospital grounds.
The Newmarket Races were held from time to time while I was being treated there. Peter’s mother and younger brother used to visit on race days and we used to wheel Peter to the race track, where we soldiers got in free.
One of the nurses on our ward was Nurse Jarvis, a daughter of Jack Jarvis, a famous Newmarket trainer. She gave us some tips for the races. One called Backbite won at 20/I! Whilst at the hospital, we also visited the stables of Jack Jarvis and had tea with him and his daughter.
Peter Pope was well known to Gordon Richards and when we went racing, we used to park Peter at the entrance to the paddock. Gordon would always stop on his way in and advise Peter whether to back his mount or not and, if not, what to put a wager on.
I had to make two visits to hospital for my ailment and on each occasion Newmarket Races were held. When I was finally discharged as fit, I left the hospital with £50 in10 big white £5 notes, which was a fortune to me. I sent Una £25.
Whilst at Didlington, we were also employed in bringing in the sugar beet crop. Some members of the regiment loved the work, others hated it. I thought it rather fun, as it was a diversion from normal army training.
In December 1942, the regiment was ordered to
prepare for going overseas and we all got a week’s embarkation leave. I went to Rathmullan to be with Una and
David. Time was short, but we enjoyed it
immensely. On the way back, I sold the
When I got back to the regiment, I was told that I was to be a member of the Advance Party and that we were to proceed to Liverpool to oversee the loading of the tanks etc. The Party was under the command of Capt Gordon Russell, with me 2nd in command.
On arriving at Euston Station in London, Gordon made sure that all the men knew what time the train would be leaving for Liverpool the following day and he warned them all, that if anyone was late, they would be court-martialled. Gordon and I then piled into a taxi and ended up at the Savoy Hotel.
had a smashing meal and I ate my first ever oysters, washed down by some lovely
wine. As for Gordon, he dined and danced
the night away until it was time to go to Euston Station. However, when we got outside the
However, the doorman knew Gordon and the predicament we were in. So he had a word with the driver of a big
limousine that had just delivered Mr Molotov (Russian Ambassador) to the
On arrival at
Note: by this time we had Churchill tanks, which were 40 ton monsters, with a piffling little 2 pounder gun. Each also had a 7.92 MM Besa machinegun, plus smoke canister launchers. 1 in 4 of the tanks also had a 3" Howitzer.
The main body of the regiment duly arrived
and we set sail. Before too long, we
were sailing round the Antrim coast, which was away in the distance and our
last glimpse of
On our way to
Later during our voyage, after we had passed through the Straights of Gibraltar and were well into the ‘Med’, the Padre (The Rev Elwyn Hughes, Captain, Welsh Presbyterian) and I were out on deck about midnight enjoying the warm sea breezes. Suddenly we saw what appeared to be 3 torpedoes coming straight at the ‘Duchess’ and we stood back, waiting for the bang. However, it never happened and we later found out that the scare had been caused by dolphins leaving a phosphorescent trail in the sea.
Towards the end of our journey, I had, as part of my duties, to collect all money in sterling from the squadrons and when we duly arrived at Algiers, I had to go to the local army HQ and change it into French francs. When I was subsequently paying out the French francs to the squadrons, I found that I was somewhat short and was afraid that I might have to make good the deficit from my own pocket. So I went back to the office where I had exchanged the money and explained my problem. The officer in charge did not bat an eyelid. Instead he just opened a drawer and, without even asking me a single question, he made up the deficit, plus some extra for me. How lucky can you be!
On disembarkation, we were billeted in sheds in a vineyard and one night while we were settling down for the night, an argument broke out between Lt Williamson and someone else about the inflammable properties of a fart. Williamson insisted that you could ignite fart gas and that he could prove it. So he lay on his camp bed on his back with his legs in air, operating his legs as if he was riding a bicycle and, when he was ready to ‘let go’, he shouted out “now!” He then farted and his accomplice attempted to light a match at the point of emission. On the first two tries nothing happened, but on the third, ignition occurred and there was a sheet of bluish flame, which amazed all the spectators.
The regiment then had to march 18 miles to the staging camp. I was lucky because I had a lot of the regimental money and therefore warranted a drive in a van to the camp. As for the others, it was a rather wearisome body of officers and men who eventually arrived at the camp, many with very sore feet. We then had a meal, before going to our accommodation in huts with hard floors and no mattresses. But eventually we all got bedding and so it was not too bad.
Having stayed at the camp for a number of days, we boarded a Royal Navy frigate and sailed along the coast to Phillipville to the east of Algiers. It was great to be on a Navy ship, as we had the first taste of fresh food for many, many days and hot water to bath and shave. When we arrived at Phillipville, we marched up to a plateau overlooking the harbour to a tented camp, where we settled in to await the vehicle ships with the tanks, lorries, trucks, cars and motor cycles etc.
I remember there were young Arab boys selling oranges and they had learned sufficient English to call out “Big ones Johnny”. We enjoyed the oranges very much. Water melons were also available, but were frowned on by the medics, because their culture was suspect. However, a lot of people ate away and suffered no serious complaint.
It was at this time that I got to know Dick Bowring, Captain N. I. H., a member of the Bowring banking family. After his commission, he was posted to Headquarters Northern Ireland District, where he was made Agricultural Officer. But after soon getting bored with life on the land, he applied for and got a transfer to the N.I.H. and was posted as troop officer to ‘A’ Squadron.
Me and him shared a tent at the transit camp, whilst awaiting the arrival of the regimental tanks and vehicles and, after reveille in the mornings, Dick would get out of his camp bed, put on his beautiful British warm coat, which cost at least 25 guineas, and then proceed to wash and shave. We used to joke about Dick’s 25 guinea shaving coat!
I also remember later, during the Battle for Longstop Hill (see N.I.H. Battle Report), Dick took his tanks so high up one of the hills, that they could not get them down again. I don’t know what happened to them.
Initially we survived on Compo Rations,
which came in boxes. Each box of rations had a letter of the alphabet and a
code indicating its contents. However,
it was rumoured that the best boxes never left base depot. But shortly after our arrival in
On learning this, the CO David Dawnay had to decide the best way of distributing these fresh rations. So he organised a competition (open to all ranks), to see who could come up with the best scheme for dealing with this. Quite a number of schemes were submitted but none by me. But Dick Bowring did submit one and it was subsequently adopted, which explains the origin of the term the ‘Bowring Box’.
Dick’s scheme involved empty ammunition boxes, which were used in the following way. Each tank crew had two boxes with the name of their tank painted on them e.g. Antrim or Belfast etc. A, B and C Squadron tank names also had the prefix letter of the squadron alongside the names. Two days fresh rations of meat, bread and vegetables, plus margarine, tea, sugar and milk powder etc were prepared and placed in the boxes, which were taken at night up to the tanks at the front and the empty boxes were brought back to be refilled.
In later years I met Dick and when I mentioned how famous he was in the regiment for his ‘Bowring Box’, he was genuinely quite surprised.
When the vehicle ships duly arrived and were unloaded, it was not long before we were on our way to the ‘Le Kef’ area, in order to acclimatise and take delivery of a number of American ‘Honey Tanks’, which were light and fast and good for reconnaissance work. During our time at ‘Le Kef’, a few of us went out for walks when not on duty and one day, we came to the outskirts of an Arab village, where we found an Arab woman chained by the leg to an iron bed. There was no mattress or blankets and she wore nothing but a loincloth and her breasts were just like pancakes.
We learned that she had murdered her husband and being chained to the bed was her punishment. Not long after, an American hospital unit moved into the area and, shortly afterwards, we learned that the woman was dead. We suspected that the Americans had given her an injection to put her out of her misery. If they did indeed give the poor Arab woman an injection to end her misery, then it was a very humane act, as far as I was concerned.
The American army was not allowed any alcoholic drink, but we were and so we were able to barter our drink for their tinned fruit and chicken, the latter being particularly nice. When we moved on, the American hospital was still there and we never saw them again.
The war duly started for us and we were in action in and around Beja. One of the first casualties was Major John Rew, my old CO when I was in ‘B’ Squadron. I was a guest at his wedding when we were stationed at Ogbourne St George, Wiltshire and I considered him to be a grand chap, who was extremely honest and upright. Prior to his joining the N.I.H., I believe he was a regular officer in the 16/5 Lancers.
One of his duties in the N.I.H. was to interview members of the squadron and then give his opinion about who he thought might be suitable officer material. David Wilkinson applied for such an interview and after it was over, John Rew said that although he couldn’t recommend him, he hoped that there would be no hard feelings. David agreed with John and said that he understood his reasons for not recommending him, adding that he did recognise that it was all about ‘horses for courses’ and that although some people were suitable for certain types of employment, others were not. He then went on to give an example to John Rew (who was a notoriously bad driver), by saying that if he had to employ a driver, it would certainly not be John Rew!
My duties as liaison officer were to find out what was happening on the regiment’s right and left flanks and inform the Commanding Officer of the state of the battle accordingly. After the Battle of Beja (see N.I.H. Battle Report), we were more or less static in a defensive position and at one stage, I had to command a half squadron of tanks (Churchills) in a defensive role forward of Ksar Mezouan Station. During the day we just kept alert and on lookout, while the night guard was allowed to sleep and rest.
During the time I was in command, we didn’t fire one round of ammunition in anger. However, one round was fired! One evening when it was getting dusk, the 15 cwt truck with our food arrived and, after all the other ranks had had their food, I got mine in my mess tin (heated up stew and rice pudding) and went back to my tank. I had no sooner put my mess tin on the tank track, when there was a loud bang from the tank’s Besa gun, a scream and then a body fell off the front of the tank. It was my corporal gunner and he had been shot through the leg.
With the aid of other members of the crew, we made him comfortable and sent a wireless message back to the Regimental HQ for the medical officer to be sent out. I understand that Doc Waters made two attempts to come to us, but got bogged down on both occasions.
Things were getting desperate due to the casualty’s loss of blood. So I set off for the nearest infantry unit to get a stretcher to evacuate him to their FAP (First Aid Post) and this entailed wading through a river and getting very wet. However, it was worth it, because after getting a stretcher and carrying it back to my men, we were able to get the casualty evacuated.
When I got back, I found my food still on the tank track, although it was cold and there was a big piece of mud in my rice. I scraped it out and ate the rest - one couldn’t be too fussy.
We never really found out how the corporal had managed to get himself shot, but there was an element of suspicion, especially after it was reported that when he eventually returned to Ulster, he told people that he had received his wound when out on patrol. Although I know his name, I wouldn’t want to reveal it here, in case suspicions about it being a self-inflicted wound were wrong.
As a result of the soaking I got following the wounding of the corporal, I suffered very badly from my sinus, which had not been totally cured by my visits to Newmarket. I was therefore admitted to the Field Hospital in the Beja area and following my operation there, I have never had a bit of trouble since.
After a number of days, my task force was pulled back to the Beja area and I continued my normal duties.
this time, one Randolph Churchill arrived at the Regimental Headquarters and
announced that he was being attached to the regiment. David Dawnay didn’t want him as he had no job
for him, so he appointed him assistant liaison officer. My code number was JIG 6, so
I didn’t see much of him and he was certainly of no assistance to me. There was great speculation as to why he had left the SAS and joined the N.I.H. It was rumoured that he had been ‘kicked out’ of the SAS for stealing a German Parachute Ration. He wasn’t very well liked by my brother officers or the other ranks, but we had to put up with him.
During the time he was with us in the Beja
area, we had to ‘stand to’ at dawn and dusk to defend the camp against German
Stuka aircraft attacks (we were dive bombed many times, but suffered no
Every man has his talents and
Now Randolph’s normal modus operandi was to cook everyone else’s omelettes first before starting on his own, which was always much larger than the earlier ones. But on that particular evening, after he had finished cooking for everyone else and was just putting his own out on the plate, the door of the hut flew open and David Dawnay burst in with a bandage round his head.
“Food!!!” he shouted. Poor
When the war in
With regard to ourselves, it was said that Montgomery didn’t want 25 Tank Brigade in Italy, as their presence would “clutter up the roads”. So we were therefore put on ‘standby’ and passed the time doing maintenance on the tanks and vehicles, map reading exercises and T.E.W.Ts (Tactical Exercises Without Troops).
We were located at Ain Mocra, some 20 miles from the Mediterranean. We used to get up very early in the morning before it got really hot and do all the work that had to be done before 1 p.m. From that time onwards, it was free time. So we used to pile into the various small road vehicles not on duty and drive to Herbillion on the Med coast, to spend the afternoons sunbathing and swimming. It was here that I first saw a flying fish.
Tunis by car was not too far away and we
were granted leave on rotation to visit Tunis.
I had my Ford staff car, ably driven by my driver, L/Cpl R
After we had travelled for about 2 hours, we ran into very heavy rain
and eventually arrived at a vehicle hold up, which had been caused by water
flooding over a dip in the road. There
were two vehicles stuck in the middle and although there was a clear passage
through the water on half of the road, it looked very much as though we would
miss out on our visit to
However, after Dicky had had a good look at the situation, he said he had an idea for getting round the problem. His proposal was that he would drive up to the flood, switch off the engine, put the car into 3rd gear and then use the starter motor to get us over to the other side.
all the other people who were held up thought this idea was mad, I agreed to
Dicky’s suggestion and after piling into the staff car, we drove up to the
flood. Dicky then switched off the
engine before putting the car into 3rd gear.
He then pressed the starter button and, lo and behold, we arrived safely
at the other side. Dicky then switched
on the motor, started up and, after waving goodbye to those that were stranded,
we set off again for
When our leave was up, we decided to go back to Ain Mocra by the inland route, which was a very bad decision, as we were held up by heavy snow at a place called Am Draham and had to stay the night in an hotel. However it was jolly nice, with lovely wood fires and wild boar on the dinner menu. Next day the road was opened and so it was back to the normal routine at Ain Mocra.
During 1944, the regimental swimming competition took place at the bath in Tunis. There were eight lanes and there were two representatives from each squadron. Cpl Alex Marsh was in the last lane on the left hand side of the pool and when the firing pistol went off, he dived in. Being a very good swimmer, he was soon in the lead and going strong. The only problem however, was that he’d probably had a little too much to drink and as a result, he veered off to the right and collided with all the other swimmers heading down the bath.
Eventually Montgomery relented and we were ordered to prepare to go to Italy and so in April 1944, we went there. By this time, I had been promoted to Major and given command of HQ Squadron. HQ Squadron was responsible for all the maintenance of supplies of food, fuel, water, ammunition and the general welfare of the regiment and was usually located a mile or so behind the fighting troops of the regiment.
times we came under fire from the German 88mm anti-tank guns firing high
explosive shells. It was a bit nerve
racking, as the sound of the shell could be heard before the sound of the
gun. So no one ever had any time to dive
for cover. Luckily we never suffered any
serious casualties, although quite a lot of other members of the regiment
elsewhere were killed by 88mm shells - including Major Muir Mahon and
During the various battles, the Corps Commander was Lt Gen K, originally of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, my old regiment. Although I never met him, he once threatened me with court martial, because I had been a member of a court martial that had found an officer from one of the infantry regiments not guilty of cowardice during a battle.
When we were in Italy in 1944, Dick Bowring and his driver set off in his jeep to Rome to collect money for the regimental pay parade the next day. After collecting the money from the bank, he decided that he wanted to do some shopping. So after telling the driver that under no circumstances was he to leave the jeep, off he went to shop.
Unfortunately the driver was suffering from the ‘runs’ and had to go to the lavatory. However, when he got back, the money and the four wheels of the jeep were all gone. As a result of this unfortunate incident, Dick was up in front of the Brigade Commander and was ordered to be court-martialled.
When the day of his trial duly arrived, he and the escort went to the District Headquarters at Siena. But when they were told to line up to go into the court, it was found that the escort had no sidearm, as was required by protocol. So he had to borrow the prisoner’s pistol! As for Dick, he was only reprimanded or, in other words, ‘let off’. As he was very wealthy, he made good the loss.
Poor Dick, whom I last saw in 1991, died in 1992. He was a very good friend and companion in arms.
During one of the battles in Italy in 1944 in which the N.I.H. took part, the Regiment was backed up by a battery of the Royal Artillery and, as a result, the Forward Observation Officer was provided with a Churchill tank and crew and positioned in a forward area, so that enemy positions could be pinpointed and the details sent back to the gunners for action.
David Wilkinson (a barrister in civilian life) was the person responsible for passing back the map references of the enemy tanks reported to the F.O.O tank. After receiving one such message and sending the map reference of the ‘enemy tank’ back to the gunners, he then thought to pinpoint the ‘enemy tank’ on his own map, only to find to his horror that he had reported back his own tank position. Needless to say, there were some quite frantic calls on the radio, cancelling his previous message.
the war in Italy was over, the 38th Irish Brigade (which was part of K’s command)
held a celebration dinner on St Patrick’s Day, or thereabouts. The venue was in
The dinner was a great success, but K who was known as ‘Butcher K’, was pelted with bread rolls. I don’t know if any disciplinary action was ever taken, but I’m sure the general got the message. Apparently he was named ‘Butcher’ because of some of the very outlandish tasks in battle that he had ordered the 38th Irish Brigade to undertake and which resulted in very heavy casualties. This may or may not be true.
The N.I.H. then went to the Rovigo area to rest and recuperate. Eventually we moved back to
After a couple of weeks, the regiment was
given the task of running a prisoner of war camp along the coast, a little way
About this time I was approached by a German officer, who had a very large box with 3 locks on it. He was the officer in charge of the unit’s finances and wished to hand it over to the British officer in charge, on receipt of a signature. When the box was opened, I found it contained about half a million pounds sterling in Italian lira, which was made up from 1000, 500, 100, 50 and smaller lira notes. I didn’t count it but signed anyway.
But when we got back to Rimini, I contacted the Brigade Major and told him that I had all this money and asked what I should do with it. I was told to take it to Bde HQ and on arrival there, I was instructed to take it up to the attic of the villa that was being used as Bde HQ.
When my men and I went up into the attic, we found it was crammed full of Italian lira. As nobody was checking anything, I helped myself to quite a few bundles of 500 lira notes, as we were banned from having any larger denomination notes. When back at the regiment, I shared out my loot with those of my brother officers who were prepared to accept. I didn’t need to go to the Field Cashier for money for a good few weeks after that.
At about this time, orders were received by the regiment to form a party of officers and men to proceed to Padua, to be based at the airfield, where they were to await the arrival of a German horse transport regiment, which had been captured by the Americans some long way to the North. Those of us in the party made ourselves comfortable in the airport buildings. We then found out where the local British army supply depots were, before settling down to wait.
When the Germans arrived, the Americans proceeded to brand all the horses with a series of letters and figures, which were copied onto documents. I then had to sign for the horses on the basis that they were received ‘Lease Lend’. The Americans weren’t giving anything away.
Before we had gone to Padua, the Brigade
Commander Brig David Dawnay (a very big man) asked me to find him a good horse
and saddle etc which would be suitable for his private use and his wishes were
duly carried out. One of the officers in
my party was Dick Hern, who in later years was to become race horse trainer to
the Queen and he helped to pick out the best and most suitable horses for our
regiment. Then, on our journey back to
However, our subterfuge was found out and all the horses we had so carefully selected, had to join a pool of horses and the other two regiments of the Brigade got first choice over N.I.H! However, we still got a good selection in spite of this because of Dick Hern and Michael Pope (a very successful horse trainer in civilian life). Although I was threatened with court martial, nothing ever came of it, mainly because David Dawnay had been party to the subterfuge.
During all the time we were at Rimini, we
had great fun riding on the beautiful sandy beaches and a lot of people were
taught to ride. At
The mule races were great fun, especially as quite a few of the mules acted like typical mules and didn’t always run in the right direction. Furthermore, instead of jumping over the straw bale ‘fences’, some of the mules preferred to stop for a bite of the straw.
The officer commanding the Mule Pack Company was a Major Buckingham and he had three very good racing mules, whose names were Dinte, Dante and Donte. Now although these mules won most of the races they ran in, nobody but Major Buckingham actually knew which was which exactly and, as a result, he was able to claim that Dinte won some races and Dante some others and Donte the rest. However, I had my doubts and was sure the winner was always the same mule. But, at the end of the day, only Major Buckingham knew for sure which of his mules was actually running in each race.
Dick Hern was our best jockey and used to win quite a lot of the races on horses trained by Mick Pope. I had a ride in a race, but didn’t do much good.
Once at a race meeting at Arezzo, one of Major Buckingham’s mules was away ahead of the others and looked like it was going to win easily. However, the entrance to the paddock and stables was just a few paces before the winning post and when the mule got to this entrance, it ducked sharply to its right to go into the paddock and the rider sailed over its head and across the finishing line, which was more than a little unfortunate for all those men who had bet on this mule to win.
During one of the meetings at Ravenna, a horse broke a leg and had to be put down. This happened in one of the early races and by the time the last race was over, the unfortunate horse had been cut up and I suppose it was sold to the local Italians for food.
With regard to making accommodation for our horses near the regimental
HQ at the Grand Hotel, we organised working and scavenging parties to use
materials from wrecked buildings and what could be scrounged from the local
populace to build very good stabling.
The War Office also helped by paying for the upkeep of the Horse
Transport Company, because the main reason for having horses was to administer
the P.O.W. camp. It was a very sad day
when we were told that the regiment was to be posted to
time before our move to
April 1945, we left our tanks and heavy equipment behind and eventually found ourselves
N.I.H. was also in the Klagenfurt area of Austria for some time and it was
there that I was given the task of supplying an escort to the British Commander
in Chief in Vienna, Lt General Sir Richard McCreery. When we arrived in
One particular incident happened when we were off duty and at the Officers’ Club. Capt Harry Irwin from Enniskillen, who was in command of the vehicle escort, and I went into the club bar. On the shelf behind the bar was a row of liqueur bottles of all kinds and Harry started at one end and sampled a glass from every one. When we eventually got him back to our billets, he was in a dreadful state and the sight of him being sick nearly put me off drink for all time. However, he recovered well and we all eventually returned to the Regiment.
I remember one amusing incident involving Frank Marks, who was the Regimental Quartermaster. He had dentures and usually put them in a mug of water when going to bed. However, when he woke one morning, it had been so intensely cold during the night, that when he reached for his mug, he found his dentures frozen solid in the mug. So he had to go to the ‘cookhouse’ and have his mug put in the petrol burning stove to thaw it out, so that he could retrieve his ‘teeth’.
can’t be sure of the date, but I was posted to N.I. District Headquarters and
after 28 days leave in 1946, I arrived in Lisburn, Co Antrim, where I took over
the post of Camp Commandant, although it meant reverting to the rank of
captain. But I didn’t mind as I was back
I remember one amusing incident that occurred while we were there in 1948. It was my custom to go to the garrison church for the Sunday service each Sunday with my two elder sons, David and Peter. The service usually started at and so when I arrived at the garrison church at the usual time, I walked in and sat down with the two boys. However, when the hymn was finished, all the congregation got up and walked out. Unbeknown to me, the service had been brought forward an hour that Sunday and what I thought was the opening hymn, was actually the closing hymn. Was my face not red!
also remember one occasion in 1948, when I was accompanying Col Suter, Chief of
Staff N.I. District Headquarters, Lisburn, on some military business and the
conversation invariably came round to Ulster politics and the future of Ulster
within the United Kingdom. I had to admit
that I didn’t have any fixed ideas on the subject, but as I left the car at the
entrance to Thiepval Barracks, he said: “Lavery, do you know how the problem of
In 1950, I was told that I would be required to resign from the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards (which I had joined when the N.I.H. had been disbanded) and when I was told I could transfer to R.E.M.E (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) and be posted to Holywood, Co Down, I decided to accept that transfer.
I took over a post as Administration Officer of the R.E.M.E. workshops at Kinnegar near Holywood, Co Down and was allocated very big comfortable married quarters, which used to be the military hospital in the barracks. The job was not very exciting, but it provided a good home and wage and I had no complaints.
In 1952, I found that I was to be posted to Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. But when I discovered that there was to be no married quarters for me and my family, I wrote to the War Office, saying that if I couldn’t have a posting that provided me with married quarters, I would wish to retire from the army.
By this time, Una and I had 4 young boys
and the prospect of them being in Ireland and me being over in England was just
not on. However, my request was granted
and I was posted to R.E.M.E. workshops at Beeston near
was during my stay at Beeston, that I learned that as a result of the time I
had served as an officer, I had become eligible for promotion and so I was
upgraded to Major once more. The extra
pay and status was most welcome and, all in all, Una and I and our family had a
very happy time at
the summer holidays, we went camping and visiting various places in East
Anglia, Jersey and Guernsey and, when I took the unit rifle team to compete at
Bisley, I got permission to camp on the range, where we had a very pleasant
time. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth
also took place during the period we were in Beeston and we drove up to