Home on Leave

“We barely had time to settle into our new quarters when I was told that I had 28 days leave in England. I should have gone months before but had been prevented by my illness and, latterly, by my rank. I had about two days to pack and hand over to a young sergeant from another company who had some clerical experience. The job was no longer arduous and was confined to feeding, clothing, quartering and paying the men.

I reported to Villach transit camp. It was run by an artillery unit and reminded me of the army saying: ‘If it moves salute it, if it doesn’t, paint it.’ Whitewash had been lavishly used and it was a credit to the army. The 25-pounder guns had thick freshly-painted white ropes surrounding them As we were not leaving until the next morning, Jimmy Barrett and I went to the sergeant’s mess at Annenheim the evening before. Here, Jimmy overindulged and was driven back to the Villach transit camp. He was a little noisy as I put him to bed.

Early the next morning, we em-bussed in TCVs and were conveyed via Salzburg to the city of Ulm. Our route followed a magnificent autobahn which occasionally had breaks due to bomb damage and destroyed bridges. We passed right through the city of Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, which was relatively undamaged.

After entering Germany, we passed the worst ruins I had ever seen. It was a large city and it appeared that nothing was taller than the height of a man. It was a scene of complete and utter destruction. We wondered where we were. I saw a sign that said Muenchen. This was Munich, capital of Bavaria and the birthplace of Nazism.

Ulm in northern Bavaria was another scene of chaos. The town was completely destroyed but, standing relatively undamaged, was the magnificent Protestant cathedral which had the tallest spire in Europe. As soon as we arrived at a transit camp, I was called to the CO’s office. I was told that the transit camp at Villach had signalled that I was suspected of causing damage to installations: ropes around the guns had been cut. I, of course, denied any responsibility. The CO asked if I could deny that Sergeant Barrett and I returned there in a drunken condition. I said that it was true that Barrett had overindulged because of his leave but that I remained sober and had put him to bed. I added that I would have been foolish to mar my reputation and endanger my overdue leave by such an escapade. I gave him brief details of my service. He believed me and told me to go home and enjoy my leave.

Next morning, we resumed our long journey across Europe with two overnight stays in army camps. I was thrilled to pass through towns made famous in the First World War and saw the Menin Gate memorial on the hillside near Ypres close by the Passchendaele battlefield of 1915 and 1917. I was saddened to pass Allied war cemeteries from three eras: the enormous cemeteries of 1914-18, the graves for the dead of 1940 and, finally, the cemeteries for soldiers killed in the European campaign of 1944-45.

We arrived at Calais and sailed for Folkestone in a very stormy sea. I lay down on some foam for the whole of the short voyage and managed to control my queasiness. At an army installation on the sea front, I was issued with my railway warrants and a truck took us to the station. I arrived in London not much more than an hour later and made my journey to Brixton, for the first time in nearly three years.

My family did not know of my leave and my mother was overcome when she opened the door for me.”


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