John Murray – Memoirs
Transcribed by his daughter Marion, in 2017
My parents were James Murray and Elizabeth Carson Workman. I was their eldest son. I was born on the 6th of February 1923 in Greenock Scotland.
I did not go to high school as if you did you had to stay till you were 16yrs old, and a uniform needed to be purchased, as my parents could not afford a uniform with 5 children I left school at 15. I worked in Drummonds sawmill which made wooden boxes and tin boxes which were used for tobacco.
Trades were not an option as these were given to the sons of engineers etc. I then looked at boy’s service; however my father would not sign the papers as he needed the money I was earning. If I had have been able to join the boy’s service I would have been in RAF.
In 1939 Sammy my younger Brother and I went to Fairlie bay camping, to be able to provide our food we went fishing getting razor fish, cockles and we *borrowed* potatoes from the field after the workers had finished for the day.
My personal D-Day was 7th August 1939, whilst at Drummonds I was able to put money aside for a couple of years which was held in trust at work. My father was unaware of this but this enabled me to leave on 7th of August 1939. I took my savings and went to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders drill hall, where I saw a civilian bloke in the Territorial army and told him I wanted to join up, although I was 16 and a half I told him I was 17 and a half and was told I had to be 18, however they had reduced the age and I was eligible to join up. There was another chap by the name of Chris Byrne who wanted to join the armored core. We were told to come back the next day; which we did. I went back home and got up in the morning and dressed like I was going to work, I left the house walked down St Michaels Street, walked up the road over a bridge and took off my overalls and dumped them. I left my father a note telling him not to try and get me out, I also left him money.
I went to the train station in Greenock and caught the train to Glasgow where I swapped trains and took the train to Sterling Castle. Chris Burn said he was going to join the armored core, but I asked him why he was going to Sterling Castle as the armored core was in England, he consequently ended up in the Argyles with me.
We had to wait 2 weeks before we got our uniforms, which were kilts; my daughter Carole still has my original kilt.
The first conscripts were being trained at Sterling Castle, the regular army were sent to Buddon – Barry camp where we started our training with another 2 squads, we were the Corunna Squad. During our training, we all mustered and the CEO announced we were at war, this was on the 3rd of September 1939.barely a month after I joined up.
The conscripts were sent down to an infantry training camp and we were sent to Stirling Castle for further training. We then had to march to Tillicoultry which was 14 miles. When we got there we found 2 disused factories which served as our billet, we had a straw mattress, two small trestles and planks, no glass in the windows, no heating, and the ablution block was sub- standard. When I had completed the training, myself and Hughie Ferguson and some others were posted to the 10th Battalion A&SH (Argyll & Southern Highlanders) which were at Callander, we were billeted in a big room above a pub. We were only part of that Battalion as they had been split up and they were billeted in various places. Training was over the moors, this was during winter and we were required to wear our kilts, as we were regular army. The territorials wore battle dress, which consisted of Khaki trousers and shirts and jackets to keep warm. Later we were posted to Leslie, we remained there till Feb 1940 by which time I was just 17 years of age.
Company orders were given that all those under the age of 18 and a half were to report to COY. Office, of course I ignored it, until the SGT Major caught up with me. I was told that I was under 18 and a half, I informed them there must have been a mistake in my age and that I was over 18 and a half, he then asked to see my birth certificate, I told him I had sent it back to my parents after I enlisted for safekeeping. Never the less a few of us were paraded with all kit at the station in Leslie, we then caught a train to Edinburgh where more joined us. We travelled through the night not knowing where we were headed, eventually we arrived in Stroud, Gloucester.England.
1st Monmouth Rifles
We were informed that we had been posted to a territorial battalion. This was the 1st Monmouth Rifles, which had been converted to the 68th Searchlight Regiment. Battery HQ was in Stroud the remainder in South Wales loading ships with coal. Later we were sent to Kidderminster to an empty factory with the same basic bedding and facilities; the factory was previously used for turning beet into sugar.
Incidentally I was walking alongside the river on a Sunday and people were out having picnics and I was still wearing my kilt, one of the men in a party called over to me and as I went over I recognized him, his name was Frizzle, he was from Greenock also there was another family whose name was Logan, they came from Mill Street in Greenock, which is where my Granny Workman and my 3 uncles lived. My mate and I were invited to call the next Sunday for lunch with them which we did.
The rest of the battery joined us and then we collected our equipment and went to Bridgnorth in Shropshire, we were about 10 miles outside and we set up detachments of 10 men and started our training. When it was dark friendly planes were flying over and we used them as our targets to light up, this included us trying to follow them with a searchlight from the ground and follow them, we continued this for a couple of months.
After the training period the battery assembled at Bridgnorth where we boarded a train with not a clue as to where we were going. We got on the train and travelled all night and part of the following day and we arrived in the New Forrest at Hampshire. There was a big new artillery camp and we stayed there for a couple of days then we moved out and our attachment went to Beauly. Our Sgt was called Sgt Chicken! We then went to Fort Gillkicker we were near Gosport and our search light was on top of the fort, where we had a good view of the Southampton water and the Isle of Cowes and also the troop ships which were being loaded opposite from us, when we heard the singing coming from the troops we knew there were Welsh and they were on their way to North Africa.
Our next move was to Wareham in Dorset, where we set up camp. As a matter of interest in Wareham church there is a tomb of Lawrence of Arabia which I saw. He was killed in a motorcycle accident; he was in the RAF under a different name. We were there sometime in June or July where we stayed until the troops from Dunkirk took over our site, then we went to Wiltshire. We were given leave, the Welsh were given 7 days leave at Christmas and the Scots were given 7 days at New Years, I returned to Scotland.
Shortly after that we moved to the Bristol area, Battery HQ was set up in Bristol and our detachment went to Knoll West, which is outside of Bristol on the way to Bath. Later on I was sent to the detachment in Redcliff which is on the main road to Exeter, about 18 miles from Bristol.
I stayed there for a period of time. One Saturday my mate Jimmy West and I were given a day off until 10:00pm which was stand too time, we caught a bus into Bristol and we came into Bedminster where there was a big cinema, so we went to the matinee and then coming out it was around 4.30pm, right across the street was a pub and Jimmy wanted a beer. We went in, the beer was good, but there were no glasses. There was another pub down the road so we went there to have a beer thinking we had time to get back and catch the bus. After the drink we went to the bus stop and were told the bus had left early and had gone already. Jimmy and I had a long walk of 18 miles, unfortunately we didn’t make the 10.00pm curfew and we were then considered AWOL, we had to face the field commander, we were given 7 days field punishment, we mainly worked in the kitchen of Battery HQ and did any other odd jobs. At night we were placed in a little square hut which held only two men with barely enough room for the beds. We were not kept under lock and key. We then returned to the detachment at Red Hill. A little later we were told we were being pulled out and retrained, we were put on the trucks and went to Bath, and we were billeted in the totalizers on the racecourse was on the mesa above Bath. Every morning we had to run around the racecourse for a few laps for our PT. We had training which included recognition of all Aircraft which included British and German which had the Maltese cross. Our instructor who was Welsh kept putting me to sleep with his monotone voice. I got a few lengths of chalk thrown at me and he informed me I had to pay attention as there would be a test at the end of the instruction. The final throw he gave me was a duster which I managed to catch. I asked him did it want it back, to which he replied yes, instead of throwing it direct I aimed for the ceiling above his desk and as he went to catch it he fell over. I said sorry Sgt, a bit short!!
After we finished the instruction period I was on sentry duty at Battery HQ in Bristol where the guardroom was at right angle to the road, I was looking down between the fence and the building when I saw the Battery Commanders car, I knew I had to give him a present arms, as the ute turned to go out of the main gate the car stopped and he put his window down and he said, *Murray I have been hearing things about you, I thought what now? He said I had good reports from your instructors, he said you were also the only one who got 100% in Aircraft recognition. He then said *what do you think of being a Lance Bombardier, and I nearly dropped my rifle, I replied I don’t know about that Sir, He told me to see the quarter master and get my strips to put on my tunic. At the end of my 2hrs I was relieved and went off to the guardroom, and the guard commander said to me *Major Wood was talking to you for some time, was he giving you a bollocking for a lousy present arms?* I replied he was quite friendly and he told me I was the only one who managed 100% recognition of Aircraft, to which he replied *pull the other leg, that will be the day*, I said and not only that sir hehas made me a Lance Bombardier. I said I have now finished my guard duty and as I am a Lance Bombardier, I don’t have to do guard duty, so the boys will have to put in more hours, he was taken aback, I said I wouldn’t sew on my strips until the end of my guard duty but at the end I wanted a cup of tea and some of those nice biscuits he had!
After this I returned to my detachment which was in a small village on the road to Weston-super-Mare. So I was now second in command of my detachment.
Later on I was transferred to another detachment which was based at Kingswood, during the years I was with my regiment there were posters asking for volunteers for various things, I volunteered for anything that came up to get me out of the job I was doing however nothing ever happened, my request probably never got passed the CO’s desk. So I decided there was only one thing to do to get out, I went AWOL for a couple of hours, I then had to appear before the Colonel, and I was back to gunner and posted to another detachment at Chew Magna. Shortly after that I put in a volunteer request for the commandos. I was surprised when I was told to report to Hungerford to see the commandos selection board, where I met Charlie Taylor, we had both done an assistant Physical Trainers course as NCO’s we both had past and were told to return to our unit. Later the commandos informed our unit that we both had been selected. A few days later the dispatch rider who delivered the mail informed me to pack my kit and I would be picked up and taken to Bath Station, I was under the impression this was to join the Commandos, instead when I got to Bath Station there were about 16 others and when I looked I saw Charlie Taylor and Bill Taylor, I assumed this was a transfer of the bad boys! After getting off the train I saw the sign for Brookwood in Surrey, we went to Pirbright and we found out that the unit was training on Bofers 40mm anti- aircraft guns so we were going to be trained on these guns.
After a few weeks training we were having a break in the gun park, the Captain came across and asked how we were getting on. Of course Charlie Taylor piped up *Sir, Murray and I have been selected for the Commandos, instead we were sent here* The Captain said he would look into it; he came over the next day and said that the Commando’s had no more vacancies. However he said why not volunteer as a parachutist, I looked at the sky and was not too sure and of course Charlie again said, *Come on Jock, we can do it* so I agreed. A few days later we were told that we were being posted to the Airborne forces at Hardwick Hall, near Chesterfield. Before we left our Irish Sgt Instructor spoke to both of us, not very nicely! He said we had broken up the best gun team he had in a long time, and if you come back or you fail I will kick the crap out of you!!
On the train from London to Chesterfield we got into the compartment with two other soldiers and we found out that they were also going to the Airborne Forces also. Their names were Joe Millward who lived in the village of Morton and Jeff Hansen who was a Londoner. So the four of us were put in the same platoon at the depot. After reporting at the Depot we were shown our billets and we were given our number, our platoon was number 87 which consisted of 30 men. The next day before breakfast we had to run 2 miles with full kit, and this had to be done in 10 mins, then after breakfast it was head down and into the obstacle course and then Physical training under the PT instructors. Everything was at the double In between everything; you were not allowed to walk. Parts of the obstacles were raised on scaffolding with planks in between; this was to see if you were ok at heights. We had a break at about 11.00am for a cup of tea and if you could afford it you could buy a bun.
Even to go to the NAAFI you had to do double time. Sometimes we had to crawl under barbed wire, you were told to keep your head down and they fired live ammunition above you, luckily the guns were accurate. This training went on for six weeks, this also included a 10 mile walk which had to be completed to a set time, and this ensured we all stuck together and helped each other by taking someone’s pack if they were struggling, everyone worked as a Platoon. When everyone had passed the 6 week test we were all sent to RAF Ringway which is now an international airport. At Ringway the platoon was divided into what was called a stick, this consisted of 10 men; this was because only 10 could fit into the Whitley aircraft.
They had slides which were at an acute angle we had to sit on the top of the slide and were instructed to bend our knees and keep them together, the trainer asked us to put a penny or thrupenny bit between our knees so we had to slide down and roll to either the right or the left side at his command, if we dropped the coin he kept it.
They had Whitney aircraft which we had to sit in, the odd numbers were closest to the pilot and the even numbers were to the rear of the aircraft with a hole in the middle, we had to sit on the edge of the hole with our legs through it and hold onto the edge of the hole with your hands, then number one would be first to go through odd numbers would alternate going through the hole to land on the coia mats, you had to ensure you cleared the hole with enough room for your parachute would be on your back so it didn’t become caught.
We had to climb up a ladder which had a windlass at the top above your head, this served to slow down your jump by compensating for your weight. You were attached your harness to it and then did you jump onto the mats and roll to break your fall. You were put in a harness and pulled up and then taught how to land into water or how to safely protect yourself if you were going to hit trees. These procedures continued until you were passed by the instructors who were actually parachutists. We were then taught how to fit a parachute, you were given a dummy parachute and you were assessed that the strapping fitted you correctly. After this you were ready to go parachuting. We had to do 8 jumps to complete before we qualified as parachutists. The first jump was from a basket attached to a barrage balloon which had a hole in the middle, they would 4 men, one in each corner and you were given numbers 1 to 4, the height of the balloon was controlled by a man on the ground and was around 800 feet high.
The second jump we did was what they called slow pairs, this consisted of 2 men dropping one after the other, and then the pilot would do a go around and come back and drop another 2 until everyone was gone. We did this twice. Jump number 4 would be generally 5 men in order; this was controlled by the instructor. He had to watch how everyone cleared the hold and decide how many jumped. The next 3 jumps were full sticks which were 10 men. The last jump was done at night from the balloon. During the training you could refuse to jump, however the consequence would be that you would be immediately *returned to unit*. Having reached the time for the fifth jump Charlies stick was three ahead of ours, we completed our fifth jump and were taken back to our billets and I said I would go and check on Charlie to see if he was OK, I went into his room where his bed was at the far end, his blankets were all gone, I asked the last one of the men where Charlie was and he told me he had “had it” I said what do you mean, he said “he refused to jump”.
However having done the 8 and qualified, you were now considered a trained parachutist, and should you then refuse you would be sentenced to 58 days in a military prison.
Coincidently in 1946 I was back in Scotland and went to see a soccer match between Morton and Celtic, I was walking around the ground and I saw a chap that I recognised and he was one of my gun team. He told me that the Irish Sgt had been killed not long before the war had finished.
The 9th Battalion
The following day we were paraded and we were given our Red Beret’s. On the way back to my billet I passed the company office and there was a rack which held disc’s each one had a name and a number which signified the number of the Battalion of where we would be posted too. I looked and found Geoff and Joes name on the 9 and then I found mine under 8, so a quick change was needed and I swapped mine with someone else’s so we would all be in the 9th.
Arriving at the 9th Battalion which was billeted in a new block which was self- contained, the block was called Sandhurst. Around Beaufort was the 7th Battalion Parachute regiment, Glider regiments Ulster rifles, the OXS & BUCKs and the Devon’s, and also the Fusiliers were based here. We were posted into B Company and the 7th platoon, the commanding officer was Bestley. We started our preparation for the second front or D-Day, our parachuting consisted mainly of night drops having landed we had been previously been given points on the Rendezvous so that they could count how many had landed on the drop zone correctly. We moved to what was supposed to be a gun battery and carried out an attack it had the usual defenses around it, gun, barbed wire and anti- tank ditch. I knew that would be what we would have to carry out during the invasion where ever that was to be during the invasion. We were not told where it would be.
All of these night jumps were in preparation for the task which we were given. A week before Christmas 1943 the battalion was gathered and the CO told us that the next exercise we would be dropped, we would have to attack the gun battery after destroying the guns we would move to higher ground and defend that area. He told us the operation was called Bloody, and it was, it rained, snowed and hailed. After moving to higher ground we dug in and had all round defenses. Then we attacked by Polish Soldiers who were regarded as the enemy, they attacked us consistently during the night so there was little sleep. Eventually after 5 days we withdrew and marched to a village where the transport took us back to barracks where we celebrated Christmas. We had to wait for the transport so we were all having a sleep in the streets; the village was in Cranborne Chase.
They were various aspects to our training which included clearing mine fields. To do this we had to learn how to locate mines and safely disarm them. We found the mines by using a bayonet and prodding gently, when we identified a mine we cleared the ground round about it ensuring that there were no anti- personnel attachments before moving them. These mines could be Anti -Tank or Anti-Personnel. As these mines were cleared and we were moving forward to the Anti-Tank ditch we also laid white tape showing the limits of the ground cleared.
The German S Mine(Schrapnellmine, Springmine or Splitterminein) also known as the “Bouncing Betty”, is the best-known version of a class of mines known as bounding mines. When triggered, these mines launch into the air and then detonate at about 0.9 meters (3 ft). The explosion projects a lethal spray of shrapnel in all directions. The S-mine was an anti-personnel mine developed by Germany in the 1930s and used extensively by German forces during World War II. It was designed to be used in open areas against unshielded infantry.Two versions were produced, designated by the year of their first production: the SMi-35 and SMi-44. There are only minor differences between the two models.
The Third-Reich used the S-mine heavily during the defence of its occupied territories and the German homeland during the Allied invasions of Europe and North Africa. The mines were produced in large numbers and planted liberally by defending German units. For example, the German Tenth Army deployed over 23,000 of them as part of their defence preparation during the Allied invasion of Italy.
The Tellermine was a German circular steel cased anti-tank mine used during the Second World War. Between March 1943 and the end of World War II, over 3.6 million Tellermines were produced by Germany.
Using small bridges we would cross the Anti-Tank Ditch and proceed to barbed wire which was laid coiled in depth. We had to have enough Bangalore torpedos to join together and push through the barbed wire. On the signal we ignited the detonators and then the personnel proceeded through the paths we had cleared.
The training was continuous and we had one big exercise where we were dropped and the 1st Airborne played the part of the enemy, this was about 3 days in duration. Not only were personnel dropped, containers were also dropped, and they would contain guns and ammunition. You carried 2 days of rations with you. Eventually we moved to a concentration area where we had pup tents for accommodation and the whole area was set up like a concentration area, we were marched to the showers and back again, we were not allowed outside. This was telling us that the date for D-Day was getting near. When were there we were given up to date information but we were not told where we were going exactly only that it was France. In the same camp the Battalion of the Ulster Rifles was near us and we heard an explosion not very far from us, someone had set off a grenade. The day came when we were marched down into the airfield and we fitted our parachutes and met the crew of the aircraft we were going to be flown in. They were all except one in RAF uniform except the pilot who was an American.
The usual procedure was that the pilot would come in and do a shallow drop and slow the airspeed and he would be guided by the dispatcher as to when everyone was out. Due to the amount of kit and the weight that had to be carried it was easy for a mishap which would slow down the process of everyone getting out.
On the eve of D-Day we were wearing our parachutes, we lined up and got into the aircraft, I was number 18 which meant I was first to get in but would be last to get out. We took off and then we flew around until the planes were in formation so we would take off as part of that drop. It was very quiet in the aircraft and I am not sure how long it took us but we knew when we reached the coast of Normandy by the noise from the guns and the lights of the explosions. We were then given the orders of action stations which meant we stood up and hooked up and then each man behind the other checked that each other was hooked up. Then we got the order to tell off, which meant we each shouted our own number which meant we were all good to go. After that number one stood to the door, and everyone would get as close as possible behind each other until the green light went and then number one would go through followed by everybody else. Normally the dispatcher would be standing aft of the door to offer assistance as required. As I go to the door the pilot started to bank and I was thrown over to the other side of the aircraft, I scrambled up and tried again and he banked again making his turn to go back. My third time I managed to get myself up with head down I didn’t check if the green light or the red light was on, I was out looking up I saw my parachute was developed, as I was coming down I saw some trees and they were like a plantation and I managed to land between them. I took my coverall off and threw that, and removed my Mae West. I could see some houses and I could see some women who were talking in French, they approached me and asked if I was English. I could hear the Germans telling people to put their hands above their heads so I took off in what hoped was the right direction to the North and I got to a road and then turned West. I went into a ditch until I could get my breath back and I looked at the fence that I had come over and there were warning signs which said Beware Mines.
I caught my breath and stayed in the shadow of the road in the grass verge so I couldn’t be heard as I was wearing hob nail boots, I continued like this for over an hour or so. I heard someone coming behind me so I went back into the ditch as I did not know who it was, I looked across the other side of the road as the footsteps got nearer me, the person that was coming nearer me was on the side of the road where the moonlight was shining, I identified him as Shepherd, one of my Platoon. I waved him over to the darker side of the road so we sat there for a bit and could hear explosions going off to our left but this could have been anyone as other units were blowing bridges. We continued slowly on our way keeping to the road it must have been some hours later that we heard marching feet behind us and they were at a fast pace so Shepherd and I were back in the ditch. I identified them as Canadians so I popped my head up and the next thing I had a pistol at my head and I was asked the password and told him we were with the 9th Battalion, we were told to fall in behind them as they were headed to Ranville which was were divisional HQ was being set up. They dropped us off at the first position we found of the 9th Battalion and we were allocated a place in a mixed unit which consisted of different companies. We were dug into defensive positions. Some of us were ordered to take about 200 prisoners to a POW cage at Ranville As we got to the outskirts the divisional commander General Gale was walking about and he directed us to where the POW’s were put in a cage. As we went to the cage and we went through the 7th Battalion and we were told the Padre had been killed.
The Merville Battery
As part of the initial D-Day the battle to take the Merville Battery was undertaken by the British They were charged with taking over and destroying the battery which threatened the landing of the main landing force at Sword Beach 8 miles away.
Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway and the 9th Essex Parachute Battalion were to take the Battery with 650 men who had anti-tank and anti-mine equipment . Just after midnight on D-Day, the assault commenced.
This is an account of that assault, which depicts an incredible victory in such horrendous circumstances
The plan fell apart very quickly because all of the equipment and most of the men landed nowhere near the rendezvous point. Communication with the nearby HMS Arethusa was also impossible. Despite being hopelessly under-equipped, the scouting party had managed to study the German position with good detail and marked the positions of mines by digging their heels into the earth near them. By 2:50am, Lt Col Otway decided that although he had only 150 men rather than the expected 600 he had to continue with the mission.
Major Alan Parry was tasked with leading the main assault on the battery, he gave command of the four assault groups to Lieutenant Alan Jefferson, Lieutenant Mike Dowling, Company Sergeant Major Barney Ross and Sergeant Harold Long. They split up along two paths through the minefield to reach the four casemates and began to open fire on the Germans as soon as one of the gliders carrying equipment and men overshot the battery.
As the assault groups ran through the minefield paths they encountered heavy resistance from German machine gun positions who were defending the battery (who had managed to light up the area with flares shot up into the sky). Despite heavy casualties and fire from another nearby battery, the men of the 9th Parachute Battalion managed to reach the casemates and used their personal Gammon bombs to destroy the artillery, which they discovered to be old 100mm Czech guns and not the 150mm ones that intelligence reports indicated. Otway lost nearly half of the 150 men from his already diminished force so was down to around 75 men instead of +600. However they managed this very unlikely victory given the circumstance and saved many of the men who would storm Sword Beach later that day.
We then returned to our defensive positons. At about midday the Commander’s appeared with Lord Lovat in front with a piper behind him. They passed the gun battery and they were heading towards Cabourg.
Ranville and Discharge
Later in the day at about 9 in the evening we saw the gliders come en mass and land behind Ranville, they were there to hold the Pegasus Bridge. The Gliders carried heavy ammunitions and Jeeps. We stayed in our defensive positions but we were being shelled and one attack came down the road. A German car came around a bend freewheeling so we could not hear the engine, the lad beside me jumped up and I heard the bullets go over my head but the lad beside me got shot in the chest.
There were troops in the houses who shot the Germans who were in the vehicle. It was the next day that we had a bit of shell fire going over and I got a bit of shrapnel in my leg. There was a German with a red cross on his uniform and he helped me to get to the main dressing station. I saw a Doctor there who said I had to stay off my leg and they sent me off in an ambulance with two young lads who had been very badly burnt in a tank.
We were sent to the beach area around Ouistreham and I had to wait there lying in the sand. Later I was shipped out to a tank landing craft and was on my way to UK. I spent the night on the ship I was then taken to Havant which had a Naval Hospital where a Canadian nurse cleaned me up a bit. Later on I was placed in a goods wagon which had bunk beds in it and we took off. I didn’t know where I was going but later I saw a sign for Leamington Spa. We were taken to Warneford Hospital where we were unloaded there was a crowd around the ambulance. I had surgery to take the shrapnel out of my leg, they were unable to remove 2 bits as they couldn’t locate. They said would probably come out itself. I had to hop around on a crutch. I went to the cinema a couple of times which was free. After I was discharged from the hospital I was taken to a convalescent home Bakewell in the Peak District and I stayed there for a period. The wound entry had not quite healed up behind my knee and there was an old nurse who said she would get rid of the blister which she did. Next stop was Convalescent depot which was Trentham Gardens at Stoke on Trent. I had to go through physiotherapy as I couldn’t put my heel on the ground. Eventually I could put my foot flat on the ground and I had to attain a certain standard of fitness to be discharged. This included being able to march different distances the longest being around 10 miles.
After discharged from here I was posted back to the Regimental Depot at Hardwick Hall. I was placed in Platoon who were a new intake I went through the usual training including the obstacle courses and PE to get me up to the standard required. After being passed fit enough to go to Ringway Airport where the cycle of training to be a parachutist needed me to do another 8 jumps. On completion I was sent back to Bulford. Only a rear party were in Bulford, because the remainder were still in Germany having crossed the Rhine and they were still fighting until they reached the river Elbe and met the Russians. On the surrender of the German Army on May 8th the fighting stopped and later the Battalion returned to Bulford.
Preparations were made for the division to be sent to The Far East and the 5th Brigade was sent out before the Japanese surrendered in September 1945. The intention was for the 3rd Brigade to follow later on however after the surrender of the Japanese the 3rd Brigade were sent to Palestine in early October. The battalion boarded Dunnottar Castle a troopship and we were bound for Palestine.
We arrived at the port of Haifa about 10 days later. The machine gun platoon stayed behind to unload the equipment from the ship to be put on a good wagon’s on the railway.
We settled in there for some time and carried on with the usual duties. While we were there a new camp was being constructed for us with all the amenities provided, this camp was at Qastina on the side of a hill. A few hundred yards away was the sea. which spent a bit of time enjoying the water. It wasn’t long before we had to turn out because illegals were being brought in by the Jews in ship loads and they were trying to unload them on unoccupied parts of the coast line. We were also required to cordon and search Jewish settlements for any illegals who were hidden there. To do this the whole battalion would surround the settlement whilst we went in and searched all the buildings. This became a normal part of our duties.
Sometime in May 1946 I was notified that I would be sent back to the UK because my 7 year term of service would be completed on the 10th of August 1946. I went from Palestine to Alexandria in Egypt to catch a ship to the UK. The ship was an American Liberty Ship which the Americans had mass produced and did it rock and roll! I found out that we were going home by the Medlock route which was from Toulon in France where we got on a train and finished at Calais, we were third class, and there were only bench’s to sit on and a place to put your luggage. At Calais we boarded a ship which was a ferry, this landed us at Harwich then we went on by train to Aldershot where we were going to be de-mobbed. Here came the surprise – Anybody with a deferred number of discharge were ordered to stand fast while the remainder were sent off.
So I was being sent to the Regimental Depot at Hardwick Hall. When I disputed this I was told they were giving me a railway warrant for Chesterfield. I then told them that the depot was on the Isle of Wight, so I sat there until they sorted it out. Then off to the Isle of Wight I went by ferry. On arrival I saw an officer who had 7th Battalion patches on his shoulder so they gave me a warrant to go home on leave, reporting back before the due date of my de-mob. Later I was sent to York City to get my de-mob suite and I managed to get a good one which fitted and I also got a hat which I gave to my Dad. From there I went home to Greenock to Civvy Street.
I managed to get a job working for Kincaids the engineers who built diesel engines for ships, I had to work night shift as this was all that was available. We started at 10.00pm and finished around 8am. I was waiting for my Brother Sammy to come home, he was in the Merchant Navy and was due to get married, the day was fixed and then I wrote to the officer in charge of records saying I wanted to serve my 5 years in reserves with the Colors which meant I was then serving 12 years instead of 7. Sammy got married and on the 6th of February then I was on my way to Aldershot. We were put in Platoons and went through the process of getting fit and after completion there we were sent off to the Parachute Training School where we did a further 8 jumps. On completion of the jumps I was posted to a holding Battalion in Aldershot. We didn’t like it there so when a notice appeared on the notice board for volunteers to join the division in Palestine I was one of 5 who volunteered. So we went to Palestine via Southampton and boarded the Empire Windrush which had previously been a German ship that had been refitted by the British and was now a British Troop Carrier.
We landed at Haifa. The divisional HQ was at Haifa and the officer who we had met was there and he was telling everyone which battalion everyone was going too. They sent the younger soldiers off and they sent me to Divisional HQ which was at Mt Carmel, I told him I was there to rejoin the 9th, I saw a soldier who was going back to the 9th I asked him to inform Captain Fairfax-Ross that I was being sent to Divisional HQ.
I got to divisional HQ the camp commandant was giving out the jobs and I informed him again that I was there to rejoin the 9th. The next morning Captain Alexander came in and said I am looking for Murray, he said I was to go with him and I was put in a jeep and sent out to the 9th which was at Peninsular. As I went in Capt. Fairfax saw me and yelled to me to come and have a beer.
A few days later I joined a course for NCO’s and did the usual stuff, drilling, field exercise, map reading. When the course finished I was a Lance Corporal. A couple of months later I was promoted to Field Corporal, at this time the Battalions were de-mobbing by group number. A lot of them were sent home. Before the end of that year the 8th and 9th Battalion amalgamated and became the 8th/9th and there were no promotions for a while.
Later I was sent down to a company which guarded the fuel depots off the road. Patrols were sent out from there, I also had to take out the Bren Gun Carrier it had a Vickers Gun mounted on it, and there was myself the driver 2 machine gunners and 2 others. I had to go out onto the road which lead into Haifa and I had to set up a road block which was surrounded by barbed wire, when an alarm went off the gun was swung to face the road so anyone coming up the road had to get out of the vehicles and be searched. We dropped two men off who had to set up the gun and I instructed them on how to set it up. I told them I would come back when I had set up the road block. When I got back the gun was on the ledge but they hadn’t primed it. They told me that they had not been given the training to carry this out. I showed them how to do it and how to arm it.
On returning to camp at the end of the day I ensured that these two men were to be given instruction on the weapon (PIAT) and I requested that I be assigned two trained men on my patrol who were capable of operating a PIAT. This raised the issue that all the new draftees were to be competent in the use of the PIAT.
Then came the day when the troopship the Empress of Scotland arrived outside of Haifa, this was the ship that the Battalion was going to return on to the UK. After a pleasant journey we arrived at Liverpool. We then had to go through customs and they had a good look through our kit bags, of course we didn’t have much to declare. Boarding a train we arrived at our destination which was Cirencester where we spent some time and the Battalion was formally disbanded.
I was sent on leave and I arrived in Glasgow on the 5th of May 1948 at number one platform. While I was making my way to platform twelve I met my future wife Betty going the opposite way. We got on the Greenock train and of course I was anxious to find out if all the preparations had been made for our wedding. I asked Betty when it was going to be, her reply was “Friday the 7th of May”. My brother Sammy was my best man and Betty’s sister Nan was Bridesmaid. We were married in the vestry of the Gaelic Church.
I returned to Cirencester and later caught the ferry at Harwich to Hoek of Holland and then onto Church in Stewart Street Greenock. At the end of my leave Lubeck in North West Germany. I joined C Company of the 1st Parachute Battalion. I remained there for about 3 months then the Battalion travelled by road from Lubeck to Bavaria, Southern Germany. We were close to the Czechoslovakian frontier.
On the way down I had been suffering from Tonsillitis and on arriving at the camp I saw the Medical Officer and he said he would give me something, I was to see him later in the day, he said “I cannot send you to the hospital as it is American and it would be billed in US Dollars”. Later on I saw the Medic Sgt and he said the medical officer was not there, he took me down to see an American Doctor who asked me how long I had been sick, he then told them I needed to be transported to the American Military Hospital in Munich by ambulance. By the way that the driver and the speed he was going at I was doubtful that I would get there in one piece. I got to the hospital and they gave me an injection of something, during the night the orderly saw me and said Mein Got…… I got quick attention and another injection when I awoke in the morning I was given a mug of coffee however I could barely pick it up. Later an American nurse came in and asked me how I was, I replied not too bad Sister and she frowned and off she went. Later I was told that by calling her Sister I was out of order, I explained that all nurses in British Military Hospitals were addressed by Sister or Matron and not by their military rank. I apologized to her.
Hanover and East Germany
Later we moved by road again and we were going north into Germany and we finished up at Brunswick which is near Hanover, the 2nd Battalion was based in Hanover. One of our jobs was to patrol the border between us and Eastern Germany.
Attending an Junior NCO’s course the Company Sgt Major Instructor of Physical Training had us doing gymnastics out on the company square where we had to using the springboard and going over the horse and also using the springboard to do somersault over the horse and land on your feet. I noticed that the commanding officer was observing what we were doing and was speaking to the Sgt Major. Shortly after we had finished our gymnastics and we were putting the equipment away and he turned around to me and said *Corporal Murray, you stay here, The Colonel has told me to tell you that he is sending you on a PT instructors course to the Army School of Physical Training in Aldershot. So later off I went to Aldershot but was able to able to have some leave before the course and I headed for Greenock and an expectant mother, I was able to send a telegram. I turned up and met Betty and her sister Nan, I was carrying my kit bag, rifle and equipment! Bette told me we were going to visit her other sister Marion who was living in West Blackhall Street. We spent some time visiting and Bette said we would have to get a taxi as she and her parents had moved from Hillside Road to Rainbow Valley. They had moved in only that day and no one was sure of the actual street address, they didn’t even have the electricity turned on. Eventually we found the right place. Next morning it was upstairs and downstairs to cook breakfast as there was no gas on and we had to light a fire in the grate. There was also no hot water. Luckily everything was turned on later that day. I had to return to Aldershot to commence the PE instructor’s course. The leave was only about a week.
Reporting to the School of Physical Training we were put into squads for individual training and then we undertook 6 weeks of intensive training. The second day I tried to sit up in my bed and my stomach muscles were so tight and knotted that I had to roll off the bed. This continued for 3 days. I was not alone, everyone else felt the same. I finished the course and reported back to my Battalion which was now based in Aldershot. Just before Christmas we were given block leave and I got home to see my new Son John.
After the leave I returned to the Battalion in Aldershot and continued normal duties until we went to Devon in about April or May, we were billeted outside Rockhampton which became our base. We went on route marches for nearly a week all around Devon we ended up at Newton Abbot on a Saturday, we had to march and identify a particular point, we started off following a stream and followed that for quite a distance for the first hour. We had a break after which we were led by a young officer, on starting to walk again he did a right hand turn crossed the stream and then did another right had turn. Consequently despite our arguing with him we managed to get to the designated place for lunch at midnight! The stupidity of this officer stuck in my mind and I knew that sometime I would do this in reverse.
In June 1950 I managed to get my married quarters and went up to Greenock to bring Bette and John back to Montcrieff Square, Aldershot where she met a few of my friends wives who were already in quarters and she settled in. Everything was supplied including cooking utensils, linen and furniture. In July I was part of the Battalion Shooting team who went to Bisley for the annual shooting competitions where civilians from all over the world also competed. We returned every day to Aldershot. Later I attended another course of Field Craft and Tactics at Warminster, spending the weekend’s home in Aldershot. Later returning to normal duties.
Egypt and Cyprus
Things were happening in Egypt and the Egyptian Military had taken over the country and we started preparing to move. On the 1st of June 1951 Bette went into hospital to have our second child Carole who was born on the 3rd of June. I was able to see her once and the next day the Battalion was off, boarding the Aircraft Carrier, Warrior that had been mothballed
We eventually landed in Cyprus at Famagusta. We went into a camp on the outskirts of Nicosia and stayed for some time after which we were flown into Egypt and we set up a camp near Bonita Kabrit Fayed near the Great Bitter Lake, we later moved up near Ismailia. In 1952 I was able to sign on to complete further service for a pension after 22 years and was paid 200 pounds sterling. I sent the money back to Bette and then was told that if I paid 52 pounds sterling I would be able to have leave for a fortnight and be flown back to the UK on a York, so I had to get Bette to send back some money. So I took some leave and then returned to the Battalion in Eygpt. We went down to the Sinai Desert in jeeps where we did exercise’s again the Commandor’s who acted as the enemy. After this was over we returned to Ismailia. In Arpil 1953 I was sent on a course for Vickers Machine Guns in Netheravon, I went into Aldershot and met up with Bette and the Children where I spent a couple of days and then reported to Netheravon to start on the course. We were given each weekend off so I was able to visit Bette in Aldershot but had to return on the Sunday afternoons. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was on the 2 June 1953. Contingents from the 3 Para Battalions had been sent from Egypt to Aldershot to take part in the parade in London. In Mid-June I returned to Egypt and my usual duties.
1953 the brigade started to build houses because we could no longer hope to get an army married quarters. They built these houses around a site on the shores of Lake Timsah with the proviso that no trees would be removed. The houses were built around the trees, there were about 30 or 40 houses which were constructed of a framework and were covered with heavy tarpaulin with a flat roof. The house consisted of 2 bedrooms, shower, kitchen and an Elsan toilet was outside which had to be emptied every day. Later the wives came out to their lakeside village. Just after getting the wives settled in the Colonel sent for me and said that the Brigadier was looking for the senior NCO who could interpret air photos taken by the RAF and the only person they could find was me. I said I would rather stay with my Platoon however I was sent to Brigade HQ Intelligence. We returned to the UK on 27th July 1954. So the wives had a nice holiday in the sun.
We all returned on a troop ship and docked at Southampton and we were all sent on leave, we went to Greenock. I received a letter from the Quarter Master that I had been allocated married quarters in Aldershot, the first one was only 2 bedrooms which we took until a 3 bedroom became available, this was in Chetwoyd Tce and was semi -detached.
Whilst still in Aldershot my platoon commander told me that we were to parade the next day in full battle order and we were to go out to a training area where we were to meet a film unit who were there to make a movie which we learnt later on was called “I was Monty’s Double”. The next day having met the gaffer who was told I was the person to liaise with regarding what they needed in terms of what the men had to carry out, One of the pieces of equipment I was asked to produce was a flame thrower which I had not seen since the end of the war in 1945. We were unable to find one, instead we filled a large bucket with petrol and using a stirrup pump we created our own flame thrower. One man on the stirrup pump, one man on the hose and myself with a flaming torch, on the word pump out came the fuel and out came a very large flame. Nearby Monty’s Double (M.E. Clifton James) got the fright of his life!
Another scene was the platoon with fixed bayonets appearing from behind a hill and charging at the supposed enemy position.
Our second daughter Marion was born in 1956.
In 1958 I was instructing Cadets in Devon, on returning to Aldershot and being met on the square by an officer who informed me that I had to be ready with my Platoon at 11.00pm that evening. I had to put all the training gear back into the store and gather my defense Platoon of 30 men. We had to get all of our equipment, ammunition and kitbags organized. I rushed home and was met by my wife who said, no need to rush now the 1st Battalion has been sent somewhere and the ball has been cancelled. I replied, I am off before the 1st Battalion, I have to report back to Brigade HQ at 23:00hrs tonight, we have not been told where we are going but we are off.
Returning and getting the Platoon on the square we were then taken by transport to an airfield outside of Aldershot and emplaned and we later found that we were in Cyprus. A couple of weeks later we moved into Amman, Jordan. The 2nd Para Battalion were in the next camp. The information we were given was that Iraq was preparing to invade Jordan and we were there to stop them. However diplomatic talks took place and the invasion did not take place. We then returned to the UK shortly before Christmas.
At the beginning of 1959 I was posted back to the 1st Battalion and attended the school of small arms at Hythe in Kent for 6 weeks and later on I was also sent to Pirbright to attend a drill instructors course for 6 weeks. I completed this course, later I was sent to the Depot Parachute Regiment to instruct recruits who were direct recruits. I put 2 Platoons through and they then went to Parachute Training School. After the second Platoon went to the parachute school I was given leave, while I was on leave I received a telegram from the depot informing me to call a telephone number and I was told that if I wanted a promotion to C/Sgt I would be sent to Cyprus to the 2nd Battalion who were already out there. I agreed to this and later with the family which had increased with the birth of our second son Alan flew out to Limasol and I was posted to support company (machine guns, mortars and anti-tank).
At Easter we went camping on Troodos Mountain as we had bought a new car, a Vauxhall Victor for 350 Pounds Sterling. We got civilian quarters which the army had until and vacancy became available and we then moved into Berengaria Village, the houses were 3 bedroom detached bungalows. I fell into the normal routine.
We travelled from Limassol up through the Troodos Mountains which had beautiful scenery, we camped overnight and then went through the Kyrenia Mountains and saw St Hilarion Castle then onto Famagusta and back to Limassol, this was about 320 klm’s.
Normal routine was disrupted when we had to make a quick move to Kuwait due to threats from Iraq invading Kuwait. The Battalion landed at Kuwait and we went into the desert about 20 miles and took a defensive position. Saudi Arabia artillery on our left. However the diplomats solved the problem and we were flown down to Bahrain to an RAF Station. That night I was awakened by an officer who told me that I was being flown back to Cyprus, the next morning I got on a C111 and finished up in Aden, Yemen. I then had to wait for another plane and eventually caught another plane to El Adam in Libya and then onto Cyprus, this took about a week.
I was then posted to Famagusta to an AOCD, which was responsible for administration of Army Schools which were staffed by UK civilian teachers who were given contracts. My job was to supply any stores that the school’s required also responsible for the luggage/crates that belonged to the teachers, I would have these delivered when the teachers settled in. When they finished their contracts I was again responsible for getting their belongings shipped back. I had my own car which I used and was reimbursed. Usually visiting the 3 schools daily and met with the principles and took care of any requirements they needed. After a week we had a civilian house but this was only for a short period and then we were allocated an Army Quarter near the ordinance Depot in Four Mile Point, It was a detached house in an Army Housing Area.
Shortly after being sent to Famagusta a notice appeared on the office board that the Parachute Regiment were doing a big exercise and anyone interested could be flown back to the UK in the empty planes and have leave in the UK and returned to Cyprus for free. It was done as a ballot and you had to request the number of seats required. We needed six. Lucky us!!! We got the seats and flew to RAF Lyneham and then went to Greenock via train. After our leave we returned to Lyneham to go back to Cyprus.
I was given a 2 year extension so that I would complete 3 years in Cyprus. I would work from Monday to Friday and the kids would go to school Monday to Friday and John and Carole were now at High School and were bussed to school. In Summer work and school took place between 7am to 1pm, in the afternoon we would all go to the beach outside Famagusta, we also did a bit of fishing.
In June 1963 we moved to Nicosia to a transit camp to await transportation back to the UK. My family moved to Greenock to stay with Bette’s family and I had to return to Aldershot and go through the process of demobilization. I asked the paymaster to commute part of my pension so that I would be set up when I got a vacancy for a house. After paying out what was required we were left with 200 pounds and I gave it to Bette for the kids to organize the school uniforms, books etc .
We were given a choice of what sort of vocation we would like, I opted to prepare for the civil service examination and I would be told later when to appear to take this examination. In the meanwhile I got a job with Drummond and Son’s who had a cooperage, tin and wood making and sawmill and they put me as a storeman where they had a contract with IBM for their contract to assemble various machines. Later I was moved to the main factory which was making tin cigarette boxes and various other boxes.
Early in 1964 I got the letter for me to appear in Glasgow to sit the exam. I walked into a large hall and l looked around and most of them were school leavers, there were only a few mature aged people. Somehow I finished the exam and I must have passed and I was given a questionnaire to complete to say what area I wanted to work in. One of the questions was do you want to handle money, I thought this might be in the labor exchange, so I said no. Later I was told to report to the chief cashier at Fort Matilda near Battery Park, Greenock. I went and saw the chief cashier and reported in, he said he expected someone younger. He explained the job I was going to be given, this office paid civilian workers who worked at various point’s around the West of Scotland and I would be given an area that I would have to keep a ledger for their wages which were completed weekly. I had a handover for this job by someone who was leaving. Welcome to Civy Street. Our third son David was born in 1965.
In 1966 Bette and I decided after talking with the kids that we would migrate to Australia. I filled in the forms for Broken Hill Prop Ltd, to nominate the family to be considered and later BHP confirmed that we would be interviewed in Glasgow by the immigration authority’s and representatives from BHP. We accepted and later given a date we could either go by ship or plane. We chose the ship and embarked on the Fairsky from Southampton.
Arriving in Australia in August 1966. I was employed in the Time Office later I was given the post of Senior Staff Timekeeper which entailed all fortnightly staff on the payroll. In 1982 I was given the choice of early redundancy with a bonus of $10K, I immediately accepted and organised a trip to UK because we were to attend the wedding of Bette’s brothers son’s wedding. We were accompanied by two of Bette’s sisters and their husbands. Bette and I left 2 days prior to the others and we stopped in Hong Kong where we stayed in a hotel where we had a magnificent view of the harbour with all its Sampans. 2 days later we all boarded the plane and landed in Heathrow Airport. We then travelled to Greenock. Bette and I stayed with her sister Nan and husband Ian, Jean and Billy stayed with his parents and Sadie and her husband stayed with another of Bette’s sisters Marion.
Billy’s brother in law who was a mechanic had used cars for sale so I bought a hatchback at a good price and we used this to tour all over Scotland, England, Holland, Belgium and Germany. We left Greenock early October and then spent another 4 nights in Hong Kong on the way back to Adelaide and then finally Whyalla which is where I remain with the family.