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Full text of "Escape To Action"

jBv It. Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks 

FROM HIS DARING ESCAPE attempts during World 

War I to his part in the final, crushing defeat of 

Germany in World War II, Sir Brian Horrocks' 

life has been a story of personal adventure. As an 

eighteen-year old prisoner of war he infuriated 

his German captors by his incessant breakouts 

from detention camps in an effort to reach the 

Dutch border. After the First War he took part 

in the ill-fated British expedition to Siberia in 

1919, and his account of chaotic skirmishes with 

the Bolsheviks is fascinating-as is his description 

of the great evacuation of Dunkirk, one of the 

first actions in which he took part during World 

War II. It was here that he met Alanbrooke and 

Montgomery, under whom he later served with 

distinction at El Alamein when the power of 

Rommel's Africa Corps was broken. Wounded 

and returned to action, General Horrocks took 

part in the battle of Arnhem and the crossing of 

(Continued on back flap) 

ST MARTIN'S PRESS 

175 Fifth Avenue 

New York 10, N. Y. 



jeet design by Robert Jonas 



940.9302 
Horrocks 
Escape to action 



68-12794 





ESCAPE TO ACTION 

f"X sfa T~" 1H** l"**"^ % fi *"""' 

DATE DUE 



1 



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ESCAPE TO 
ACTION 



By 

LIEUT. -GENERAL 

SIR BRIAN HORROCKS 

K.C.B., K.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., LL.D. (HON.) 



ST MARTIN'S PRESS - NEW YORK 



Copyright I960 Sir Brian Horrocks 

Published in Great Britain as A Full Life 

First published in United States of America, 1961 

All rights reserved 
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-7130 



TO NANCY 



CtTY CMOJ PUBLIC 
)L G> ? 

^l \ f ^^ 



ACKNOWLEDGMENT 

I wisli to express my deepest thanks to C. D. 
Hamilton, Editorial Director of Thomson 
Newspapers, for his continuous encouragement 
and help. I could never possibly have written 
this book without his unfailing support I am 
also most grateful to James McDowall of 
Thomson Newspapers for the trouble he has 
taken to check the original chapters. Finally 
I am very indebted to my secretary Miss 
Weyman for all her selfless work over many 
many months ; and last but by no means least 
to Messrs. Collins, who have proved them- 
selves to be the most understanding and 
considerate of Publishers. 



CONTENTS 
FOREWORD: EARLY DAYS page 13 

I. ACTIVE SERVICE 1 914 15 

H. PRISONER OF WAR 2$ 

HI. SIBERIA 40 

IV. PRISONER OF THE BOLSHEVIKS 50 

V. BETWEEN TWO WARS 64 

VT. DUNKIRK 76 

Vn. THE UNITED KINGDOM 194042 93 

Vm. CORPS COMMANDER IN THE MIDDLE EAST TO6 

IX. ALAM HALFA 115 

X. ALAMJEIN AND AFTER I3O 

XI. THE BATTLE OF MARETH 147 

XH. END IN AFRICA 158 

XIH. RETURN TO THE WAR l8o 

XTV. ADVANCE TO BRUSSELS 194 

XV. ARNHEM I 2OJ 

XVI. ARNHEM 2 22$ 

XVH. BATTLE OF THE ARDENNES 233 

XVin. REICHSWALD BATTLE 243 

XIX. ACROSS THE RHINE 256 

XX. POST WAR GERMANY 268 

XXI. G.O.C. WESTERN COMMAND 278 

XXH. GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD 286 

XXin. I STRAY FROM THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW PATH 296 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

The Author frontispiece 

[Topical Press Agency, Ltd.] 
With ray sister Jean at Gibraltar, 1904 facing page 72 

Attending a levee at Buckingham Palace 72 
[Dorothy Tickling] 

The British Modern Pentathlon Championship, 1924 73 
[Gale & Polden, Aldershot] 

Camberley, 1938 73 

The Corps Commanders before Alamein 144 

Explaining the plan of Alam Haifa 144 

Entering El Hamma 145 

Wounded 145 

The ruins of Caen 160 

King George VI inspects 82 U.S. Airborne Div. 160 

"With George Webb and Harold Young in Normandy 161 

At the Rhine crossing 161 

The capture of Bremen 224 

Taking the German surrender 224 

Garter Ceremony at Windsor, 1957 225 
[Ketnsley Picture Service] 

Television programmes 240 
[J3.B.C. Television] 

Black R.od at the opening of Parliament, 1958 241 
[B.B.C. Television] 



President Eisenhower's dinner-party at the 

U.S. Embassy, 1959 f** n & ^ e 288 

[Photographic News Agency] 

At home in Emsworth 28 9 

[Colin AT. Urry] 

SaiHng 3 4 

[Colin N. Urry] 

Emsworth harbour at low tide 35 

[Geoffrey Marsh] 



MAPS 

ALAM HALF A page 1 1? 

BATTLE OF ALAMEIN 135 

BATTLE OF MARETH 149 

THE END IN AFRICA 165 

ADVANCE FROM THE SEINE TO BRUSSELS 199 

BATTLE OF ARNHEM I 2O8 

BATTLE OF ARNHEM 2 227 

BATTLE OF THE ARDENNES 239 

BATTLE OF THE REICHSWALD 244 

ADVANCE FROM THE RHINE TO THE ELBE 263 



FOREWORD 

EARLY DAYS 



UNLIKE, AS it would seem, many children of to-day, I had an 
extremely happy childhood. My father was Lancashire born and 
after taking his B.Sc. at the age of nineteen he became a doctor, 
joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was sent to India. 
It was here that he met my mother who had all the gaiety and charm 
of the Irish. Her ancestors, like a lot of those old Northern Ireland 
families, had all been Presbyterian ministers and doctors. They were 
married in 1894 and I was born a year later at Ranniket a hill 
station in India. We now led the usual wandering service life, and I 
have particularly happy memories of the four years spent at Gibraltar 
when my father was working on the causes of Malta fever as time 
went on he concentrated more and more on research. 

I used to travel out by P. & O. every holidays from my 
preparatory school in Durham and the Gibraltar of those days was 
a small boy's paradise, much more so than to-day, as we had free 
access to Spain. Life consisted of bathing, hunting with the Calpe 
hounds, cricket matches, race meetings and children's parties all 
great fun. In 1909 my father was posted home to the War Office 
and subsequently I moved from my preparatory school to Upping- 
ham where I gravitated automatically into the army class. There 
was never any question of my entering a profession other than the 
army. My school reports of those days referred to " impetuosity 
too prone to answer without thinking inclined to rush things 
without making sure of what he is doing." There was, I am afraid, 
no mention anywhere of an aptitude for work which was hardly 
surprising as my whole life was devoted to sport. In October, 1912, 
I passed into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, bottom but one. 

13 



It was a most undistinguished start to a military career. Apart 
from the games side I achieved nothing at all and remained a 
gentleman cadet (the equivalent of a private soldier) throughout my 
time at the college. Let me be quite honest about it: I was idle, 
careless about my turnout in army parlance, scruffy and, due to 
the fact that I am inclined to roll when I walk, very unsmart on 
parade. Throughout my military career I have always been allotted 
a position on ceremonial parades where I was least likely to be seen. 
To make matters worse I got into trouble with the railway officials 
during a return journey from Gatwick races. We had gone there 
with such an absolute certainty for the third race that I had refrained 
from buying a return ticket in order to have more to invest on the 
horse. I did not even buy a race card so certain was I of a lavish win. 
As might be expected the certainty did not materialise and the 
railway company took strong exception to my return journey 
tickedess and penniless. The result was three months* restrictions 
which meant that I was unable to leave the premises during my last 
term at the Royal Military College and spent the time doing 
additional fatigues and parades. I was lucky not to be rusticated. 

Up to now my life had been typical of that led by many young 
men with average or slightly below average intelligence who 
entered the British Army in those days. I was a games addict, did 
as little work as possible and seemed all set for a normal, somewhat 
humdrum, military career, but the First World War altered all that. 

When war was declared in August, 1914, I was waiting with 
considerable anxiety to hear the result of the passing-out exam from 
Sandhurst. My immediate reactions were, first of all, irritation that 
it should have come in the middle of the tennis-tournament at 
Littlehampton where we were spending our summer holiday, and 
secondly, anxiety about my father's reception of the news that I had 
pawned the revolver which he had lent me and, worse still, lost the 
pawn ticket. He was certain to want it back because in August, 
1914, revolvers were very scarce. 



CHAPTER I 

ACTIVE SERVICE 1914 



THE MOBILISATION arrangements for the BJE.F. in 1914 must have 
been very efficient, because only foyr days later I reported for duty 
with a militia battalion of the Middlesex Regiment at Fort Darland, 
Chatham. Within fourteen days and still only eighteen years of age 
I was marching down to the railway station at the head of ninety-five 
reservists who comprised the first reinforcement for the ist Battalion 
the Middlesex Regiment -then in France with che British Expedi- 
tionary Force. This was, I should think, the last time there was any 
romance and glory attached to war. It is impossible now after the 
bitter experience of two world wars to recapture the spirit of this 
country in August, 1914. As I marched through those cheering 
crowds I felt like a king among men. It was all going to be over by 
Christmas and our one anxiety was whether we would get over 
there in time. And all ranks felt the same. I arrived at Southampton 
with ninety-eight men, as three more had hidden themselves on the 
way down in order to get to the war. 

I was the officer in charge of the draft, but as all of them were old 
soldiers it was really they who conducted me to the front. Looting 
was strictly forbidden and when our troop train through France 
halted, as it frequently did, we officers leant from the window to 
ensure that the wayside crops, carrots for instance, were left un- 
touched. Not a soldier was ever to be seen yet the extraordinary 
thing was that carrots would be certain to figure prominently in the 
stew which the cooks provided for us that evening. My first lesson 
on active service was the astonishing capacity of the old soldier to 
look after himself and be as comfortable as possible under the most 
adverse conditions. Those famous wagons bearing the words 

IS 



" Hommes 32-40; Chevaux 8 " could not be described as comfort- 
able. 

We joined the battalion during the retreat from Mons and 
everybody was much too busy and tired to bother about us. I was 
left in charge of my ninety-eight reservists, my first independent 
command in fact; and I was still in command during the battle of 
the Aisne. We were not destined to play a particularly important 
part in this battle, but it was a thrill to come under shell-fire for the 
first time. We were lining a bank on the top of a hill and when I 
heard the sound of horses' hoofs behind me I looked down into 
the valley and saw the Horse Artillery galloping into action. It was 
a magnificent sight and just what I had always imagined war would 
be like. Shortly afterwards I was joined by an impressive-looking 
gunner observation officer who, pointing to a mass of cavalry in the 
distance asked me whether they were French or German. As a 
knowledge of foreign uniforms had not been included in my 
military education I said I had no idea. . " Anyhow," he replied, " it 
is too good a target to miss/* 

Very soon shells were bursting over the target area and the 
cavalry scattered. Whether they were our allies or enemies I never 
discovered. Shortly after the battle my ninety-eight men were 
allocated to their companies and I found myself a platoon com- 
mander. I was lucky, because my two chief mentors, Captain 
Gibbons, the company commander, and Sergeant Whinney, my 
platoon sergeant, were both first class at their jobs. 

My chief memory of those days, and the memory retained by all 
platoon commanders, was of marching endless and exhausting 
marches. I had never realised before that it was possible to go to 
sleep while the legs continued automatically to function. It was 
during these hard, comfortless days that I first met that priceless 
Cockney sense of humour. A small private soldier in the rank in 
front of me looked up at his neighbour, who was blessed with a long 
lugubrious face, and said, " Why don't you give your face a holiday, 
chum? Try a smile." 

Gibbons held me completely responsible for the welfare of the 
men in my platoon. Woe betide me if I attempted to have my own 

16 



meal without first reporting to Mm, ** All ranks in number sixteen 
platoon fed, sir." Once we arrived in pouring rain to find that a 
muddy field which had previously been rather over-populated by 
cows had been allocated as our bivouac area for the night. It was a 
depressing thought, but my spirits rose when the adjutant appeared 
and said that the officers could sleep in a house nearby where 
battalion H.Q. was billeted. 

Gibbons was furious. " If the men sleep out, we sleep out," 
My heart sank but I knew instinctively that he was right. But 
Gibbons's influence did not last long, as on 2ist October, 1914, at 
the beginning of the battle of Ypres, my platoon was surrounded by 
the enemy and I was wounded and taken prisoner. The war for me 
was over and my active military career had stopped for four 
years. 

Yet, odd though this may sound, I now realise that being a 
prisoner-of-war was probably the best apprenticeship for the difficult 
business of command in war. The lessons were there for the learning, 
and unquestionably the most important was self-reliance. There was 
no longer a C.O., adjutant, company commander or kindly platoon 
sergeant to keep me straight. I was alone, and surrounded by a 
hostile population. 

I was taken to a German military hospital on the outskirts of 
Lille, where I was placed in a bed beside a private soldier from a 
Highland regiment who had lost a leg. As I had been shot through 
the lower stomach, neither of us was very mobile. At that time the 
Germans were accusing the Allies of using dum-dum bullets, i.e., 
twisting the sharp nose off the .303 bullet so that instead of a 
comparatively small hole it caused a ghastly wound. 

I had never even heard of dum-dum bullets, but periodically 
Germans used to collect round my bed, give me a British rifle and 
shout I have associated Germans with shouting ever since those 
days " Now, you British swine, show us how you make dum-dum 
bullets." 

It was a nasty hospital. The whole time I was there, which was 
nearly a month, neither our shirts nor our blankets were changed, 
and we were still wearing the blood-soaked garments in which we 



had been wounded. As our wounds were suppurating we soon 
became unpleasant objects. 

The most degrading thing of all, however, was the fact that, as a 
refinement in beastliness, we were not allowed to use bed-pans or 
bottles, but were forced to heave ourselves out of bed and crawl, 
because neither of us could walk, along the floor to the lavatory 
which lay at the end of a stone passage. The sight of our bare 
anatomy as we crawled laboriously along always excited loud jeers 
from the rest of the ward. 

My Jock companion, a cooper by trade, had managed to save the 
bowl of his cutty pipe and it was a big day if either of us could 
retrieve from the floor the stub end of a cigar discarded by one of 
the German doctors. There was just sufficient stem for him to smoke 
if he drew his lips right back, but the look of ineffable bliss on his 
old, weather-beaten face was worth all the indignity of searching for 
the cast-off stubs. 

It was a lonely life, and to add to my misery something seemed 
to have gone wrong with one of my legs, which had become very 
swollen. Nevertheless, although I could hardly walk, I was judged 
fit to be sent back to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. My 
escort turned out to be a Feldwebel of the Imperial Guard who had 
been at the front since the beginning of the war, and was now on 
his way back to Germany to do some course or other; he spoke 
a little English, and had once been to London to take part in 
a swimming race. 

At the station I was leaning out of the carriage window when a 
German Red Cross girl passed along the platform carrying a large 
bowl of soup with an appetising smell. She stopped, and then, 
seeing that I was an Englishman, spat into the soup and threw it on 
the platform. There was a bellow of rage from my escort. He made 
me sit well down in the carriage while he leant out and collected food 
from all who passed, every bit of which was passed back to me. 

On another occasion we went to the station-master's office to 
find out about trains. As there was no one in the room, my Feldwebel 
pushed forward a chair for me to sit on. Suddenly the door burst 
open and in came a typical fat, German railway official 

18 



" Why is this English swine seated in my office ? " he shouted 
"Get up!" 

The Feldwebel walked slowly over to him, bent down towards 
the little turkey-cock and said: " This is a British officer who was 
wounded fighting, which you are never likely to be. He will remain 
seated/ 5 

And I did. 

Afterwards he apologised for his fellow countryman, saying: 
** All front-line troops have a respect for each other, but the farther 
from the front you get, the more bellicose and beastly the people 
become/' 

How right he was. I have always regarded the forward area of 
the battlefield as the most exclusive club in the world, inhabited by 
the cream of the nation's manhood the men who actually do the 
fighting. Comparatively few in number, they have little feeling of 
hatred for the enemy rather the reverse. 

Dating from this train journey I have had a great respect for the 
German front-line soldier. In spite of many stories to the contrary 
it has been my experience that he fights cleanly. He must not, of 
course, be confused with the S.S. or Gestapo types of the last war, 
who were capable of any beastliness. 

The British soldier's astonishing sense of humour when in 
adversity came to the surface again after only a few hours of this 
journey. A German general, complete with attendant, glittering, 
staff officers, came to our platform to say good-bye to a German 
troop train -which was setting off for the front. There were all the 
familiar signs of an official departure band, weeping women- 
folk and so on when suddenly on the other side of the platform 
there pulled in a long train packed with British prisoners-of-war. 
Dirty, unkempt, many of them wounded, their morale should have 
been at its lowest. But when the German general walked across to 
have a look, there was a cry down the train of: " All tickets, 
please ! " 

The more I saw of British soldiers during those difficult days, the 
more I came to like and respect them. Their morale and sense of 
humour remained high throughout. The Germans held them in 

19 



considerable respect, and in one camp inhabited by warrant officers, 
N.C.O.S and men from all the Allied nations, I saw a notice which 
said: " German sentries will refrain from striking British prisoners- 
of-war, because they are all mai" British, mind you. No mention 
of the other nationalities. The reason was that their madness took 
the simple form of always hitting back. 

This was the second lesson I learned and my affection for the 
British soldier has increased steadily throughout my thirty-five years' 
service. I always tell young officers : " There will be moments 
when your soldiers will drive you almost mad, but never forget 
this that we are privileged to command the nicest men in the 
world." 

By the end of the journey the Feldwebel and I had become great 
friends and I was sorry to get a letter from his father some years 
later to say that he had been killed in the second year of the war. 

After some months in the hospital of an officers' prisoner-of-war 
camp, where I was cared for by a most able Canadian medical officer, 
my leg was reduced to its normal size, and I emerged into the camp 
itself, where I found myself living with several hundred British, 
French, Russian and Belgian officers. 

Life in a prison-camp was a severe test of character. The deadly 
monotony of it all, the same routine day after day, nothing to look 
forward to and always the sight of that eternal barbed-wire, with 
the German sentries marching round outside to remind us of our 
degradation. There was no getting away from it. At the back of 
everyone's mind was a lurking sense of shame at being a prisoner- 
of-war at all. 

Life was hardest for the older officers, many of whom were 
worrying about their families. Others realised that their military 
careers were finished. The great opportunity of rising to the top of 
their profession had slipped from their fingers and almost daily 
younger officers were being promoted over their heads. Some 
emerged triumphantly from the test, but all too many sank into 
despondency, and deteriorated physically and mentally. Therein 
lay the danger of prison-camp life. I am not certain which was the 
greater test of character, the sheer endurance demanded by the harsh 

20 



treatment and the brain-washing handed out to unfortunate prisoners 
in the last war, particularly in Japanese camps, or this softer treat- 
ment. 

Luckily I was young, and most of all this passed me by. As I 
grew fitter, my whole life became devoted to one thing to outwit 
the Germans and escape. In every camp there was a small minority 
of escapers, mostly younger officers though a few senior officers, 
to their great credit, also joined in. Three things were involved. 
First to get out of the camp, usually the most difficult part of all; 
then the long trek across country to the frontier, and finally to cross 
the frontier into neutral territory, usually Holland or Switzerland, 
from where one would be sent home to rejoin one's regiment. 

Escaping, unfortunately, was unpopular, because the commandant 
usually " strafed " the camp after some successful attempt, curtailing 
for a period such small privileges as the right to go for walks, or use 
a certain part of the camp for recreation. 

I suffered from one rather bad example of this. After the war 
had lasted for some time arrangements were made between the 
British and German Governments for an equal number of their 
prisoners-of-war, who had been in captivity longest, to be sent to 
Holland, where they would live comparatively freely but on parole. 
It was a tempting thought to get away once and for all from the 
hated barbed-wire and live a normal life again. 

But giving parole meant that we relinquished all chance of 
getting back to our regiments and fighting again. This offer arrived 
at a time when I was doing a period at the famous Fort Zorndorf, 
Custrin, a sort of penal-camp to which habitual escapees were sent 
to cure them of their evil ways. Apart from the fact that it was 
cramped for space, and we lived in the dark galleries underground 
with a moat all round, life there was not as bad as it sounded. 
Nobody was ever sent to Fort Zorndorf unless they had actually 
attempted to escape, so everyone was of the same kidney. 

Many of the prisoners were very clever with their fingers and 
every week a market was held at which escaping kit was auctioned; 
boxes with double sides and bottoms, maps, compasses, odd pieces 
of civilian clothing which had been acquired somehow and even 

2.1 



rubber dies cut to resemble the German official stamps. All could 
be purchased. 

The commandant at Custrin was an unusual type for a German 
because he seemed to enter into the spirit of this escaping business. 
On one occasion a German search party discovered that the bars in 
a particular window had been sawn through and were only held in 
place by putty. Instead of laying a trap outside so as to catch the 
culprit emerging from the window the commandant merely hung 
a large notice on the bars carrying in German the word " Useless." 

What he did not realise was that we had duplicate keys to his 
own office and next morning he found the same notice hanging 
over his table. This, of course, was a stupid thing to do because all 
the locks were immediately changed but we simply could not resist 
the temptation to pull his leg. He was renowned for the detailed 
searches of the camp which were carried out under his orders. 
So, a specially-drawn map was hidden in a place where it was almost 
certain to be found. Sure enough a few days later it was borne off 
in triumph by the N.C.O. in charge of the search party. A little 
later the British officers who inhabited that room were sent for by the 
commandant, who complained that he could not understand this 
map. He was invited to inspect it more closely, and then realised 
that all the roads pointed to a central lunatic asylum in Berlin. 

Having been captured in October, 1914, I was among those 
designated for repatriation, but to the commandant's fury I refused 
to go. 

" You will be sent down under escort to a camp near Holland 
and you will be put over the frontier whether you like it or not," 
he said. " What is more, we shall be very glad to see the last of 
you." 

I repeated that I had no intention of going to Holland and 
giving my parole. " If I am sent I shall escape." 

" We shall see," he replied. 

It was soon obvious that no escape would be possible during the 
road and rail journey to the final camp. I was paid the compliment 
of being given an escort of a senior N.C.O. and two soldiers, who 
sat all round me and never let me out of their sight for one moment, 

22 



even when I went to the lavatory. By the time I arrived at the camp 
I was getting desperate, but once there my hopes rose rapidly. 

Although it was surrounded by barbed-wire and guarded by 
sentries, this protective screen had obviously not been laid out by an 
expert, and by this time I was very experienced at getting out of 
camps. There was one very weak spot which could not be observed 
by the adjoining sentries. At dusk I climbed over the wire and, 
hiding in a shed beyond, turned my British-warm inside out. It had 
a neutral-coloured lining which, in the evening light, effectively 
covered up my uniform. I had a small compass which, in spite of a 
rigorous search, the Germans had failed to find, and I set off towards 
the north. 

The streets of Aachen (Aix la Chapelle} seemed endless, and every 
moment I expected a hand to descend on my shoulder, but nobody 
took any notice of me at all, and eventually I got out into the open 
country beyond. I then turned west and headed for the Dutch 
frontier, which was quite close, with the intention of crossing into 
Holland that night. This was a mistake, because the frontier in the 
neighbourhood of the big towns was always more strongly guarded 
than elsewhere, not because of escaping prisoners-of-war but rather 
to catch smugglers and, above all, German deserters. 

After walking for a couple of hours I came to a railway embank- 
ment lighted by arc lamps. I decided to take a small secondary road, 
almost a lane, which passed under the railway through a tunnel. 
As I emerged on the far side two figures jumped out of the shadows 
and a bayonet pointed at my tummy. My bid for freedom was over. 
Next day I was escorted back into the town and placed in solitary 
confinement in Aachen civilian jail. 

I found myself a popular figure with my fellow prisoners, 
mostly German deserters, pick-pockets, and petty criminals. Small 
files and pieces of map of the frontier were slipped surreptitiously 
into my cell, and I acquired a lot of useful information about the 
precautions the Germans took to guard the frontier, and the best 
places at which to cross. When I eventually returned to Fort 
Zorndorf I was able to pass this information to another habitual 
escapee, who had also refused repatriation to Holland. I am glad to 

23 



say that when his turn came he also escaped, and was successful in 
getting to England and back into the war again. 

I hadn't been long in my civilian cell when I was visited by two 
very angry officers, the German commandant of the camp from 
which I had escaped, and the senior British officer, a lieutenant- 
colonel whom I do not propose to name. He said that as a result of 
my attempt at escape the repatriation scheme might be stopped. 
He then had the effrontery to say that on reaching Holland he would 
report me to the War Office for having broken my parole. 

He went on insisting on this, in spite of the fact that the German 
commandant, although equally angry, chipped in to say, " No, I do 
not accuse this officer of breaking his parole, but of not behaving 
like a gentleman." Luckily for me, Cartwright of my regiment, 
who subsequently escaped to England, explained my side of the 
question to the authorities and later I received a message to say that 
I was exonerated from all blame. 

After the departure of the two furious senior officers I was 
consoled by the sympathy of my feUow-criminals, all Germans. 
And I came to the conclusion that life was very odd. 



24 



CHAPTER II 

PRISONER OF WAR 



THIS BUSINESS of escaping was all-absorbing; it was a battle of wits 
between the prisoners and the Germans. So at the age of eighteen 
I was already learning another important lesson to put myself in 
the mind of the enemy in order to be just one jump ahead. It also 
demanded extreme physical fitness. Very often die camps were 
situated many miles from the frontier, involving long journeys on 
foot, subsisting almost entirely on the rations which could be 
carried in a pack on one's back. 

Escaping was a profession in itself and like all professions the 
more one worked at it the more proficient one became. One of the 
most ingenious escapes of the war centred round a distinguished 
Russian general who died in captivity. The German commandant 
agreed to his body being placed in a coffin and returned to Russia 
via Sweden. This particular camp consisted of huts with a space 
between the floor and the ground level. Some Russian officers cut 
through the floor of their room and crawled along until they were 
under the room where the coffin rested. They then cut another hole 
in this floor and a live captain climbed into the room and took the 
place of the dead general just before the coffin was due to start on its 
journey. Two days later the German commandant received a 
message from Sweden, ** In place of one dead general, one live 
captain has arrived/* The poor old general was subsequently 
retrieved from underneath the floor and buried locally by the angry 
German authorities. 

My first efforts at escaping were very clumsy, and I had the 
indignity of being caught sometimes even before I got out of the 
camp at all. But I built up experience, and was quite confident that 

25 



if the war went on long enough I would eventually succeed. That is 
why I had refused to go to Holland. 

The trouble was time. The usual punishment for each escape was 
at least a month's solitary confinement followed by a period of some 
months in a fortress, like Fort Zorndorf, Custrin, from which it was 
practically impossible to escape. So after each failure there was a 
longish period before the next escape could be planned. Escapees 
naturally gravitated towards one another, and moved round 
together. Unfortunately, as we were sent from fortress to camp, 
our records, which from the German point of view were very black 
indeed, preceded us and we were never regarded by the different 
German commandants as a healthy addition to their flock. 

Our reception at Hokminden, a comparatively new camp under 
die command of that notorious German, Commandant Niemeyer, 
usually known as " Milwaukee Bill," was far from friendly. He 
spoke a curious sort of English slang with a strong .American accent, 
and was a very irascible character. On our first arrival he paid us the 
compliment of parading his whole command, British prisoners on 
one side, German staff, composed mainly of the sentries who guarded 
us, on the other. We, the new arrivals, were placed in between. 
Niemeyer then addressed the assembled throng. 

Turning to the Germans he said: " Look well at these criminals 
and mark them down. If I see any German speaking to them he 
will immediately be sent to the front.'* This was the worst punish- 
ment with which any German could be threatened at the time. 
Then turning to the British, he said: " These are not officers and 
gentlemen, they are criminals, and I hope you will treat them 
accordingly/' 

But the dramatic scene was entirely spoilt by his final gesture. 
Shaking his fist under our noses, he bawled, " You are very clever ? 
Yes ? Well, I make a special study of this escaping. You will not 
escape from here. You think, I, the commandant, know nothing. 
You are wrong. I know damn all ! " 

The subsequent roar of laughter from the officers sent the 
unfortunate Niemeyer stumping off parade scarlet in the face. 

The amusing thing was that within three weeks eighteen officers 

26 



had escaped from his camp and he had no idea at all how we were 
getting out. He went nearly mad. The sentries were doubled, then 
trebled. They were ordered to shoot at sight. But still every morn- 
ing there were two or three officers missing at roll-call. Poor 
Niemeyer must have had the most frightful visions of being sent to 
the front himself; yet it was perfectly simple. We just walked out 
of the main gate at dusk when the guard was being changed. 

I was in the first party to go. Our living quarters adjoined the 
barracks where the German sentries lived. We discovered an 
uninhabited attic in the top and cut a small hole through the wooden 
partition which enabled us to get from our part to theirs. We 
managed to construct a " mock-up " of the German soldier's 
fatigue dress a red stripe down grey flannel trousers, a pyjama 
jacket dyed in coffee and so on. It was good enough to pass muster 
in the dusk. Carrying our food in a sack slung over our shoulders, 
which made us look like Germans who had been on some working 
party, we walked down through the building, across the yard and 
choosing the time when all eyes were on the guard-mounting 
ceremony, we strolled through the gate out past the sentry. No one 
paid any attention to us. 

I can still remember the thrill of it; that wonderful moment 
when, from outside the wire, we could look back at the camp with 
its sentries, its arc lamps, its barbed-wire. We were free. We were 
out, with several hours' start, because our absence was most unlikely 
to be noticed until roll-call next morning. We had, of course, taken 
the elementary precaution of placing most realistic dummies in our 
beds. 

Unfortunately on this occasion the weather was against us. It was 
bitterly cold and never stopped raining. After eight days' hard 
walking, when we were still some fifty kilometres from the Dutch 
frontier, we were discovered lying under a heap of disused sacks at 
the end of a barn. Owing to the bad weather the farm-workers, 
instead of being out in the fields, were all sitting in the barn sorting 
potatoes. 

It was very disappointing, but as always, I consoled myself with 
the thought that to-morrow is another day. 

27 



By the beginning of 1918, although I had not succeeded in 
crossing the frontier into Holland, I was getting closer on each 
occasion. But in German eyes I had been branded, quite correctly, 
as an habitual escapee, with the result that I spent more and more 
time at Fort Zorndorf, Custrin. And from here, as I have already 
said, it was virtually impossible to escape. 

Then in March, 1918, for some unaccountable reason, the 
German authorities decided to remove all the British officers from 
this fortress and send them to other camps. I was partnered with 
three officers of the Royal Flying Corps, who were prepared to 
adopt any plan to escape, however hazardous it might be. They were 
Macintosh, now Sir Robert Macintosh who holds the chair of 
anaesthetics at Oxford, Robinson, V.C., who had shot down the 
first Zeppelin over this country, and Hervey, who afterwards 
became the chief instructor in the London Gliding Club a most 
intrepid trio. 

We four were destined for a camp called Clausthal, situated in 
the Harz Mountains, and, in spite of an extremely rigorous search 
on leaving, we managed to take with us quite a number of useful 
aids to escape. Small compasses were concealed in the handles of 
shaving brushes, maps inside the covers of books, German money 
in the double sides and double bottoms of boxes. British-warms 
were fitted with civilian linings. 

Our arrival was somewhat marred by the fact that Macintosh had 
succeeded in jumping off the train and escaping en route. To 
my disgust I discovered that the commandant was yet another 
Niemeyer, brother of that unpleasant character whom I had 
met at Holzminden. From the outset he realised that the arrival 
of three little nigger boys instead of four did not augur well for 
the future good behaviour of Clausthal Camp. We were not 
welcome. 

Clausthal, which before the war had been a hotel, had the 
reputation of being one of the most comfortable prison-camps in 
Germany. In contrast to the gloom and squalor of our late fortress, 
here we found pleasant rooms, a large dining-room and quite 
extensive grounds, which included two tennis-courts, a miniature 

28 



golf course and a couple of rough squash-courts built by the 
prisoners. 

But from our point of view there were drawbacks. The most 
serious was that escaping was definitely unpopular with quite a 
number of the other prisoners. A few days after our arrival we were 
had up before the senior British officer and warned that if we tried 
to escape we should be reported to the War Office after the war, 
and he would recommend us for a court-martial. He added that 
escaping was useless; it merely caused unpleasantness for the 
remainder. Several people had broken out of the camp but no one 
had yet succeeded in getting across the Dutch frontier, which was 
over 200 miles away. But two almost equally senior officers told us 
afterwards not to take any notice of the old fool, as it was plainly 
our duty to escape if we could. 

Clausthal proved a most difficult place from which to get away, 
because, as with all camps which had been in existence for a long 
time, every possible loophole had been sealed. Quite a number of 
the officers were determined to get out if they could. Often, 
however, some elementary plan organised by people with no escape 
experience would interfere with a much more promising scheme 
being prepared in the same area. Eventually, as we had had far more 
experience than anyone else, we were elected by the hard core of 
escapees to take charge of all escaping activities in the camp. It was 
our task to vet the different plans, say if they were possible, provide 
the necessary assistance in the form of civilian clothes, maps, money, 
and advice about the best place to cross the frontier. 

By this time we were very well equipped with escaping kit. 
By arrangement with the authorities at home, in conjunction with 
our families, certain food parcels, sent by some fictitious relative, 
would contain wire-cutters, maps, compasses, in fact everything we 
wanted, concealed inside tins, in the backs of brushes, in bits of soap, 
even in innocent-looking hams. 

The Germans were very suspicious of parcels, and no prisoner 
was allowed to open them himself. In each camp there was a large 
" tin room." Every parcel was opened by the Germans in front of 
the officer concerned, who noted the contents, which were then 

29 



placed in his particular locker. When required, the tins were opened 
by the German staff, and the contents cut into pieces before being 
handed over to the officer. According to the rigid German mentality 
this scheme made it impossible for any officer to receive escaping 
gear. It never seemed to enter their heads that, in almost every 
camp, we had made duplicate keys with which, after precautions 
had been taken, it was possible to enter the tin room at night and 
remove the contents of Aunt Maud's parceL 

To prevent the Germans becoming suspicious at the disappear- 
ance of tins we constantly registered bitter complaints that our tins 
were being stolen by the Germans, and, in consequence, the 
unfortunate tin room staff was always being changed. Much of the 
escaping kit we thus acquired was concealed under the floors of our 
room, which became a sort of central store. This caused us a good 
deal of anxiety because of the constant surprise checks and searches 
carried out under Niemeyer's orders. But little was found. 

Though all this was satisfactory, it wasn't getting us very far, 
for we were still inside the camp. As the months passed, Hervey and 
I, who were now in close partnership, became more and more 
desperate. Ill-luck seemed to dog our every attempt, though some- 
how we managed to avoid actual detection. In one attempt, for days 
on end we were placed in a large sack which, when the sentries 
were in a certain position, could be shoved underneath the rubbish 
in a cart driven by an old man to a dump outside the camp. 

All to no avail. The sentries were too much on the alert. An 
attempt to pull away some boarding, cut through the wire and make 
a bolt for it failed for the same reason. A tunnel we were construct- 
ing, with several others, was discovered by sheer chance. 

The most hare-brained scheme of all was to run across the 
intervening ground at night, place ladders against the wire fence, 
climb up and jump over. Weeks were spent in constructing and 
hiding the ladders. Then, night after night, we lay in a ground-floor 
room waiting for the signal to go from watchers who could see the 
movements of the sentries from the top stories. Unfortunately, the 
weather was never quite bad enough to keep the sentries in their 
boxes, and this plan, too, had to be abandoned. 

30 



After five months of fruitless attempts, Hervey had an idea, 
brilliant in its simplicity. At one end of the camp, separated by a 
barbed-wire fence, was an enclosure inhabited by the British 
orderlies who worked in the camp. When orderlies wished to pass 
from their part to ours, or vice versa, the sentry outside the gate of 
the main perimeter wire came inside and opened another gate in 
the fence which separated the two compounds. After the orderlies 
had passed through, the sentry locked the gate between the two 
compounds, went out and resumed his normal beat outside the main 
perimeter wire, locking this gate also. But and this was the point 
of the whole scheme while the orderlies were passing through and 
he was standing beside the inside gate he usually left the outside 
gate open. 

All we had to do was to join the orderlies returning to their 
camp at dusk, and as soon as we had passed through the gate into 
their compound turn left and dash out of the open gate in the main 
perimeter wire. Admittedly this meant crossing the area outside 
the main fence, which was brightly lit with arc lamps, and we were 
certain to be shot at. But the German sentries were such poor 
marksmen that we hardly gave this a thought. We arranged, how- 
ever, to separate after passing through the gate, and to meet at a 
rendezvous some hundreds of yards away from the camp. 

The night selected for the attempt could hardly have been better. 
A concert organised by the officers was being held in the main 
dining-hall. We slipped away during the last item, and changed 
into clothes which looked approximately like those worn by the 
orderlies, who were as usual attending the concert in force. The 
expert in make-up set to work and gave us each a fine moustache; 
this was necessary because we were fairly well known to the sentries. 

After " God Save the King " we joined the crowd of orderlies 
walking to their enclosure. Hervey had won the toss and was to go 
first, so I walked a couple of paces behind him. It was an exciting 
moment, and I kept on murmuring to the orderlies near me, " For 
God's sake don't keep on looking at us." 

We approached the inner gate with the sentry standing beside it. 
The outer gate was open. Hervey passed through, but unfortunately 

31 



he turned just a fraction too soon and made for the outer gate. 
The sentry leapt forward, caught him by the arm and they started to 
struggle. Running up behind, I hit the sentry as hard as I could on 
the back of his neck and he rolled over on to the ground. Hervey 
dashed through the outer gate, with me after him. I went to the 
right, as we had arranged, and heard a shot, followed by another. 
Then I was through the lighted zone into the darkness beyond. 

Very soon I came to the rendezvous, but no Hervey turned up. 
I waited, still no Hervey. I began to fear the worst. Perhaps he'd 
been shot. 

I circled back towards the camp where the most infernal din was 
going on sentries shouting, British cheering. Obviously everyone 
was being rounded up for a roll-call. 

But then I heard a more sinister sound, the baying of the police 
dogs. As I was somewhat weighed down by a home-made body- 
belt with huge pockets containing the food on which I was to 
subsist during my 213-mile journey to the frontier I couldn't wait 
any longer. I was terribly worried about Hervey, who had been my 
constant companion for months now, and I didn't look forward to 
the long trek through a hostile countryside by myself, because as I 
knew well, search parties would be out. 

Meanwhile the baying was getting closer. I had once seen one 
of these Alsatian dogs attack an officer and I had no wish to 
experience a similar fate. Luckily they were trained to run beside 
their keepers, who were usually middle-aged German soldiers. 
I had taken the precaution of rubbing solid alcohol from, a Tommy's 
cooker on the soles of my boots, which helped to kill the scent. 
I also walked rapidly down a small stream for a hundred yards 
or so, and gradually the baying became more distant. 

The normal procedure on these occasions was to walk all night 
and sleep by day, lying up in the thickest cover that could be found. 
It was advisable to go round, rather than through, villages, and this 
I did for the first two nights. But going across country in the dark, 
round village after village, proved a very slow business, and it was 
soon obvious that unless I made better time my food would run 
out long before I got to the frontier. 

32 



So, from the third night onwards, I decided to chance it and 
walk straight through. It was an eerie experience, for though the 
villagers might be sound asleep every single dog started barking. 
Dogs became the bane of my life. One sniffed me out in my day- 
light hideout and I was forced to slide straight down a steep 
embankment, taking the seat completely out of my trousers, and 
run for it. It never stopped raining, which made it difficult to sleep 
by day as I was always soaking wet. 

Still, I was making pretty good time, and, according to my map, 
by the tenth night I was only five kilometres from the Dutch 
frontier. This was just as well, because I had finished my food 
twenty-four hours before, and had caught a bad cold. Very stupidly 
I had also removed my boots, and my feet were so swollen owing to 
the wet that I could not get one boot on again. 

I realised that the last five kilometres would have to be treated 
with great respect, because the Germans used patrols, hidden 
sentries and police dogs to search this frontier belt. 

But it was a perfect night to cross. The rain was teeming down 
and it was blowing half a gale; no sentry was likely to be very 
alert on a night like this. So, full of hope, I set off across country 
on a compass bearing. Hour after hour I struggled forward, but 
still I did not come to a small narrow-gauge railway line which, 
according to my map, would have been a few hundred yards on 
the German side of the frontier. 

From this point extreme care would be required if I was to get 
across into Holland unobserved. I might even have to cut through 
a barbed-wire fence. 

Then it began to get light. There was only one thing for it; 
to hide for the day and make my crossing the next night. Very 
cautiously I approached a barn on the outskirts of a farm. Stacked 
high with hay, it was just the sort of hiding place I was looking for. 
So having helped myself to some eggs, which I ate raw, I clambered 
up to the top, burrowed deep into the hay and settled down for the 
first dry day I had experienced since leaving camp. 

Unfortunately I had developed a cough which the dry hay 
seemed to aggravate. Try as I would I simply could not control it, 

33 



Then I heard footsteps in the barn below; they moved round for 
some time, then went out. Some minutes later I heard a party of 
men returning to the barn. Then, with much shouting, bayonets 
were stuck into the hay and I was unearthed. 

The barn was surrounded by German frontier guards, and when 
I emerged, there was the Dutch frontier in front of my eyes barely 
500 yards away. It was a bitter moment. To have come more than 
200 miles by myself, through the most impossible weather, and then 
to be caught on the frontier itself was infuriating. 

For the heinous offence of having struck and knocked down a 
German sentry I was sentenced to fourteen days solitary confinement 
in a dark ceil. This is a rather worse punishment than it sounds, 
because with only a wooden shelf for a bed, and bread and water 
as fare, the time passes very slowly. In order to prevent one getting 
used to the monotony, which is easily possible, the authorities 
provided a bowl of hot soup and a hair mattress every third day. 

In my case, however, this was all wasted because the cells adjoined 
a prisoner-of-war camp occupied by British soldiers, and on the 
very first day a note was pushed under my door telling me to go to 
the latrines at a certain hour every day. There, in place of the usual 
bucket, I would find a parcel containing chocolate, cigarettes and 
biscuits which had been placed there with the amazing generosity 
of the British soldier. 

Eventually, escorted by four German soldiers in spite of the fact 
that I could only hobble along, I arrived back at Clausthal camp, 
To my joy I saw, gazing through the bars of the prison compound, 
the beaming face of Hervey very much alive. He had been 
extremely lucky. After running through the gate he tripped over a 
bucket and fell heavily to the ground. While he was struggling to 
get to his feet, much impeded by all the food he was carrying, the 
sentry had jumped up, fired twice at my disappearing figure and 
then run up to Hervey and pressed the trigger. But he had forgotten 
to reload ! 

He then went on pulling the trigger and shouting for help. 
Several of the sentries came running up, but by then, with many 
eyes on them from inside the camp, it was impossible to murder 

34 



Hervey in cold blood. He was taken off for a period of solitary 
confinement in the cell where I later found him. 

This proved to be the last escape I was to make, for a few weeks 
later, while we were still undergoing solitary confinement, the 
Armistice was signed and the war was ov er. 

In spite of all our efforts the final triumph of getting over the 
frontier and back to England had been denied to us. Still I am 
certain that these four years in captivity were not wasted. I am not 
suggesting that life in a prison-camp is an essential prelude to high 
command in battle far from it. All the same I had learned at an 
early age and in a hard school to stand on my own feet and make 
my own decisions, often in a split second. I had also acquired the 
useful habit of thinking things out from the enemy point of view 
so that I might always be one jump ahead. These were lessons which 
served me well later on. 

So at the age of twenty-two, although lacking in conventional 
military experience, I was far more self-confident and sure of myself 
than is normal in a young regular regimental officer of that age. 

The less said about my period of leave after returning to England 
the better. Though I did not realise it at the time, those four years 
as a prisoner-of-war had taken their toll. The lonely treks right 
across Germany with every man's hand against one, lying up by 
day and moving by night, the weeks of solitary confinement and, 
above all, the eternal barbed-wire they had all left their mark. 

I was young and physically fit, but my nerves were in rags. 
I was unable to lead a quiet life at home, and was far too restless even 
to play games. So I spent every available moment beating it up in 
London. I had four years of pay saved up, and I got through it all 
in six weeks, coming home every morning by the milk train. 

This was one of those critical moments when a very light hand 
was required on the reins, and luckily for me it was there. The 
world to-day is full of so-called " mixed-up kids," often the product 
of uncaring families or of broken marriages. I was fortunate to have 
a very happy home and two parents who were devoted to each 
other, and to whom the mental and physical well-being of their 

35 



family came first How understanding they were in all the crises of 
growing up. I must have been a great anxiety to them, but it was 
their understanding and patience which saved me during this critical 
period. Not one word of protest about my outrageous behaviour 
was ever uttered by either parent. 

I know now that my Irish uncle, an experienced neurologist, 
kept on insisting, "For goodness's sake, keep him quiet." But my 
wise old father merely said: " Leave the boy alone. Let him get 
those four years out of his system in his own way; he'll be all right*" 

Two doctors with diametrically opposite views, but one was my 
father and he was right. At the end of that period I emerged a 
reasonable human being, though the only concrete results visible at 
the time were an overdraft at the bank and an intimate knowledge 
of most of the night-clubs in London. 

My mother told me afterwards that she got her reward in that 
I did come home by the milk train ! I can see her now sitting on my 
bed listening to her twenty-two-year-old son with a twinkle in her 
eye while I told her just as much as was good for a mother to know. 

In later years, dealing with the misdeeds of some young officer, 
I often thought of those days and tried to temper justice to give the 
young man another chance. 

During my time in Germany I had lived for many months with 
one other British officer in a room with fifty Russian officers. So I 
had perforce to learn Russian. When, therefore, the War Office 
called for volunteers who knew the language to go to Russia to help 
the White armies in their struggle against the Bolsheviks, I immedi- 
ately applied and was ordered to Siberia. Instead of returning to my 
regiment for some elementary instruction in military matters and 
for some much-needed discipline, I set off on what promised to be a 
far more exciting venture. 

In January, 1919, with a dozen other officers also on their way to 
Siberia, I set sail from Liverpool in a Blue Funnel liner to travel 
round the world to Vladivostok. It was a wonderful trip, particu- 
larly for somebody who had been shut up behind barbed-wire for 
four years. As we were travelling in a cargo boat, several days were 
spent at every port of call, Suez, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, and 

36 



so on. In eacli place we were almost the first officers in British 
uniform whom the local residents had met since the war, and their 
hospitality was prodigious. 

We had been told by the local inhabitants in Hong Kong that 
it was fatal to drink the extremely potent local variation of a gin sling 
after dark. Two of us decided to try this out, and after dinner we 
drank several. I remembered nothing more until I woke up in a 
strange bed in a comfortable room to find a Chinese servant offering 
me a cup of tea and a plate of fruit. I had a terrible headache. 

Suddenly the door opened and the tousled head of my comrade 
in crime looked through. 

" Where on earth are we ? " he asked. I replied that I had no 
idea. It emerged that we had engaged rickshaws the night before, 
but, as we could not explain where we wanted to go, the Chinamen 
had taken us, as a matter of course, to the house of a famous lady of 
easy virtue who, realising our condition, had us put to bed. 

Hong Kong had a club famous throughout the Far East. On 
entering one day I found at the immense expanse of bar a solitary 
officer. He turned, and, with a distinct north of Ireland accent, 
asked me my name. 

When I told him, he suddenly beamed and said: " If that's so, 
then I'm your Uncle Charles from Australia ! " At the beginning 
of the 1914 war he had been out there growing vines very success- 
fully, but at once threw it all up to enlist. As there was now nothing 
left of his vineyard, he also had volunteered for service in Russia, 
and our meeting like this was a remarkable coincidence. 

On i6th April, 1919, we landed in Vladivostok and our picnic 
was over. We passed at once from the richness and luxury of our 
world cruise to the filth and degradation of this Siberian port. 
The place came as a great shock because it was my first introduction 
to the misery of the refugee problem. Vladivostok swarmed with 
people who had fled eastward after the Bolshevik revolution. The 
thing which impressed me most was the fortitude with which the 
women, many of them reared in luxury, were facing their hopeless 
future. The menfolk were much more given to self pity. 

Most of these unfortunate people had been rich, with large 

37 



houses. They were now almost penniless living in old railway 
trucks or in any hovel they could find. There were also Cossacks, 
Khirghiz, Mongolians, Chinese, Japs, with a few Americans, 
British and French thrown in, and the harbour was packed with 
ships bringing war material most of it British for the White 
armies. 

It was now, for the first time, that I began to realise the size of 
the task which confronted us. 1 knew, of course, that the Allied 
Governments had decided to support the Whites in their struggle 
against the Red Bolshevik forces, but that was the sum total of my 
knowledge. 

On arrival we were taken to the British headquarters where, 
sitting in front of a large map, the situation was explained to us. 

The Red armies after seizing power in Moscow and. Petrograd 
had overrun most of Siberia. During the winter of 1918-19 the 
Whites, under command of Admiral Koltchak, had driven them 
back into Russia proper. Apparently this success had been achieved 
mainly by the Czechs. After the revolution thousands of Czechs had 
come to Siberia and, realising that their only chance of survival lay 
in a cohesive effort, they had formed themselves into a corps under 
command of a Czech general called Gaida. With the exception of a 
few battalions formed from Russian officer cadet training units, 
plus one division of Poles, these Czechs were the only reliable troops 
at Koltchak's disposal. Now, very naturally, they wanted to go 
home, and it was our task to train and equip White Russian forces 
raised in Siberia to take their place on the front. 

The British forces in the country in the spring of 1919 consisted 
of one first-class territorial battalion of Hampshires, a garrison 
battalion of my own regiment which was on its way home, 
and two organisations called missions. The first was a military 
mission with headquarters in Omsk whose task it was to hand 
over British equipment to the Whites and then train them in 
its use. The second was a railway mission sent to help the White 
Russians sort out the chaos on their long lines of communication, 
We were to join the first of these under command of General Knox. 
There was also a small French military mission doing similar work, 

38 



though the bulk of the assistance and equipment was British. 

This all sounded excellent. The missions were composed of 
first-class officers and N.C.O.s, most of them with considerable 
war experience and, at the end of the war, the Allies possessed 
masses of surplus equipment. In theory, therefore, we should have 
been able to remove the Bolshevik menace to world peace once and 
for all, but like so many grandiose plans it was not working well in 
practice because the Russians wasted the stores in the most shameless 
manner and refused flatly to accept advice. 

The lot of the would-be benefactor is a hard one, as the Americans 
have found since the last war. We were warned that the White 
Russian officers and intelligentsia resented both our help and our 
presence in their country. One wise old British colonel said even in 
those early days, " I believe we shall rue this business for many years. 
It is always unwise to intervene in the domestic affairs of any 
country. In my opinion the Reds are bound to win and our present 
policy will cause bitterness between us for a long time to come." 

How right he was: there are many people to-day who trace the 
present international impasse back to that fatal year of 1919. This 
was well above my head: the whole project sounded most exciting 
and that was all I cared about. 

The Vladivostok of those days was full of graft and vice. We 
were advised never to go out alone after dark and always to carry 
a loaded stick and a revolver. There was one particularly unsavoury 
quarter in the brothel area known to the Allies as " The Bucket of 
Blood/' because it averaged one murder a night. My stay was a 
short one, and three days later I set off with a cheerful heart on my 
long journey westwards along the trans-Siberian railway. 



39 



CHAPTER III 

SIBERIA 



WE WERE fourteen British officers and a platoon of British, soldiers 
on a train with twenty-seven wagons full of shells. We officers 
were due to report to the British military mission, but our first job 
was to deliver these wagons intact to the town of Omsk, just over 
3,000 miles away. This was not quite so easy as it sounded. One 
British officer had recently arrived at his destination with only six 
of his original quota of wagons left. At this time railway wagons 
were worth a lot of money to the profiteers, and it was remarkable 
what excuses were produced by the local station-masters at almost 
every stop for detaching the odd wagon which had developed some 
mysterious defect. 

A hot axle-box was the usual trouble. This was my particular 
headache, as I was acting as interpreter. The station-master was 
always quite desolate. " But to-day is a holiday," he would say, 
** No workman can possibly be induced to do any repairs." Every 
day seemed to be a holiday. As for replacing it with another wagon, 
that was out of the question. He hadn't seen an empty wagon for 
months and months. No, the only thing to do was to detach the 
wagon and go on our way one short. After all, what was one wagon 
more or less ? 

I was equally polite, but adamant. We would wait until repairs 
could be done thus incidentally blocking one of his sidings. 

" A delay of one, two or even three days makes little difference 
to us when our journey is likely to last for anything up to five 
weeks." 

Invariably, within a matter of minutes, the station-master would 
return, sorrowful but still polite, with an empty wagon which by a 

40 



most extraordinary chance he had overlooked in a far comer of Ms 
yard. 

The fourteen of us lived in one box-car, called a terplushka, 
sleeping in double wooden bunks, and it was cold enough for us to 
be glad of the stove which burned continuously in the centre of the 
wagon. Captain Moore, my new-found Uncle Charlie, was in 
charge of the train, and as he was pretty good on a banjo the evenings 
passed cheerfully enough. The snow had almost gone but immedi- 
ately after the winter this Siberian landscape is very bleak and 
desolate; miles and miles of bare country, small stunted trees, and no 
undergrowth at all. 

As we rumbled steadily westwards at eight to ten miles an hour, 
the monotony of the journey was broken by our arrival at stations 
and small wayside halts. For in Siberia the station is the centre of 
the social life of the district. People come from miles around and 
there were always dozens of small, shaggy and incredibly tough 
Siberian ponies tethered at the back of the building, while their 
owners, male and female, paraded up and down the platform. 
The arrival of a train was the great moment in the day, and the 
platform very quickly developed into a small market. 

Sometimes, owing to engine trouble, we were forced to stop for 
longer periods at the bigger stations, and I still remember the night 
spent at the small town of Manchuli on the frontier between 
Manchuria and Russia. Bored with being shut up in the train for 
so long, three of us who were off duty that night we took it in 
turns to provide orderly officers, and guards who had always to be 
posted immediately we stopped anywhere set off to explore the 
town. 

We were directed to the local night-club though Manchuli did 
not seem to be the sort of place where one would expect to find a 
glittering night-life. But the Siberia of those days was a place of 
many surprises, and, sure enough, we found ourselves peering into 
a large, smoke-filled room, filled with Russian officers and their 
lady friends, listening and dancing to a first-class tzigane, or gypsy, 
orchestra. 

As we entered, a fine-looking cavaky colonel jumped to his feet 

41 



and said: " English., I do believe. Please join me at my table," which 
we did. It was a cheerful party. The Russians, anyhow in the old 
days, really knew how to enjoy themselves. Vodka flowed and the 
small dance floor resounded to the stamp of feet and the jingle of 
spurs as the dancing became more and more uproarious. The only 
drawback was that I happened to be the only one of our party who 
could speak the language, and as the Russians could speak no 
English I was kept busy interpreting. 

Then suddenly, after several loud chords, the band broke into 
some special tune and everybody jumped to his feet. We of course 
followed suit, but our host begged us to be seated as we were his 
guests. So down we sat; the only people in the whole place sitting 
down, two gypsy girls, and three British officers. We all felt rather 
embarrassed, but what could we do ? 

Our embarrassment increased when a swarthy Cossack colonel 
approached our table. He was a magnificent figure in a wonderful 
furry cap, long coat with flared skirt girdled with a belt complete 
with revolver and small knives, while on his legs were the most 
beautiful long, black riding boots I have ever seen with enormous 
spurs which jingled at each step. 

" Get up," he shouted. But as his manner was extremely 
insolent we had no intention of doing so. Our host, the cavalry 
colonel, leant forward and slapped him smartly across the face 
saying, " These are my guests and will remain seated, you Cossack 
dog." 

Then the fun really started and the whole place collected round 
our table. Our host turned to me, bowed, and said, " Will you 
honour me by acting as my second in a duel which I now propose 
to fight with this Cossack? " 

" Delighted," I replied, though I had not the faintest idea what I 
was supposed to do. However, at this critical moment a posse of 
Russian military police, who must have been sent for by the 
manager, dashed in and we were all arrested and conducted into a 
private room where a court of inquiry was to be held two Russian 
colonels, two girls and three British officers. 

Feeling that the moment had come when 1 had better step in and 

42 



try to retrieve the situation, I advanced to the centre of the room 
and delivered an impassioned speech in broken Russian to the effect 
that we had come all the way from England to help the Russians, 
and now, right at the start, thanks to our ignorance of their customs, 
we had caused this terrible quarrel to break out between two 
distinguished officers from the Russian cavalry and the Cossacks, 
both of whom were renowned throughout the world for their 
bravery and skill at war. 

The effect was magical ! I was immediately embraced by both 
colonels who, I strongly suspect, were by this time deEghted to 
accept a painless solution to the quarrel. It turned out that the 
particular tune which had caused all the trouble was the national 
anthem of the local Cossack chieftain, a certain colourful Ottaman 
Semenov, who was all-powerful in this part of the world. He lived 
in a magnificent railway train with an attractive blonde whom we all 
called Marusia. 

Anyhow, the Cossack now insisted on joining our party and, as 
the troops would say, " A good time was had by all " until the 
early hours of the morning. Then three slightly bemused young 
officers returned to their train in Manchuli station, to find that there 
also the night had not been without incident. 

Although large notices in Russian and Chinese warned the 
general public to keep away from our ammunition train on pain of 
being shot, these were not always effective. At dusk that evening 
the duty officer heard a shot outside. He rushed out to find a dead 
Chinaman lying on the ground, with a bullet hole between his eyes. 
He had been shot by a British sentry in bad light, at a distance of 
200 yards, as he had tried to enter one of the wagons in search of loot. 
No one was more surprised than the sentry who, it turned out, had 
always been a third-class shot. 

We expected trouble with the Manchurian station-master when 
we explained, but we had not then realised the cheapness of human 
life in this part of the world. ** A dead Chinaman/' said the station- 
master, shrugging his shoulders, " a pity ! But there are plenty more. 
I will send a couple of coolies to move the body." In one way and 
another our short stay in Manchuli was filled with incident. 

43 



Up to now we tad been passing through a comparatively 
peaceful region but west of Lake Baikal the country had already 
gone very Red and Bolshevik bands were constantly raiding the 
railway. So each night we spent in the sidings of some station, 
protected by soldiers of the White Russian Army. 

We were soon involved in one of these raids. In the middle of 
the night we were awakened by rifle and machine-gun fire coming 
from all round the perimeter of our small station. I climbed pessimis- 
tically to the flat roof of our sleeping wagon which was my alarm 
post in an attack. 

There was a great deal of noise and bullets were flying overhead, 
but most of the shooting seemed to be wild. Suddenly I spotted 
the dark shape of a figure in the branches of a tree a couple of 
hundred yards away, outlined by the arc lights which surrounded 
the station. I fired fifteen carefully-aimed shots, but, to my disgust, 
without any apparent result. 

Then all at once the firing died down as suddenly as it had 
started, and we returned to bed. Next morning I discovered that 
my fifteen rounds had been fired at a large disused lamp, but even 
this, I must admit, showed no ill effects from my marksmanship. 

In spite of these incidents, on the 2Oth May we pulled proudly 
into Omsk station, and handed over our twenty-seven ammunition 
trucks intact to the British authorities. It had taken us just over a 
month to complete the three thousand miles journey. Not bad going 
in the circumstances ! 

But my final destination was Ekaterinburg, now called Sverd- 
lovsk, some 800 miles farther west, a charming place complete with 
gardens and a lake very different from the normal, dusty unattrac- 
tive Siberian town. It was here that the Tsar and his family were 
murdered and I used to pass the house every day on my way to work. 

In Ekaterinburg I got to know the Russian soldier, for I was 
second in command of an N.C.O.s training school attached to the 
Anglo-Russian brigade. It was planned to form a brigade of four 
battalions, each of which had about seven British officers and twenty 
senior British N.C.O.s while all the rest were Russian. When this 
scheme had originally been put forward it had received the entliu- 

44 



siastic approval of the Russian authorities from Admiral Koltchak 
do wn wards, but, as we soon came to realise, there is all the difference 
in the world between approval in theory and practical help. In fact, 
every conceivable difficulty was put in our way. 

When the first batch of recruits, some 2,500 strong, shambled 
into the barracks we could hardly believe our eyes. In front came 
the extremely-smart band and drums of the Hampshire regiment 
followed by the filthiest and most unkempt mass of humanity I 
have ever seen in my life. Many of them were without boots or 
hats and nearly all were carrying the most dreadful-looking bundles 
which contained their worldly possessions. It was soon obvious that 
we had been allocated the dregs from all the call-up depots in 
Siberia; thirty per cent were subsequently discarded on medical 
grounds alone. 

The main trouble was lack of interpreters, as only fourteen were 
available in the whole brigade. General Gaida had promised a large 
contingent of Czechs who spoke the language perfectly but they 
did not appear. As very few of the British officers or N.C.O.S spoke 
any Russian at all there was great difficult in sorting out and training 
this mass of ignorant Siberian peasants. 

Nor was this all we had to contend with. At first we thought 
that the unhelpful attitude of the civilian authorities in Ekaterinburg 
was due to the normal Russian inefficiency but we then began to 
realise that it was deliberate. We had to fight for everything we 
wanted; water, food, transport. They even declined to remove the 
refuse from the barracks until they were made to do so by force 
of arms. 

In spite of all these difficulties somehow or other, due almost 
entirely to the very hard work of the British officers and N.C.CXs, 
the four battalions began to take shape. 

My task in the school was, of course, much easier because our 
students were all picked men. Moreover Captain Ulhman, my boss, 
spoke excellent Russian and I could make myself understood fluently 
but ungrammatically. 

It was an interesting experiment which, surprisingly, worked 
reasonably well. I became quite attached to the Russian N.C.O.S in 

45 



our school. They were practically all illiterate; just simple, decent 
chaps, who combined a great sense of humour with considerable 
peasant cunning. As soon as they realised that we were doing our 
best to look after them, to see that their food was properly cooked, 
that they really got their tobacco ration, and that they were paid 
regularly, they became very devoted. 

I know this was so because on two separate occasions later on, 
after we had been captured, a soldier pushed his way through the 
Red guards and wrung me by the hand saying: " Oh, Gospodin 
Kapitan, do .you not remember me, Nicolai Vacilevitch? What 
times we had together in that brigade in Ekaterinburg/' 

And, looking back, I think they were good times. Those Russian 
soldiers were tough; they could march for miles and miles, singing 
the whole time most beautifully. They formed their own choir 
which was always in the middle of the column. In our innocence, 
we started off by holding foot inspection on return to barracks, 
which caused great amusement. They had never heard of such 
a thing before. But we soon realised that we were wasting our 
time, because whether or not their boots fitted properly made 
not the slightest difference to the lumps of hide which they called 
feet. 

A large collection of women and children seemed to belong to 
our N.C.O.s. Whether they were married or not I had no idea. 
To our British eyes it seemed very wrong that the barrack room 
should swarm with women every night, but this was apparently a 
Russian custom. When we shut the gates they merely climbed in 
through the windows, so after a couple of days we decided to 
acknowledge defeat. We insisted, however, that all the women 
should be out of the place in the morning by the time we arrived 
for our day's work. 

The sad thing was that the better our brigade became the more 
the Russian officers came to hate us. To start with they used to halt 
our men in the streets, find fault with them for saluting in the 
British fashion and then upbraid them for serving under British 
officers. They then descended to acts of personal violence and 
hardly a day passed without some member of the Anglo-Russian 

46 



brigade being beaten up by these Russian officers. The officer 
standard in Koltchak's armies was, of course, abysmally low. Very 
few of the old regular Tsarist officers still remained. They, with all 
their faults, had at least shown courage and knew how to behave 
but these interlopers who now strutted about in officers* uniform 
had no intention of fighting at all if they could help it. In fact the 
rear areas were full of them. 

Because of the deterioration in the situation General Knox 
thought that it would be madness to send the Anglo-Russian brigade 
into the fighting line where it would be dependent on Russian co- 
operation which would almost certainly not have been given. 

So we never went into battle with our brigade. Orders were 
received from the United Kingdom that the experiment was to 
cease and the British officers were to return home* 

Many of us were so upset at having to desert the men whom we 
had been training that we went to the senior British officer and 
offered to resign our commissions if we could stay on. Luckily for 
us he was a sensible man and pointed out that, had we gone to the 
front, we should have been sacrificed needlessly. He was quite right 
but the departure of the British officers from Ekaterinburg provided 
a wonderful opportunity for the White officers to twist the lion's 
tail. 

The full brunt of this was felt by George Hayes who sub- 
sequently commanded the 3rd division and myself, as we had been 
left behind to act as liaison officers with the ist Siberian Army. 
We were constantly accosted by people in the street who said with 
charming smiles: " What, two British officers still left? Surely the 
Reds are getting rather close ? Hasn't the time come for you to dear 
out like the rest of the British ? " It was most unpleasant. 

In our new job Hayes and I owned a small railway train of our 
own, consisting of three wagons. We lived in one, our Chinese 
servants and Russian groom in the other, and in the third we kept 
our horses. If we wanted to go anywhere, all we had to do was to 
ring up for an engine. 

Our main task was to keep in touch with the situation on the 
front which was worsening rapidly, ,and report back daily to the 

47 



chief of the British military mission, General Knox, at his head- 
quarters in Omsk, 700 miles farther east. 

As the only way to visit units was on horseback, I used to ride 
off with my Russian groom, and was often away for up to a week 
at a time, spending each night in some small Russian village many 
miles north of the railway line. 

In some of these I must have been the first foreigner the villagers 
had ever seen. When I asked one old peasant if he knew where I 
came from, he shook his head: " You are not a Russian, that I 
know from your accent, but where you come from I could not 
know." ** Ya ne mogy znat" This is the stock answer of the 
Russian peasant to almost all questions. 

" Could I be a Japanese? " I asked him. " Of course, Barin, 
how stupid of me! Japanese, of course/ 5 Now, I don't look in the 
least like a Japanese, but the Japs were apparently the only foreigners 
whom these peasants had ever heard of. 

As soon as we rode into a village, the headman always advanced 
bowing and offered us the hospitality of his home. Every hut I 
stayed in was built on exactly the same pattern: two large rooms, 
in one of which lived the animals, and in the other the people. 
In this living-room the two grandparents and the babies slept on top 
of the immense stove, which always occupied at least one-third of 
the available space, while the remainder, the man, his wife, usually 
many children, my groom and myself shared the floor. 

At meal times a huge wooden bowl of thick soup was placed on 
the table. We were each given a wooden spoon, and then it was a 
question of the survival of the fittest. I never took very kindly to 
this communal feeding, for as a result of long practice they were so 
much better at it than I could ever hope to be that I usually fared 
rather badly. Nevertheless, they were kindly, hospitable folk, 
passionately attached to their small piece of land. How they must 
have hated the collective farms ! 

During this time I made friends with the chieftain of a Khirghiz 
tribe. The Khirghiz are a nomadic people who breed horses, move 
where the grazing is best, and live in small felt tents called yurta. 
Whenever I could manage it I used to ride down before breakfast 



to see my friend, the chief, and having inspected the horses we 
repaired to his tent where, sitting cross-legged on the ground, we 
drank that Khirghiz speciality called koumiss which is mare's milk 
fermented in casks lined with dung* Although this sounds dreadful 
it is a most appetising drink. It is, however, extremely intoxicating 
and I had to be careful on an empty stomach. It would have been 
most unfortunate if the only visible representative of the British had 
fallen off his horse on the return journey. 



CHAPTER IV 

PRISONER OF THE BOLSHEVIKS 



THINGS WERE getting steadily worse and the Reds were advancing 
against very little opposition. The trouble was that as soon as a 
White Russian battalion arrived at the front having been trained 
and equipped by us it almost invariably deserted en bloc to the 
Red workers* paradise on the other side of the lines. 

One day even the army headquarters to which I was attached 
was attacked by a Red battalion. I sat on the roof of my wagon 
watching the Reds advance, and trying to decide when was the last 
possible moment for me to destroy my precious cipher book all 
my messages to HLQ. were sent in code which must at all costs be 
prevented from falling into enemy hands. It was a difficult decision, 
because if I destroyed it unnecessarily, it meant going back 700 miles 
to get another one. 

I never had a better view of any battle in my life. In front of 
me were lines of Red infantry advancing steadily towards us, while 
the White officers and cadets were hurriedly dashing into defensive 
positions. Luckily for me and my cipher book, the attack was beaten 
off within 400-500 yards of our train. 

But the writing was on the wall, and we were soon heading 
eastwards to Omsk. I did not like the look of the situation at all. 
Hayes and I were a lone English rearguard some 3,000 miles from 
Vladivostok, our base. Most of the people inhabiting the country 
in between sympathised with the Reds, and were hostile to us; in 
fact the only troops who could really be relied upon were the 
Czechs and some Polish units. Both loathed the Reds and were 
busy withdrawing to Vladivostok themselves. 

To make matters worse, it was now October, with the winter 
closing in, and the cold of a Siberian winter is almost unbelievable, 

50 



with temperatures down to forty degress below zero. It was not a 
bright prospect, 

We got back the 700 miles to Omsk without much difficulty, but 
then our troubles really started. The front disintegrated, and we 
were told to make our way back to Vladivostok as best as we could, 
Omsk itself was a seething mass of terrified people, all mad to get 
away from the Red terror spreading eastwards. 

Civil wars are always cruel. Neither side was particularly kind 
to prisoners, who were often bayoneted out of hand. We were 
always being shown photographs of atrocities committed by the 
Reds. But it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, because 
after being captured we were shown identical photographs as 
examples of atrocities committed by the Whites. Certainly it was 
not a gentle affair, and there were sinister stories of Red soldiers 
hammering nails into their officers' shoulders, one for each star on 
their epaulettes. It was not surprising that the people were terrified. 

A mass retreat is one of the saddest and most despairing sights in 
die world. Most of these people were quite destitute. Families 
became split up, and the walls of the stations were covered with 
pathetic little messages such as : "If Maria Ivanovna should see this, 
her parents passed here on loth October, making for Irkutsk." 
There were only two ways of escaping from the Red tide which 
rolled inexorably eastward; by train, or by sleigh along the tracks 
which ran parallel to the two railway lines. 

On arrival in Omsk, we were lucky enough to join up with Major 
Vining and a dozen other British officers and other ranks, who 
belonged to the British railway mission which had been helping the 
Russians to run their railways. We were fifteen all told. They were 
now frantically trying to deal with the chaos in the station-yard, 
and to get trains moving east. 

Vining had secured a couple of wagons on which he had painted 
the Union Jack. These immediately became the rallying points for 
all sorts of people who claimed British nationality Persians, 
Russians with English names who could not speak a word of English, 
Indians, and goodness knows who else. We came to realise how very 
wide-flung was the British Empire. Unfortunately there were a 



number of women among them. This was the sort of situation where 
we would have gladly done without the female sex because the 
journey in front of us was likely to be tough and not the sort of 
thing for women at all. But we had no alternative and they were all 
packed in somehow. 

On I3th November we pulled out of Omsk in one of the last 
trains to leave. The Red Army was approaching rapidly. We were 
attached to a train full of Polish soldiers, and we travelled on the 
right-hand track which was usually reserved for up-trains. To start 
with we made good progress, passing a ribbon of stationary trains 
on the left, or down-track. In fact, we arrived in Novosibirsk, 
550 miles away, only one week later. 

But from now on things became very difficult. Both lines were 
blocked with trains standing nose to tail, moving on perhaps a few 
miles at a time, then remaining stationary for hours. There was no 
water for the engines, so at frequent intervals we turned out and 
formed a human chain passing baskets of snow up to the engine. 
Not much fun this in the bitter cold of a Siberian night, but unless 
we kept up steam our chances of escape were nil. 

The people were now getting desperate. At Tiaga, 150 miles 
farther east, Czechs, Poles and Russians were fighting for engines 
and the station echoed to the continuous rattle of machine-gun fire. 
I managed to wriggle my way into the station-master's office where 
I was handed a message from Vladivostok. It read: " If the situation 
seems to warrant it, do not hesitate to take complete control." 

Could anything have been better ? At this particular moment, 
it would have taken at least a division of well-trained British troops 
to have sorted out the situation. But the message did serve a useful 
purpose: it caused great amusement. 

We managed to keep fairly cheerful in spite of the endless 
tragedies which were going on. Always that steady stream of 
sleighs pulled by Siberian ponies, with their pathetic burdens, old 
and young, women and children, some starving, many of them ill, 
but somehow clinging on desperately to the top of the few posses- 
sions which they had managed to save. The sick just fell down and 
died in the snow there was nothing anybody could do about it. 



Things were going from bad to worse. The Reds were now only 
thirty miles away and our engine was finished. We managed to 
get the women and children into one wagon on another train 
manned by the Russian railway battalion, which we knew had a 
better chance of getting through than any other. Having seen them 
depart, the men of the party decided to take to the sleighs. 

It was the night of ifth December. We had been retreating 
for nearly a month, and we had had practically no sleep for seventy- 
two hours. It was almost dark when I heaved myself wearily on to 
the top of the loaded sleigh which had been allocated to me. The 
cold was frightful and the going terrible. Every now and then I 
was flung off into the snow and had to run to catch up again. 
But we were forced to walk and run pretty often, because of the 
intense cold. I was lucky enough to own a pair of Russian felt boots 
called pymwy. They are the only possible footwear in Siberia in 
winter. 

And so the journey went on, riding, walking, falling of running, 
hour after hour and day after day. The only time we were really 
warm was at night which we usually spent all packed together into 
one room in some village. Eighteen of us in a room which measured 
twelve feet by ten feet you could have cut the air into slabs and 
thrown them outside. 

After five days on the sleighs we crossed the railway line again 
at a small station. The Polish commandant here told us that the line 
to the east was much clearer now, and then we suddenly saw, 
standing in the yard, the wagon containing our women and children 
a most remarkable coincidence. They felt rather lonely and begged 
us to rejoin them. So we all crowded in, some forty-two people in 
a wagon meant for sixteen. However, it was warmer than on the 
sleighs. 

Finally, we came to a longer stop than usual, some eight miles 
west of the Siberian town of Krasnoyarsk. Then, all around us, 
we saw officers and men throwing away their arms. It appeared that 
the Red Army had done a wide encircling movement and had 
captured Krasnoyarsk four days before. The date was 7th January. 
We had now been retreating for six weeks and had covered nearly 

53 



I, coo miles, but this was the end. It was infuriating to think that all 
our efforts had been in vain. Here we were, cluttered up with women 
and children, almost exactly in the middle of Siberia in the depth 
of winter. We saw no Reds, there was no shooting nothing. 
So, working on the principle " When in doubt, feed," we decided 
to have supper. 

Then into our carriage came a soldier with a huge red cockade 
in his fur cap. He was followed shortly afterwards by a couple of 
officers, one of whom said he was the Red battalion commander. 
We were now their prisoners but, having discovered that we were 
British, they beamed with delight and asked us whether they might 
join us for supper a truly Gilbertian situation. 

It was difficult to see what the future held in store for us. Hayes 
and I made an elaborate plan to buy a sleigh and a couple of ponies 
with a view to escaping over the Mongolian frontier 500 miles to 
the south-east. Major Vining, who, as the senior officer, was in 
charge of the party, was perfectly prepared to let us go. In fact he 
was very understanding about it, but he pointed out that I was the 
only officer who could talk Russian. So we concluded that it would 
not be right to desert the rest of the party. I am very glad now that 
we never attempted this extremely hazardous journey, which would 
have been difficult enough in summer, let alone in mid-winter. 

As a first step we managed to get our mixed party of some 
forty-two people out of the railway train into a couple of rooms in 
the town of Krasnoyarsk; this was no mean achievement, because 
this small Siberian town was bursting its seams with people Red 
Army soldiers, refugees, Poles, Czechs, and thousands of White 
Russian prisoners-of-war. 

I spent my day going round trying to get some food or money 
with which to buy food, because the Omsk roubles we possessed 
had been declared illegal by the Reds. We were, therefore, penni- 
less. It was not pleasant standing for hours in queues in the bitter 
cold waiting to see these commissars. Eventually we were issued 
with bread-tickets, which was something, but even then, like every- 
body else, we were always hungry. We tried every possible way of 
getting money and food. I got a job teaching English in a girls' 

54 



school, for which I received the princely salary of 250 roubles the 
equivalent of ten shillings a week but, what was far more impor- 
tant, I was given some thick soup for lunch. Another man played 
a piano in a cafe; in fact everyone did his best to contribute 
in some way. 

One young Canadian officer had the important task of taking 
our clothes to the market and swopping them for food with the 
peasants who came in daily from the surrounding country. He was 
not always very successful, and I can remember how angry I was 
when in exchange for my last shirt all he obtained was a pair of 
skates and a bag of nuts. 

Obviously this sort of existence could not continue for long, 
so Vining, Hayes and I decided to pay a visit to the head commissar 
of all. Our first attempt failed as we found a long queue, which 
hardly moved at all, stretching right down the street outside the 
house where he worked. The only thing to do was to bluff our 
way in. 

So, next day, having polished up the remnants of our uniform 
in order to look as smart as possible, we walked straight to the head 
of the queue, brushed the sentry on one side and said haughtily: 
" An English delegation to see the commandant." Everyone was 
suitably impressed and very soon we found ourselves in the holy of 
holies the commandant's office. 

On entering we saluted: he jumped up from the table and 
returned our salute. First blood to us, we felt, because in the early 
days of the Red revolution saluting was strictly forbidden as it 
smacked too much of the old regime, " We hold you personally 
responsible to the British Government for our safety," I said. 
" Of course," he replied most politely, " but I did not know that 
there were any British in the town. What do you want? " " First 
of all, food," I replied, " and secondly to go back to the U.K." 

The whole interview was conducted most courteously and he 
gave us food cards which enabled us to feed not only ourselves but 
quite a number of starving White Russians as well, but there seemed 
little prospect of getting home in the immediate future, for, as he 
pointed out, between Krasnoyarsk and Vladivostok there was a war 

55 



going on between the Red Army and the Japanese. The railways 
had broken down, the horses were all being eaten by the starving 
people and It was mid-winter. " I will try and send you to 
Vladivostok as soon as possible," he said, ** but in the meantime you 
must remain here." And remain we did. 

After a month of this sort of existence, the headquarters of the 
5th Red Army moved into the town and as a soldier I was interested 
to see how the Bolshevik or Communist Army really worked. 
I was sorry for the officers, most of whom had served in the Imperial 
Russian Army. The only reason they were now fighting for the 
Reds was because their families were held as hostages. One mistake 
and their wives and children would be thrown into prison and they 
themselves would be executed. 

The real power in the army headquarters lay in the hands of the 
three political commissars who sat in a room together and vetted 
every order before it was sent out. The army itself was a very 
happy-go4ucky affair, with little discipline, run entirely on the 
friend or tovarish principle. No officer was allowed to wear the 
hated epaulettes which belonged to the bad old days of the Tsar's 
army. 

The whole thing was, of course, extremely inefficient from the 
point of view of actual war, and the only reason the Reds were 
victorious was because they did have the backing of the people, 
and the Whites were even more inefficient. What a contrast to the 
Russian army of to-day, with its rigid discipline in which privates 
have to salute even corporals. The Russian officer caste has now 
become far more exclusive than it was even in the Tsar's army. 
Epaulettes are worn proudly again and a Russian major-general 
receives more pay than his counterpart in the American army. 

The head political commissar of the 5th Army was a fanatical 
Bolshevik and a difficult customer to tackle. From the outset his 
attitude was quite clear, for he said: " If you will now carry out the 
same work for the Red army that you have been doing with the 
White armies you will be given plenty of food, money, and good 
quarters. If not there is always the prisoner-of-war camp on the 
outskirts of the town." 

56 



This was no idle threat. Our present existence, packed Hke 
sardines into two rooms and short of food, might not be ideal, 
but it was heaven compared with life in the ghastly P.O.W. camp 
where 40,000 White Russians were dying at the rate of 200 a day. 
Nevertheless, we were British officers and N.C.O.s and there could 
be no question of our working for the Reds. Vining made this quite 
clear to the commissar, and he never -wavered in this attitude during 
the whole time we were in Russia, in spite of repeated threats from 
the Bolshevik authorities. 

Suddenly, orders were received that we were to go home; 
though whether via Vladivostok or back through Moscow was not 
clear. Little did we care, as with light hearts we moved down to a 
fourth-class railway carriage in the station and made the acquaint- 
ance of the Red soldiers who were to be our guards. 

But of course nothing happened. It never did in Russia. We 
merely sat in the wagon for days on end in a siding at Krasnoyarsk 
station. 

Then the worst happened. I began to feel very ill, a high 
temperature, constant sickness, and a burning thirst. This was the 
blackest moment of my life, for in the anxious eyes of the others I 
could read one word typhus, that dread disease which was sweep- 
ing through Russia, carried from person to person by lice. It was 
almost impossible to free ourselves from these filthy vermin. There 
were reputed to be 30,000 cases of typhus in Krasnoyarsk alone. 
Luckily by this time we were inured to death because we had been 
living for so long literally surrounded by dead. Naked corpses 
were stacked on the pktforms, and sleighs packed with frozen 
bodies were such a common sight in the streets that no one even 
glanced at them. It was not the thought of death which worried me, 
but the fear of a Russian hospital. All the so-called hospitals were 
crammed, and I knew only too well what they were like. In one 
which I had visited, the patients were lying unwashed in their 
clothes in serried ranks on the floor. The corridors had been used as 
lavatories. The stench was so overpowering that I had been sick 
before I could get outside. It seemed a cruel fate that this should 
have happened to me just when we were about to go home, because 

57 



if I had typhus there could be no question of my remaining in the 
crowded railway wagon. 

Next day a doctor arrived to examine me. One look at his 
face was enough; I had got it all right. 

By this time I was delirious, I have only vague memories of a 
sleigh journey, and then being laid on a bed not on the floor as I 
had expected. Among the features of this disease are the extremely 
high temperature, deKriousness and appalling nightmares. To this 
day I can remember these dreams in which I went through all the 
tortures that the most diseased imagination could produce. I was a 
traitor to my country. I had sold my dearest relations to the Reds, 
and so on. 

When I regained consciousness some six days later I was tied 
down to my bed with ropes, my arms were bandaged and my lips 
so swollen I could only swallow water a drop at a time. I could not 
make out where I was but I was too weak to care. Then beside my 
bed I saw the friendly figure of George Hayes. We had been 
together the whole time in Russia, and when I was taken to hospital 
he had moved out of the train into a room so as to be near me, and 
every day he paid a visit to the hospital. He was a brave man 
because even though he wore a raincoat buttoned up to the neck and 
had covered himself with anti-louse powder he ran a very big risk 
of being infected. 

Gradually the picture became clearer to my mind. Thanks to the 
efforts of Vining and Hayes I had been moved into the best hospital 
in the town, which actually possessed beds. It had originally been a 
school. There was one heroine of a Russian nurse, and half a dozen 
orderlies to look after 125 patients. Most of the doctors had become 
casualties themselves and one exhausted young man used to visit 
our hospital for one hour a day, if we were lucky. 

But the chief problem was food. A typhus patient after he has 
passed the crisis needs building up with good food, but all that was 
available here was black bread and thin soup. Somehow or other 
Hayes managed to get me some milk and white bread, and this 
undoubtedly saved my life. According to the nurse I had been a 
most obstreperous patient, had broken the ropes which tied me to 

58 



the bed, and had smashed the window with my fists trying to get 
out. Hence the wounds on my arms. 

One of the most interesting things about that hospital was the 
bed psychology. There were not enough beds to go round, so with 
the exception of one single bed in a comer we were three people 
on two beds. Not a very happy position if the next-door patient 
happens to be a hairy great Cossack in the delirious stage of this 
beastly disease. The burning ambition of everyone in the room 
was to get moved to that single bed. I had occupied it until my 
crisis had passed, when I was moved away and my place was taken 
by another bad case. We became dreadfully callous and discussed 
endlessly whether the occupant of the bed was likely to die in the 
near future and which of us might be lucky enough to take his place. 

In spite of everything I now made rapid progress, and was 
delighted to hear that the remainder of our party, instead of having 
departed as they had hoped, were still sitting in the same old siding. 

On 1 8th March, after nine adventurous weeks in Krasnoyarsk, 
we finally left for Irkutsk 600 miles to the east, the first stage, we 
hoped, in our journey home via Vladivostok. But we remained 
there for the next two months. It was in Irkutsk that I met my first 
woman commissar. She was an awesome sight, tougher than any 
man I have ever seen. Her hair cut short, a cigarette in the corner 
of her mouth, a skirt which hung round her like a sack and a large 
revolver fastened to her belt. I would rather have tackled six men 
commissars any day. 

It was interesting to see the effect we seemed to produce on the 
Red soldiers who were sent to us as guards. To start with they were 
very strict and regimental, but after a few days we always became 
great friends and they invariably wept when they were relieved. 

We were destined not to return home by Vladivostok at all. 
On I2th June we set off to the west and for the next six weeks, 
with many stops and starts, we trundled steadily along the railway 
line until we arrived in Moscow, 3,500 miles away. At last we felt 
that we were really going home, but by now we should have known 
better. 

Instead of home we found ourselves for the first time in a proper 

59 



prison-camp, inside the walls of what had previously been the 
Ivanofisky Monastery. Here were 457 prisoners of whom forty-five 
were women; generals, admirals, politicians, common or garden 
thieves, counter revolutionaries, speculators, ex-ladies-in-waiting 
from the Tsar's court, and prostitutes, all mixed up together. It was 
the most pathetic place I have ever seen, because all these people were 
without hope of any sort. Some indeed had gone mad. 

One distinguished elderly Russian general was in charge of the 
lavatories where he worked without ceasing all day. The trouble 
was that he strongly resented anyone entering his domain. The only 
method of doing so was to click your heels, salute and shout out in 
a loud voice, " Your most Highest. May I have the privilege of 
using your lavatories to-day? " 

He would then return the salute most punctiliously and shout 
permission in an equally stentorian voice. Honour was thus satisfied 
and all was now plain sailing. 

The prison fare was slow starvation. Three-quarters of a pound 
of black bread in the morning, some boiled grain at midday and in 
the evening some watery soup made from highly-flavoured fish, or 
meat which was often horse flesh. The only thing that kept the 
prisoners alive was the food their friends and relations brought 
them in. Fortunately for us there was a French organisation in 
Moscow run by a Madame Charpentier and her two daughters 
which was helping to feed destitute foreigners. If it had not been 
for these very gallant women we should unquestionably have 
starved. Twice a week, at great personal risk, they brought us in 
extra bread, potatoes and sometimes even a small quantity of eggs 
and sugar. Even so I always used to eat my bread over a piece of 
paper so that not a single crumb would be wasted. 

A constant battle was waged between ourselves and the Bolshevik 
authorities over the question of work but in spite of repeated 
threats we continued to refuse to do anything which would in any 
way benefit the Reds. How we got away with this I do not know 
but we did. 

From time to time someone would depart from the camp 
" without baggage*" Those were sinister words we all knew what 

60 



that meant. None of them was ever seen again. After a month we 
were moved to another prison in the former Andronojjsky 
Monastery where life was much the same. 

Then one day the unbelievable happened; we were visited by 
an official from the Red Foreign Office, a fat little man in riding 
breeches who brought us some of the best news I have ever heard in 
my life. In accordance with an exchange scheme arranged between 
our two governments we were to return to the U.K. at once. 
Our departure next day to Petrograd was entirely spoilt, for me at 
any rate, by the sad, white faces of our fellow prisoners looking out 
from the monastery windows. They, poor devils, had no kindly 
government to look after their interests and their fate was all too 
certain. 

During this last period in Russia we all received offers of marriage 
from Russian women. " If only you will marry us so that we can 
get over the frontier out of Russia,*' they would say, " we will 
promise never to worry you again." It was a difficult situation for 
we felt very sorry for these unfortunate women and would gladly 
have helped them to escape from the country. But we all realised 
that we could not possible just abandon them on the other side of 
the frontier. So after much discussion and soul searching we had to 

<( TVT *> 

say No. 

On 29th October eighteen months after I had entered the 
country on the other side Vladivostok we crossed the frontier 
into Finland and freedom. I turned and shook Vining by the hand. 
Thanks to him our morale bad always been high and discipline in 
our strangely assorted party had withstood the strain of all these 
months of captivity. On his shoulders had rested the ultimate 
responsibility and now he had brought the whole party safely out 
of the darkness of Bolshevik Russia into the light of the free world 
again. It was a great moment. 

We came home via Finland and Denmark, and the first part of 
the journey from Helsinki to Copenhagen was made in almost 
regal state or so it seemed to us on board the British cruiser 
H.M.S. Delhi. What the Royal Navy must have thought about us 
I cannot imagine for it was a most peculiar-looking military party, 

61 



dressed in all sorts of odd garments, which climbed up the gangway 
into their beautiful ship. But the hospitality of the senior service did 
not fail. We couldn't have been more kindly treated. The captain 
even went so far as to move into his sea-cabin by the bridge in order 
to put ids quarters in the stern at my disposal. 

In Copenhagen we were met by EngHsh-speaking Danes who 
looked after us during our stay in their capital. After the squalor of 
Russia it was wonderful to experience die comfort of the Hotel 
Angleterre and to dine in Wievells Restaurant I shall never forget 
the kindness of those hospitable Danes. 

It wasn't until I met my parents on our arrival in London that I 
realised what they must have suffered on my account, for I had 
disappeared into Russia and literally passed out of their lives for 
over a year. 

So ended my extremely unorthodox preparation for higher 
command. I cannot pretend that my military education had 
benefited to the slightest degree from my sojourn in Russia. My only 
claim to distinction at this period of my career, and I was now 
twenty-six years old, was an intimate knowledge of prison life both 
in Germany and Russia. These seemed not the slightest chance of a 
successful career for me in the army. 

Yet I wonder whether the varied experiences of those years were 
not an excellent preparation for the stresses and strains of command 
in war. I had learned to live rough and depend on nobody but 
myself and, having experienced the seamy side of life to the full, 
I was unlikely to be taken by surprise, however unexpected the crisis 
might be. Orthodox military life in those days was not calculated 
to develop the qualities of robust initiative so necessary in a 
commander on the battlefield. The inevitable economies which 
afflict all military forces between wars made regimental soldiering 
in the United Kingdom a frustrating business. The British Army at 
home had been reduced largely to a flag basis. On exercises lance- 
corporals carried boards round their necks bearing the words 
" This represents a section." When they wanted to carry out a 
reconnaissance they hung the board on a tree and went forward as 
a scout themselves. 

62 



We have all been amused by the story of the young officer who, 
at the start of the last war, on receiving his first orders to move out 
into the desert to fight the Italian Army, had asked his commander 
whether the Italians understood that a green flag represented an 
anti-tank gun. That was the depth to which we sank between the 
wars. 



CHAPTER V 

BETWEEN TWO WARS 



WHEN I returned to my regiment as a captain I was lucky, for tlie 
ist Battalion The Middlesex Regiment then formed part of the 
British Army of the Rhine. For us in the occupation forces life in 
Cologne was very pleasant, because, owing to the chronic inflation 
of the German mark, we always had plenty of money, a most 
unusual experience for me. 

It was all too easy. I opened an account for ^10 sterling in a 
German bank and as each day the pound become worth more in 
German currency all I had to do was to call and draw out the extra 
marks. Towards the end of this period we used to get the weekly 
pay for our companies in sacks. But the Germans suffered terribly. 
Here were all the horrors of galloping inflation. The more expensive 
bars were filled with fat profiteers and their hard-faced, brassy 
mistresses who drove round in huge cars and seemed to batten on 
the wretched, starving, professional classes. 

I was horrified to meet a distinguished German professor and his 
family who never saw meat at all and could only afford potatoes 
for their one main meal of the day. Prices in the shop windows 
were altered four or five times a day, but owing to protests from the 
British garrison, the N.A.A.F.I. canteen promised to keep their 
prices stable for a week. By the end of the second day some wonder- 
ful bargains were available because the mark had continued to fall. 

The result was fantastic. The whole garrison descended on the 
N.A.A.F.I. like a crowd of vultures. There were lorries and cars 
blocking all the streets round their premises, and women were 
diving for the counters and seizing anything they could lay their 
hands on, golf balls, bottles of whisky, fruit, it didn't matter, it was 
a bargain. I don't think anybody who has not witnessed at first hand 

64 



the real horrors of inflation can understand what it means. I came 
away convinced that any sacrifice was worth while in order to avoid 
this economic cancer. 

The next few years were occupied by many and varied activities. 
In April, 1921, the battalion returned to the United Kingdom for 
duty in connection with the coal strike. Then came Ireland during 
"the troubles" where our life consisted of searches for hidden arms, 
patrols, keeping a lookout for road-blocks and dealing with ambushes 
organised by the Sinn Feiners a most unpleasant sort of warfare 
and not unlike what has been going on in Cyprus recently. 

This was followed by a trip to Silesia in order to maintain law 
and order during a plebiscite w T hich was being held there to decide 
on the frontiers between Poland and Germany. Tempers among the 
local inhabitants ran high and it required considerable tact to prevent 
an ugly situation developing among the thousands of Polish miners 
who came out on strike as a protest against our presence in their 
district. These cold war activities, as they would be called to-day, 
ended in October, 1923, when we returned to orthodox peace-time 
soldiering as part of the ist Guards Brigade in Aldershot. Owing to 
the shortage of men, which made training very difficult, life centred 
more and more round games and in 1924 as an added sporting 
interest I became involved in the modern pentathlon. 

There is something romantic about this event which has its 
origin in the ancient Greek Olympic games. In those days the 
pentathlon, a contest of five events in all of which each competitor 
had to take part was considered to be of such importance that the 
winner was acclaimed " Victor of the games," The modern 
pentathlon, as reconstituted in 1912, is based on the conception of a 
courier carrying dispatches through a hostile country. He starts by 
riding a horse across country, but if he becomes dismounted he must 
then be able to continue his journey on foot by running. As the 
bridges may be guarded he should be prepared to swim across any 
river encountered during his journey and he must be capable of 
defending his dispatches both with sword and pistol. So there arc 
the five events in which we had to compete, riding, swimming, 
running, fencing and revolver shooting. 

65 



I was fortunate enough to win the championships in this country 
and so was selected with three others to represent Great Britain in 
the Olympic games which were held in Paris that year. For four 
months we were struck off all duties in order to train and at the end 
of this period I was superbly fit but the standard of performance in 
Paris was so high that I finished well down in the order of merit. 

Unlike certain other international contests this particular event 
seems to spread a spirit of friendship and co-operation among the 
competitors a very important factor in this shrinking world of 
to-day. 

At the conclusion of these 1924 Olympic games an international 
party was taken round Paris by one of the young French competitors 
in the modem pentathlon. He kept on looking at us anxiously and 
saying: " Tell me what really interests you, gentlemen? " As we 
had been in strict training for six months it was difficult to decide 
what forbidden fruit to sample first. Anyhow, it was a truly 
memorable night which resulted, I am afraid, in my running dead 
last in the final of the army mile a week later much to the disgust 
of my regiment. 

At this stage of my life a disproportionate part of my time was 
devoted to games, particularly during the early days at Aldershot. 
I was now unquestionably in danger of ruining any chances of 
success which I might have' had by allowing sport to fill my life to 
the exclusion of everything else. But fortunately for me Aldershot 
was quite close to my parents' house at Hersham in Surrey, and I 
went home frequently. This gave my father a chance to bring his 
influence to bear on his work-shy, sport-loving son. Nothing would 
satisfy him but that I must work hard in order to get into the 
Staff College, Camberley, where regimental officers did a two-year 
course to study the wider aspects of their profession. There was, 
however, fierce competition to get there because, unless an officer 
bore the magic letters P.S.C. (Passed Staff College) after his name, 
he was unlikely to reach the higher ranks of the army. So, driven on 
by his constant urging, I at last started to work hard at my profession 
and at languages. 

In January, 1927, when I was preparing to take the entrance 

66 



examination to Camberley, my battalion was ordered to form part 
of a division earmarked for China, where trouble was expected as a 
result of the Chinese civil war. The instructions, however, said that 
any officers working for the Staff College were to stay behind in 
this country. This venture in China sounded most exciting, just 
the sort of thing to appeal to young men like us, and it was automati- 
cally assumed by all my brother officers that I would chuck 
up the Staff College and not leave the battalion at that particular 
moment. 

When I told my father that I proposed to go to China he 
listened quietly as always. Then he said just as quietly but with 
great firmness, " China will be a picnic, that's all. There is only one 
thing that matters to you now to get into the Staff College." 
As might be imagined I was not very popular with the regiment 
when they heard that I was staying in England. But as usual, my 
father was right. China was, in fact, a picnic and I eventually got 
into the Staff College. That was the turning point in my life as a 
soldier. 

The departure of the 1st Bn. the Middlesex Regiment, my 
military home, for China left me a sad and lonely man, but I was 
soon up to my eyes in a new job with the Territorial Army which 
appealed to me immensely. In January, 1927, I became adjutant 
of the pth Battalion the Middlesex Regiment with headquarters 
at Pound Lane, Willesden, and outlying companies in the Hendon 
and Wealdstone districts. And so I made my first contact with 
those 'truly remarkable people, the British territorials. 

It has always seemed to me a curious phenomenon that in this, 
the most non-military of countries, where, ever since the days of 
Oliver Cromwell the army has been regarded with extreme 
suspicion, there should exist in their thousands these enthusiastic 
people who after a hard day's work are prepared to desert their 
families in the evening to travel, in many cases, long distances to 
some bleak, dreary drill-hall (now called T.A. centres) for military 
training. 

Yet this happens almost every night in the week all over the 
country, and the curious thing is that the more difficult the author- 

6? 



ities make it for these dedicated people, the more the T. A. seems to 
flourish. There was before the war, and to some extent, still is 
to-day a chronic shortage of cash, accommodation and men, but if 
the Territorial Army was called upon to-morrow it would render 
the same first-class service to this country that it did in the last two 
world wars. I was particularly glad when I was commanding an 
infantry division during the last war to be able to recommend a 
T.A* officer aged thirty-two to command one of the only two 
regular battalions in the division. 

Up to now I had never met any territorials and indeed knew 
practically nothing whatever about the civilian world which existed 
outside the narrow confines of life in the Regular Army. I found it 
a most invigorating experience and a vital step in my military 
education because, after all, these are the people who in the final 
analysis win or lose our major wars. Moreover as a Territorial 
adjutant I had to be a jack-of-ali-trades, organise training, set week- 
end tactical exercises, run boxing shows, dances, tattoos, have an 
intimate knowledge of the many regulations which governed the 
Territorial Army, and act as a sort of father confessor to the officers 
and men about their civilian occupations. 

The time I spent with the pth Middlesex was not only valuable 
from the point of view of my military education, it was also a very 
happy and momentous three years. 

I became engaged to be married at an odd place, outside Worm- 
wood Scrubs Prison, on my way to a dance at Pound Lane drill-hall, 
and was married a few months later, at the Savoy Chapel, to Nancy 
Kitchin. This story is mainly concerned with my military life and I 
have the strongest objection to baring my family life in public so I 
will only say that up till then my eyes had been completely closed 
to beauty of any sort. It never even struck me that the army 
barracks in which I lived were supremely ugly buildings. Old furni- 
ture, old houses, meant nothing to me at all and I don't remember 
ever entering a picture gallery of any sort. My wife is an artist or, 
as she would prefer to call it, " puts paint on canvas," and thanks 
entirely to her, my life is now much fuller and my appreciation of 
beauty is increasing steadily. 

68 



My daughter was bom in the following year and like so many 
other military families we started the merry-go-round of military 
stations and lived in some twenty-six different houses in our first 
twenty years of married life. 

Being married was an added incentive to work for the Staff 
College. Moreover my father kept on insisting that I should 
take special courses and study even harder with this one end in 
view. 

At the time my prospects of a successful career in the army were 
far from bright. In addition to my inauspicious start as a prisoner-of- 
war in Germany and Russia I had now spent fifteen years as a captain, 
and owing to the block in promotion I was most unlikely even to 
get command of my own regiment. Nevertheless he persisted, and 
finally at the fifth and last attempt I secured a nomination to that 
seat of all military knowledge, the Staff College, Camberley, where I 
joined for the two-year course in 1931. 

In the entrance hall to the Staff College there are racks where 
letters and papers for the students are placed, and it is here that the 
senior and junior divisions congregate before going to their lecture 
halls. When I gazed round on that first morning I looked upon 
some 120 officers, almost all of whom in due course were to play a 
prominent part in the 1939-45 war. In the senior division were two 
captains; Captain M. C. Dempsey, M.C., of the Berkshire regiment 
who subsequently commanded the 2nd British Army throughout 
the fighting in north-west Europe, and Captain "W. H. E. Gott, 
M.C., of the K.R.R.C., one of the best-known corps commanders 
in the desert. Both were very keen horsemen and Dempsey was a 
first-class cricketer. Those were their chief claims to fame at 
this time. 

We think that our course which joined in 1931 contained more 
students who later rose to command divisions and corps than any 
other. Moreover Nicholson (Adjutant-General), Brownjohn 
(Quartermaster-General) and Kirkman (Quartermaster-General), all 
eventually became members of the Army Council, while Simpson 
(Lieut-General Sir Frank E. W. Simpson) proved a most successful 
Vice-Chief of the General Staff during the war. It was the practice 

69 



for a naval officer to join the course for the final year, and our sailor 
turned out to be that remarkable all-rounder Warburton-Lee who 
won the V.C. at Narvik. 

In those years before the war Camberley provided probably the 
best military education in the world and I have no doubt at all that 
the high standard of staff work in the army during the last war was 
due to this instruction. 

I say this deliberately after studying the systems in the staff 
colleges of other countries. 

We were also fortunate in our commandant, General Sir John 
Dill, a brilliant soldier, who, after commanding the i Corps in the 
British Expeditionary Force in 1939, became C.LG.S. He was a man 
of the highest integrity, great charm and with a first-class brain. 
It is only recently that he has received credit for the magnificent 
work which he did as the senior British representative in the U.S.A. 
during the last war. 

General Marshall liked, and trusted him completely, which made 
all the difference to Anglo-U.S. co-operation at the highest military 
level. He died on 4th November, 1944, and was buried in Arlington 
Cemetery in the U.S.A., the highest honour the Americans can 
bestow on a foreigner. 

He was also a man with a sense of humour. One of my brother 
officers on the course had won several decorations for gallantry 
during the 1914-18 war but did not show much promise as a staff 
officer. At his final interview with the commandant, Dill is reported 
to have said: " You would be a wonderful man to have by my side 
in a tight corner on the battlefield. But, if you were on my 
staff and I found myself in such a predicament, I should have 
no doubt at all about who had been responsible for getting me into 
it." 

The system of instruction by which officers studied and worked 
out military problems in syndicates could not have been better. 
In fact in this direction the army was in advance of the civilian world. 
It is an interesting fact that most of the staff colleges now run by 
civilian firms are based mainly on the Camberley pattern. 

When at the end of our two-yqar course I heard that my first 

70 



staff appointment was to be a staff captain in the Military Secretary's 
branch of the War Office I was bitterly disappointed because I 
loathed the idea of serving in Whitehall. I was quite wrong. 

As soon as I arrived it became apparent that the work carried 
out by this particular department was extremely interesting. Under 
the guidance of the Military Secretary and Deputy Military 
Secretary, my sub-branch, called M.S.2, was responsible for the 
promotion of all regimental officers from 2nd lieutenant to lieuten- 
ant-colonel, and we had access to the confidential reports which 
were rendered annually on each officer in the army. I took over from 
Dempsey who in his turn had succeeded MacMillan, later on a 
distinguished corps commander who ended his service as General 
Sir Gordon MacMillan of MacMillan, Governor-General of 
Gibraltar so M.S.2 must have been a breeding ground for generals. 

The work was completely strange to me and to start with I made 
many mistakes. It was with considerable trepidation that on one 
occasion I reported to my chief that I had inadvertently written to 
offer accelerated promotion to an officer who was dead. The annual 
reports on officers are made probably by as many as three senior 
officers who are serving over him. All these reports are kept in a 
book and everything good is underlined in blue, bad in red. This 
book very soon provides a most comprehensive commentary on 
an officer's character and it is extraordinarily interesting to see how, 
over the years, the same characteristics tend to appear, although the 
reports are rendered by different people. 

I soon found that few secrets were hidden from M.S.2. The 
shortest and most damning report I have ever read was compiled by 
a distinguished cavalry commander who merely wrote, " I would 
hesitate to breed from this officer/* 

After two years as a staff captain I was delighted to learn that I 
had been appointed brigade major of the 5th Infantry Brigade in the 
2nd Infantry Division at Aldershot. Once again I was to take over 
from Dempsey. It is the ambition of every young staff officer to 
become a brigade major and as this particular brigade formed part 
of the embryo expeditionary force I couldn't have been more 
fortunate. As chief staff officer responsible to my brigadier for three 



regular infantry battalions, I was now able to put into practice the 
results of my two years' training at Carnberley. 

During the next two years the 2nd Division was commanded by 
two fine soldiers, Wavell and Wilson, " Jumbo " Wilson was a 
shrewd tactician who invariably put his finger on the weak spot in 
any exercise, and from him I learned a lot, but the man who had a 
profound influence on my whole military career was Wavell, who, 
in my opinion, had probably the most brilliant brain of any general 
I have ever met. From him I learned the value of really imaginative 
training. 

Exercises organised by Wavell were always a challenge and a 
joy, never a bore. There was one, for instance, in which our 5th 
Brigade was sent to protect the Golden Fleece of all things ! As a 
matter of fact we lost it but not for want of trying by everyone from 
the brigadier down to the newest-joined recruit. What an astonish- 
ing contrast he was. This brilliant, imaginative brain lay behind the 
most expressionless, poker face I have ever come across. Wavell 
wrote brilliantly, but never spoke at all if he could help it. On arrival 
young officers were warned that if they met a man who looked like 
a gamekeeper and said nothing, he was certain to be the divisional 
commander. 

One night when dining in the Wavell house at Aldershot, I found 
myself with the wife of an up-and-coming young staff officer sitting 
between the divisional commander and myself. With a gleam in 
her eye and considerable skill she subjected her host to a sparkling 
account of her husband's prowess as a soldier. I listened with some 
amusement, because all Wavell said was ** I see," repeated at 
intervals. Unfortunately for her he did see, only too well. Eventu- 
ally in desperation she turned to me and said, " For goodness' sake, 
tell me something he is interested in! " I very nearly replied, " It's 
no good, better women than you have tried and failed," but having, 
I hope, a kindly nature, I refrained. 

We who knew Wavell admired him immensely, but owing to 
his almost pathological taciturnity he was completely unknown to 
the bulk of the officers and men under his command. He was quite 
incapable of going round inspiring the troops as was . done so 

72 



With my sister Jean 
at Gibraltar, 1904 





Attending a levee at 
Buckingham Palace after 
promotion to major 




At the British Modem Pentathlon Championship of 1924 which was won by 
the author (second from left in the front row) 

With my wife, daughter and batman-groom Hodder at the Staff College, 
Camberley in I93 8 






successfully by Lord Mountbatten and Slim in Burma, and by 
Montgomery in the Middle East and before D-Day. Yet later on 
during the war as C.-in-C. Middle East he had the strength of 
character to stand up to some severe buffeting from the United 
Kingdom. This is what the Middle East official history has to say 
on the subject: 

The main operations in East Africa had, therefore, succeeded 
beyond all expectations, and had ended just in time. This was 
largely due to the steadiness of purpose of General Wavell and 
Air Chief Marshal Longmore, who had to achieve a workable 
and appropriate balance of forces while doing their best to 
comply with a rapid succession of instructions and suggestions, 
such as to part with forces from Kenya, to capture Kismayu 
quickly, to capture Eritrea quickly, to deter the Japanese by 
" liquidating Italian East Africa," to treat as a " first duty " the 
air defence of Malta, to be prepared to send ten squadrons to 
Turkey, to regard the capture of Rhodes as " of first impor- 
tance," and to " let their first thoughts be for Greece." 

Yet through it all Wavell, outwardly at any rate, remained 
steadfast and unmoved. In 1941 he was conducting simultaneously 
five different campaigns at a time when supplies of all sorts were 
very short indeed. By the time kter commanders arrived on the 
scene, the material of war was beginning to roll off the assembly 
lines, but it required genius to run all those operations on a shoe- 
string. 

By the end of my two years at Aldershot I could claim to be an 
efficient craftsman in the art of war but nothing more. So what was 
my surprise when I was selected to become an instructor at the Staff 
College, Camberley; this was an appointment usually reserved for 
brilliant young officers who were destined to rise to the highest 
ranks in the service and I did not think that I fitted into this category 
at all. I therefore entered into my new and rather frightening life 
with considerable apprehension. I thought I had worked hard when 
a student at the Staff College but I soon found that this was child's 
play compared with what was expected from me as an instructor. 

73 



I made matters still worse by setting and correcting military exams 
in order to make a little extra money. 

By the middle of 1938 it became clear to most of us that war 
against Hitler was almost inevitable and this added an edge to our 
labours. Nearly all my fellow instructors subsequently rose to 
command divisions and corps and in 1939 our commandant was 
General Sir Bernard Paget, subsequently Commander-in-Chief 
Home Forces in the U.K. He had a very strong character, and was 
one of the most honourable men I have ever met. His attention to 
detail was fantastic and he could read through a massive military 
paper without missing the smallest mistake. Towards the end of my 
period there I acted as his chief staff officer, so I came to know him 
well and the better I knew him the more I admired his sterling 
qualities. 

No account of life at the Staff College would be complete, 
however, without my mentioning someone who is known affec- 
tionately to British officers all over the world, Miss McGlinchy, 
who ran a typing agency just outside the gates of the Staff College. 
She knew the official abbreviations better than did most of the officers 
themselves, and many a rime she was routed out of bed in the early 
hours of the morning by some desperate young officer clutching an 
ill-written sheaf of papers which had to be handed in to the directing 
staff by 9 a.m. next morning. 

Sure enough it would be ready, so beautifully typed and legible 
that the officer himself would hardly recognise his own work. 
On one occasion a student who had handed her an essay on Napoleon 
found next morning a somewhat bulky package in his rack. Inside 
was a covering letter from Miss McGlinchy which said, " I enclose 
your essay on Napoleon but as all the other gentlemen have written 
essays about Wellington I enclose one on him too." She had the 
reputation of never letting anyone down. 

With the outbreak of war all our regular officers departed to 
take up staff appointments in the rapidly expanding army and we 
were ordered to organise short war courses for regular and T.A. 
officers. By this time we were used to dealing with the mind of the 
regular soldier; now we were faced with an entirely different 

74 



problem. Most of the officers selected to attend No. I war staff 
course were successful young barristers, businessmen, school- 
masters, dons, and there were five M.P.S including Captain J. S. B. 
Lloyd (better known as the Rt. Hon. Selwyn Lloyd, our Foreign 
Secretary) and a Second Lieutenant D. C. Walker-Smith, afterwards 
Minister of Health. They were a brilliant collection of young men 
and instead of the usual shop to which we had become hardened 
the ante-room now resounded to fierce arguments ranging over 
every possible topic in the world. We thoroughly enjoyed trying 
to teach them the art of war, and it was encouraging to learn that 
they in their turn were quite impressed with our standard and 
method of instruction. 



75 



CHAPTER VI 

DUNKIRK 



MAY 10, 1940, was the turning point in my life; the day my lucky 
break came. At 7 a.m. the telephone rang in my room at Camberley, 
where I was acting as chief instructor at the Staff College, and the 
operator said: " I thought you might like to know, sir, that Hitler 
has invaded Holland." I sat up with a jerk. So the phony war was 
over at last. 

At this time I was a major (brevet It.-colonel), but I had been 
told verbally that I was to go to France in a fortnight's time to take 
command of the 2nd Battalion the Middlesex Regiment as the 
present C.O., Lt.-Colonel Haydon, had been promoted to com- 
mand a brigade. My successor at the Staff College had arrived a 
couple of days previously and I was in the process of handing over 
to him. But this news altered everything. I must get out there as 
quickly as I possibly could. I rang up the commandant, who was 
most understanding, and offered me the loan of his car. 

Within two hours, complete with valise, I was on the road to 
Southampton. In the hurry of departure I had forgotten to bring 
any money, but I managed to borrow two pounds from the A.T.S. 
driver which was repaid faithfully by my wife the next day. The 
trouble was that I had no written orders of any sort. I was working 
entirely on a telephone message received a few days earlier from the 
War Office. Luckily I ran into Brigadier " Bubbles " Barker, who 
was returning to his brigade after a short leave, and he took me 
under his wing. 

Barker was, as usual, very cheerful, and brimming over with 
energy. He didn't look a day older when, in the autumn of 1944, 
we went round my front together just after he had been promoted 
lieutenant-general to command 8 Corps. It was the same Barker. 

76 



full of drive and enthusiasm, who led the final advance of 2ist 
Army Group from the Rhine to the Baltic. 

I spent my first night in France at his headquarters. Though I 
didn't realise it at the time, we were the last boatload to get up to 
the front; all those who came across subsequently were kept in the 
base area and not allowed forward into Belgium. So my luck was 
in by a matter of hours. 

We at the Staff College had of course been studying the plan for 
the B.E.F. and I knew not only that our army was now streaming 
up to Belgium to take up positions on the River Dyle, but also by 
which routes they were moving. So all I had to do was to sit on 
my valise beside the road while the lorries streamed past in an 
endless procession, and wait for a halt. As luck would have it the 
vehicle which pulled up nearest to me was a dental truck, and I 
slipped into a vacant seat in the back. I thought as we drove along 
that commanders: had entered battle in many different ways on 
horseback clad in armour, on foot, later on in cars, tanks or aircraft 
but I was almost certainly the first commander to enter battle in a 
dental truck. 

We drove through the waving, welcoming crowds in Brussels 
and on 1 3th May I took over command of my battalion at Louvain, 
an attractive Belgian university town, where the 3rd Division, 
commanded by General Montgomery, alongside other divisions of 
the B.E.F., was taking up a position to halt the German thrust into 
Belgium. 

I don't think I made a very good first impression on the men of 
the battalion because I roundly abused them for being unshaven. 
I could almost see them saying to themselves " Another of these 
awful spit-and-polish blimps." Nevertheless, I insisted and this is 
not quite so stupid as it sounds. The one thing which is always in 
short supply in battle is sleep, and the refreshing effect of a shave is 
worth at least two hours' sleep. Moreover, if a man keeps himself 
clean he will almost certainly keep his weapons clean, and this is 
vital. In my experience of two wars I have always found that the 
clean soldier fights better than the dirty one, however tough the 
latter may look with his unshaven chin* 

77 



The 2nd Middlesex was a machine-gun battalion and as such 
came directly tinder divisional H.Q. I hadn't been there two hours 
when I was told that the divisional commander, General Mont- 
gomery, was in his car on the road and wanted to see me. Monty 
had obviously come up at once to cast an eye over his new divisional 
machine-gun commander. This was my first meeting with him, 
apart from once in Egypt. I saw a small, alert figure with piercing 
eyes sitting in the back of his car the man under whom I was to 
fight all my battles during the war, and who was to have more 
influence on my life than anyone before or since. 

I knew him well by reputation. He was probably the most 
discussed general in the British Army before the war, and except 
with those who had served under him not a popular figure. 
Regular armies in all countries tend to produce a standard type of 
officer, but Monty, somehow or other, didn't fit into the British 
pattern* His methods of training and command were unorthodox, 
always a deadly crime in military circles. He was known to be 
ruthlessly efficient, but somewhat of a showman. I had been told 
sympathetically that I wouldn't last long under his command, and, 
to be honest, I would rather have served under any other divisional 
commander. 

Anyhow, if my battalion was any example, there could be no 
question about the efficiency of his division the period of the 
phony war had obviously been used for some hard, intensive 
training. I doubt whether this country has ever been represented at 
the outset of a war by a more efficient army than this B.E.F. of 1940. 

It is always an exciting moment when one first meets the enemy. 
This came the next day, on I4th May, when the Germans launched 
an attack which made a slight penetration into our position, but they 
were at once driven out again by a counter-attack. Here I learned 
my first lesson in practical command from Lieutenant-Colonel 
Knox of the Ulster Rifles. Some three or four of his men came 
running back through the town of Louvain towards the rear. 
He stopped them. 

Their position had been heavily shelled and the Germans had 
got round behind them, they said. After a few words from their 

78 



C.O. they turned and started to trot back to the front, looking rather 
ashamed of themselves. " Wait a minute," he said, " let's have a 
cigarette." In spite of some fairly heavy shelling he made them 
finish their smoke. He then said: "Now walk back to your 
positions " and they went. 

The 1 5th saw more German attacks, and another penetration 
but again they were thrown back by counter-attacks, and there 
was no doubt we were solid, on our front. As the divisional machine- 
gun officer I had ready access to divisional headquarters and was 
able to study the operational and intelligence maps. From these I 
used to construct a rough situation map, and as I went round my 
platoons I collected the men together and explained what was 
happening on the whole front. 

This was a practice I tried to keep up through the war. The 
modern soldier is more highly educated, more imaginative and more 
intelligent than his father who fought in 1914-18. He is capable of 
rising to greater heights, but he can also sink to greater depths. 
He will give of his best only if he understands the reason for what 
he is doing. As a rule the front-line soldier has no idea at all about 
what is going on elsewhere, even on the front of another company 
in his own battalion. His view of the war is restricted to the field 
and hedgerow in his immediate foreground. To pierce this fog of 
ignorance requires forethought and much hard work, but it is well 
worth the effort, as I have proved over and over again. 

But the situation on the 3rd Division maps began to look dis- 
quieting. The German panzer divisions had driven a sharp wedge 
through the French forces on our flank in the Ardennes, and every 
time I visited the map the panzer thrust seemed to have pierced 
deeper into the French positions. But I wasn't unduly worried. 
I had been brought up to believe that the French generals were the 
best strategists in Europe, and here was a wonderful opportunity for 
a strong counter-attack by their armoured divisions. There were, 
however, persistent rumours of confusion and indecision in the 
ranks of our allies, and there was no sign of mobile reserves moving 
to the danger spot. 

Then on i6th May, to our disgust, orders were received to with- 

79 



draw fiom our strong position back to the line of the River Seine. 
Though we didn't realise it then, this was the beginning of the 
retreat to Dunkirk, and a withdrawal in face of the enemy is about 
the most difficult military operation. A sycophantic friend once said 
to the famous Von Moltke " You are one of the greatest captains 
of war." He replied " No, because I have never commanded a with- 
drawal, and that is the most difficult military manoeuvre." 

I realise now that we got out just in time. There were several 
occasions during the next fourteen days when most people would 
have laid very long odds against the B.E.F. ever escaping at all. 
The man for whom I felt most sorry was our conmiander-in-chief, 
Lord Gort. The French seemed to have gone to pieces on his right, 
yet he was under their command, and the orders he received didn't 
make sense. At the same time he was responsible to the British 
Government for the safety of the British troops. And then, as a 
final blow, the Belgian Army on his left was forced to capitulate. 

Gort was neither a great strategist nor a deep military thinker. 
He couldn't stand up at a conference and deliver a brilliant military 
appreciation. Even when C.-in-C. he remained essentially a front- 
line regimental officer who was always more interested in the 
details of battle than in the strategical picture. Yet, where a more 
brilliant soldier might have lost his nerve, Gort remained staunch to 
the end, and thus showed the one essential quality required in times 
of adversity by all commanders mental toughness. I have always 
felt that lie never received the credit which was his due. 

But the more I have studied this campaign the clearer it becomes 
that the man who really saved the B.E.F. was our own corps 
commander, Lt.-General A. F. Brooke (now Viscount Alanbrooke). 
I felt vaguely at the time that this alert, seemingly iron, man without 
a nerve in his body, whom I met from time to time at 3rd Division 
headquarters and who gave out his orders in short, clipped sentences, 
was a great soldier, but it is anly now that I realise fully just how 
great he was. We regarded him as a highly efficient military 
machine. It is only since I have read his diaries that I appreciate 
what a consummate actor he must have been. Behind the confident 
mask was the sensitive nature of a man who hated war, the family 

80 



man-cum-bird-watcher, in fact. Yet he never gave us the slightest 
indication of those moments of utter despair when it seemed to him 
almost impossible that any of us would ever escape. 

If you ask anybody what they remember most clearly about the 
retreat to Dunkirk they will all mention two things shame and 
exhaustion. Shame as we went back through those white-faced, 
silent crowds of Belgians, the people who had cheered us and waved 
to us as we came through their country only four days before, 
people who had vivid memories of a previous German occupation 
and whom we were now handing over to yet another. I felt very 
ashamed. We had driven up so jauntily and now, liked whipped 
dogs, we were scurrying back with our tails between our legs. 
But the infuriating part was that we hadn't been whipped. It was 
no fault of ours. All I could do as I passed these groups of miserable 
people was to mutter " Don't worry we will come back." Over 
and over again I said it. And I was one of the last British most of 
them were to see for four long years. 

I have always claimed that I was the last man out of Belgium. 
I had been given command of a small composite force consisting of 
two machine-gun battalions, an anti-tank battery and a carrier 
platoon which acted as a flank guard-cum-rearguard. We arrived 
in the dark on the Escaut Canal to find most of the bridges blown. 
Eventually, however, we discovered one intact. 

On the far side was a British general in a greatcoat. I still don't 
know who he was. As I crossed he called out, " Any more of our 
troops on the far side? " I said " No, I can guarantee there are 
none." " Right ! " he said, and the next thing I knew was an ear- 
splitting roar as the last bridge over the Escaut went up. 

There is no point in describing the retreat in detail. We usually 
moved by night and held positions on canals or rivers by day, where 
we might or might not be attacked by the German advance guards. 
But a high standard of training stood us in very good stead; units 
were so quick into and out of action. 

Though generals like Brooke and Montgomery were no doubt 
achieving miracles at their level, in the long run it was the discipline 
and toughness of the regimental officers and men which pulled us 

81 



through. Retreats are always nightmares of confusion, and this was 
no exception. The roads were packed with refugees, many of them 
old people and children trudging hopelessly along with all their 
pathetic bits and pieces piled high on hand-carts or even prams, 
their eyes constantly scanning the skies for the German bombers 
which seemed to be perpetually overhead. Mixed up with them 
were despondent-looking columns of French and Belgian troops 
with their inevitable horse transport, all moving in one direction 
to the rear. 

And always the rumours which eat into all armies in retreat like 
some deadly virus; the panzers were here, there and everywhere; 
such-and-such a formation had been wiped out, and so on. It would 
hardly have been surprising if, under these depressing circumstances, 
the morale of our troops had sunk to zero, and indiscipline had 
crept in. Not a bit of it. 

Through it all our men marched seemingly indifferent to the 
chaos around them. I know this will sound most insular, but time 
after time I thanked my stars that they were British troops, in whom 
disaster brings out all that is best in our national character. In spite 
of the desperate situation there was no chaos. It was a well-ordered 
retreat, and, as always when things are really unpleasant, the British 
sense of humour was much to the fore. When I asked one of my 
company commanders who had just had a sharp brush with the 
enemy how he was getting on he replied: " Don't look round, sir, 
I think we're being followed," 

It is this unquenchable sense of humour which makes the 
Britisher such a good soldier. Other nations produce men who are 
as brave, or who are better disciplined, but none with a keener 
sense of humour, which is of inestimable value when things are 
going wrong. 

The chief menace was not the Germans but sheer exhaustion. 
After two days and two nights without sleep I find it very difficult 
to think straight, and I develop a burning feeling behind my eyes. 
The way I solved the problem was by making my intelligence 
officer, Gordon, into a sort of A.D.C. who slept whenever possible 
by day, and did all the map-reading when we moved by night. 

82 



I got into the car and went straight to sleep, and he woke me when 
we arrived at our destination. This lack of sleep affected everybody, 
high and low, with one exception General Montgomery. During 
the whole of the withdrawal he insisted on having meals at regular 
hours and never missed his normal night's sleep. Consequently when 
we arrived at Dunkirk he was as fresh as when he started. 

And he was about the only one who was. 

There were many crises during the retreat, but the most critical 
came on the night of 27th-28th May. I happened to be at jrd 
Division headquarters when the corps commander, General Brooke, 
called to see Montgomery. The situation he disclosed could hardly 
have been worse. The 5th Division, commanded by General 
Franklyn, was being heavily attacked and had not yet established 
contact with the soth Division on its left. If the 5th Division gave 
way then the whole front would crumble, and General Brooke 
proposed to reinforce it with everything he could lay his hands 
on. 

But there was worse to come. On the extreme left, beyond 
5Oth division, was a wide gap into which the Germans were likely 
to pour at any moment. The Belgians who should have been there 
had ceased to exist as a fighting force. The whole Belgian Army 
surrendered at midnight. Beyond the gap was the French 2nd Light 
Mechanised Division which had been placed under General Brooke's 
command. 

To fill this gap, and to join up with the French, Monty's 3rd 
Division was ordered that night to carry out one of the most difficult 
manoeuvres in war withdraw from the line, embus and move to the 
north along small roads only a few thousand yards in the rear of the 
5th Division front which might break at any moment under German 
pressure. We machine-gunners were luckier than the rest because 
we moved off just before dark in order to hold the gap until the 
remainder of the division arrived. Luckily we were not attacked, 
for machine-guns are not much good on their own at night. I have 
never felt more naked in my life. 

This would have been a difficult move at any time, but owing 
to the congestion on the roads it looked well-nigh impossible. Yet 

83 



Monty took it all in Ms stride. His orders were clear and concise 
and lie seemed completely confident. 

" Of course the 3rd Division will get there." 

And they did. General Brooke must have sighed with relief 
next morning, for the gap was closed. 

Early next morning I was with a party of sappers who were 
preparing a bridge for demolition, and with them was a Belgian 
soldier working with a will. Suddenly we heard the news. The 
whole Belgian Army had surrendered. The Belgian soldier might 
have been pole-axed. With a stricken look on his face he put on his 
equipment, saluted, and walked away towards the German front, 
saying, " Je ne suispas lache, moi comme les autres." It was a dramatic 
Etde scene which has remained in my memory ever since. The 
solitary figure of the Belgian soldier disappearing towards the 
enemy seemed to accentuate the shame of his country in defeat. 

The trouble was that Belgium tried to mobilise too many 
soldiers too quickly with inadequate mobilisation arrangements. 
Given rime this might have worked, but the Germans moved so fast 
that the whole country became flooded with bewildered conscripts 
who were an embarrassment rather than an asset. But some of the 
Belgians fought well. On one occasion I was alongside a Belgian 
division composed mainly of tough little chasseurs from the 
Ardennes, who seemed to be giving a good account of themselves. 

On 2pth May, after a fortnight's ceaseless activity, we got back 
behind the Furnes-Nieuport Canal which was the last-ditch position 
to protect the evacuation from Dunkirk. This, of course, had been 
going on for several days and a number of administrative units had 
already gone. Many people have assumed that it was largely due to 
luck and improvisation that the B.E.F. escaped from Dunkirk. 
Quite the contrary it was due to foresight and planning on the 
part of two men, Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Flag Officer 
Dover, who planned the naval side (called Operation Dynamo) and 
General Sir Ronald Adam, who organised the Dunkirk beach-head. 

It was impossible to evacuate our heavy weapons and transport, 
so as soon as we got inside the bridgehead we were ordered to 
immobilise our vehicles and move in on foot. The drivers hated 

84 



doing this because in war each driver develops a feeling of affection 
for his own lorry or truck. It was a horrible sight thousands of 
abandoned vehicles, carriers, guns and pieces of military equipment 
of all sorts. It was a graveyard of gear. 

We took up our position near Fumes, This was the last time 
that I was to command a battalion; for next day I was summoned 
to 3rd Div. H.Q. As I approached I saw two figures standing on the 
sand-dunes. I recognised our corps commander, General Brooke, 
and my divisional commander, General Montgomery. The former 
was under a considerable emotional strain. His shoulders were 
bowed and it looked as though he were weeping. Monty was 
patting him on the back. They thai shook hands and General 
Brooke walked slowly to his car and drove away. 

I remained a silent and interested spectator of this astonishing 
scene. Monty beckoned me over and said, " General Brooke has 
just received orders to hand over the 2nd corps to me and go back 
to England." It was part of a plan to get back into the country a 
nucleus of experienced officers and warrant officers who would be 
available to command and train new armies if the main fighting 
part of the B.E.F. failed to escape, as seemed very likely at that time. 
Even at battalion level this had happened. I had already dispatched 
two officers and N.C.O.s to the United Kingdom. 

General Brooke hated to go. No one likes leaving his command 
under these circumstances; that is why he looked so depressed and 
miserable. But the orders were very strongly worded for this very 
reason, and there was no alternative. 

I was sent off at once to find the nth brigade of the 4th Division, 
which was somewhere on the left flank. My instructions were to 
tell the brigade commander, Anderson (afterwards commander of 
the ist Army in North Africa) that he had been selected to command 
the 3rd Division and I was to take over his brigade. 

My period as battalion commander had lasted precisely seventeen 
days, and for almost the entire time we had been in action against 
the enemy; never once had I seen the whole battalion concentrated. 
I must pay a sincere tribute to the C.O. who had preceded me, 
Bill Hay don, who was subsequently killed when in command of a 

85 



brigade of the 50th Division in the desert. He had trained the 
battalion so well that my task was comparatively easy. Even at the 
end there was no dent visible in either the morale or the sense of 
humour of our Cockneys. 

A divisional machine-gun officer is a general dogVbody who 
gets all sorts of jobs thrust on his shoulders* I was detailed to carry- 
out reconnaissances, act as commander of flank guards, rearguards, 
and often had to slip off with my battalion to build up the defensive 
framework of the next position before the arrival of the division. 

Orders for all these tasks were given me by Monty himself so I 
was in a unique position to watch him at work during this testing 
period. It was a remarkable performance. I remember once sitting 
packed into a room lit by only a few candles, and with a most 
inadequate map at my disposal during the final stages of the 
withdrawal the supply of maps, down to battalion level, at any rate, 
completely failed, and at one stage I had to rely on a fly-blown 
railway map which I had removed from the wall of a small wayside 
station. 

Monty was about to issue orders, and I wondered desperately 
how on earth I could possibly grasp the complicated role which had 
been allotted to my battalion. I needn't have worried* With the 
minimum of words he made the whole plan clear to us all. And 
this, of course, is one of his greatest attributes his capacity to 
reduce the most complicated situation to its simple, basic essentials. 
I saw him every day, sometimes several times a day, and he was 
always the same; confident, almost cocky you might say, cheerful 
and apparently quite fresh. He was convinced that he was the best 
divisional commander in the British Army and that we were the 
best division. By the time we had reached Dunkirk I had come to 
the same conclusion ! 

I eventually discovered Brigadier Anderson eating bully-beef 
in a small room in La Panne. He indicated the positions of his three 
battalions, the 5th Northamptons, ist East Surreys and 2nd Lanca- 
shire Fusiliers, all in action on the left flank, and then departed. 
I doubt whether any brigade cbmmander has ever made less impact 
on his brigade than I did on the nth. I managed to find their 

86 



battalion H.Q.s and to visit one or two of their companies that was 
all. For next day we were ordered to withdraw to the beach at 
La Panne from which the whole 4th Division was to embark and 
sail for the United Kingdom. 

I established a control point at Coxyde, and to start with it all 
seemed to be going according to plan. The different units passed 
through steadily on their way down to the beach. Unfortunately 
we had to thin out gradually; platoons and companies at a time. 
So no battalion came through my control point complete. 

This could not be helped, but it caused confusion later on. Once 
the troops got on to the beach they came under the orders of an 
embarkation staff, whose job it was to get them on to the ships and 
away. By ten o'clock my last unit had passed through, so I decided 
to follow them down to La Panne, where the 4th Division H.Q. was 
established. The town itself was being steadily shelled and occasion- 
ally bombed, and some houses were on fire. 

I expected that most of the troops would by now be on their 
way to England. I was horrified when I found the beach covered 
with men. As far as I could see no one had been evacuated at all. 
Ramps had been constructed out to sea from the shore, but the tide 
was right out and no boats, not even rowing boats, could get any- 
where near the ramps. I could see in the distance some ships, but 
they were a long way out. 

At a rough guess I would say that there were some 6,000 troops 
spread along that beach. Luckily the sand seemed to absorb the 
splinters of the enemy shells, and the casualties were not as high as 
might have been expected. But it was a pretty desperate situation. 

General Johnson, V.C., the commander of the 4th Division, 
seemed to think so too, for when I entered the room in which he 
had his temporary H.Q. he was standing with a telephone in his 
hand, and to my amazement he was speaking to someone at the 
War Office in London. I heard him explain that none of his division 
had been able to get away. He then said: " And this is not a very- 
healthy place." He held up the receiver, and as luck would have it 
just at that moment a shell burst on the roof of the house with a 
resounding crash. 

8? 



" I am now moving my division to Dunkirk," he said, " and you 
will arrange for their evacuation from there to-morrow morning." 
I felt very sorry for the staff officer in the War Office who had been 
at the receiving end of this conversation. It must have been frightful 
to sit there and not be able to do anything to help. What could he do, 
poor devil? 

Anyhow, Johnson dispatched us to get the troops moving on the 
ten-mile march along the beach to Dunkirk. My job was to rout 
soldiers out of the cellars. By the time I had done this the beach 
was comparatively clear, so I set off at the tail of the column along 
the coast towards Dunkirk, As we came round the headland I had 
my first view of the little ships small rowing-boats and motor- 
boats suddenly appeared out of the dark in- the shallow water some 
fifty yards out. The trouble was that crowds of troops were wading 
out towards these, and in their eagerness to get 011 board many of 
the boats were overturned. This was the only sign of indiscipline I 
saw during the evacuation, and it was due to the fact that units were 
mixed up and men were separated from their officers and N.C.O.s. 

The troops were, however, as always, perfectly amenable to 
reason. I arranged with one of my officers to stand on the beach 
while I waded in. When I flashed my torch shorewards he sent out 
twenty men to me at a time. Meanwhile I kept my torch flashing 
out to sea as well, and arranged for the boats to come to me. I could 
then ensure that the men got into the boats carefully, so that none 
was upset; and in this manner we got rid of quite a lot of troops. 

Unfortunately, although the sea was warm, after standing for 
some time with the water up to my chest I suddenly got cramp and 
was forced to retire to dry land, which by then was once more 
packed with troops. That was the trouble. However many troops 
were got away it seemed to make no difference to the numbers 
packed on the beach. 

So I walked back towards La Panne calling out rather forlornly 
"Anyone belong to the nth Brigade?" But no one replied. 
It seemed that the whole of the 4th Division had passed on its way to 
Dunkirk. So I set off to follow them, a very wet, very tired, and 
very temporary brigadier with no staff and no troops. 



As dawn broke the beaches presented a fearsome sight; thousands 
and thousands of troops, like an immense, khaki-clad, football 
crowd, straggling along towards Dunkirk. German aircraft soon 
arrived overhead, greeted by a fosilade of rifle shots which couldn't 
do them any harm, but no doubt helped morale. Then we saw our 
own R.A.F. streaking in from the sea. What a cheering sight. 
If it hadn't been for them I doubt very much whether many of us 
would have got away. The Army was in a real mess, and our sister 
services, the Royal Navy and R.A.F., were doing their utmost to 
get us out of it. 

As I gazed at these masses of British troops armed only with 
rifles I was consumed with one great fear those German panzer 
divisions. There was nothing to stop them. If the ugly snouts of 
the German tanks had appeared on the dunes overlooking the beach 
the slaughter would have been frightful, but luckily for us they 
never came. It was a miraculous escape, which has often been 
attributed to a stupid intervention by Hitler, who halted his tanks 
and thus enabled the B.E.F. to escape. This was a vital turning point 
in the war, and it is of such historical importance that I have taken 
considerable trouble to find out what happened. 

The original order to halt the tanks had nothing to do with 
Hitler at all. This is one mistake for which the German generals 
cannot blame the Fuehrer. The German armoured divisions were, 
in fact, halted on_^A_M^ by Y^i_Run^edt, the German 
armoured commander, and he did this for three reasons. 

First, the German tanks had been streaming through France for 
over a fortnight and were scattered all over the place. He wanted to 

9 as they would shortly be needed 



the Germans were about to launch 
against the many French divisions in the south. 

Secondly, he considered that the armoured divisions had done 
thek job. They had cut through to the coast and isolated the 
British Expeditionary Force from the ist French Army. The 
country which lav in front was enclosed and intersected with water- 

/ J w.s^^,,^,,*- fc.^ .^aJ-a 

ways,^ unsuitable for armoured action. It was now the turn 
of the German infantry to clean up the remainder of the British 

89 



Expeditionary Force which couldn't possibly, he thought, get 
away. 

Thirdly, he received information that the British were sending 
troops from England to Calais and Boulogne, and that divisions 
belonging to the B.E.F. were moving down towards the south. 
There were also indications that the French were moving up fresh 
divisions from the south. He therefore expected to be counter- 
attacked very soon and wanted to have his tanks intact as a mobile 
reserve. All these were sound military reasons. 

Hitler, who arrived at his headquarters eighteen hours afterwards, 
agreed with the action taken by Von Rundstedt and added an 
additional reason of his own, that if the armour closed in on the 
British too much it would handicap the Luftwaffe. So Hitler 
authorised the issue of a new order confirming Rundstedt's original 
halt, and he added that no further armoured advance was to be 
made without Rundstedt's decision. 

Dunkirk has been described as a miracle, and so it was. Through- 
out the evacuation the sea remained as calm as a mill pond. This was 
clearly Divine Providence. But the evacuation was also a miracle of 
foresight, planning and discipline by all three services, and our 
French allies, who held part of the perimeter to the end. By 4th 
June, 338,226 men had been evacuated, in as fine a piece of combined 
planning and initiative as this country has ever produced. There 
was no panic and surprisingly little chaos. 

But let me return to the lonely, wet brigadier trudging along the 
beach; because my final experiences were typical of what happened 
to thousands of others. I arrived in Dunkirk to the most appalling 
din from naval and army anti-aircraft guns which I have ever heard. 
I was too tired even to bother to look up, and I noticed that no one 
else did either. We were marshalled along a jetty by a lieutenant- 
commander who obviously hadn't slept for about three nights 
either. Then came the unbelievable comfort of the ward-room of a 
destroyer, with some hot rum and milk. 

But fate hadn't finished with us yet. There was a sickening 
crash. We had been bombed. The ship stopped and began to heel 
over on one side. We scrambled out on to the sloping deck to see 

90 



two other craft manoeuvring into position on either side of us. 
I climbed on board one of these, a small Dutch cargo boat which 
appeared to be under the command of a cheerful young naval 
lieutenant. It was already bulging with troops, but they made room 
for a few more. 

" Can anyone fire an anti-aircraft Lewis gun? " came a bellow 
from the bridge. So I manned the forward gun. I can say quite 
honestly that this was the only part of the withdrawal which I 
enjoyed. We were being continuously attacked by German 
bombers, and I fired many, many magazines without any visible 
effect on the enemy aircraft. But the great thing was I had no 
responsibility; this had passed to the naval lieutenant on the bridge, 
and all I had to do was to keep the gun firing. It was a wonderful 
relief. 

All the same I wasn't looking forward to our arrival in England. 
We couldn't be said to have covered ourselves with glory in our 
first encounter with the Germans. So, I was astonished to see the 
waving, cheering crowds welcoming us home at Ramsgate. We 
might have been the heroes of some great victory instead of a beaten 
army returning home, having lost most of its equipment. 

I could see the troops perking up all round me. In some 
mysterious way the letters B.E.F. began to appear in chalk on the 
front of the steel helmets. I couldn't help smiling. Even in moments 
of disaster the British soldier always has an eye to the main chance! 
Tired and still wet, I was shown to a train which I was told was going 
to Reading. This would 'suit me well, as my wife and daughter were 
still at Camberley. So with a comfortable feeling that my brigade 
was also in trains somewhere in the United Kingdom I dropped off 
to sleep. 

The next thing I knew was a figure in khaki shaking me 
vigorously. " Sorry, sir," he said, " but you've all got to get out 
here." 

" Are we in Reading? " I asked. 

" Reading? " he repeated in astonishment, " No, Darlington/' 
I was whisked off to a nearby camp, and while the adjutant rang up 
the War Office to find out where I was to report, I enjoyed my first 

91 



hot bath since leaving England. He arrived very shortly with the 
news that I was to go at once to Lyme Regis. So I set off again. 
At this time the whole of England was covered with troops making 
similar journeys, and the War Office must have had a difficult time 
sorting us all out. 

When I arrived there next day I found Lyme Regis looking its 
very best It was a beautiful summer evening and happy family 
groups were wending their way up the hill from the beach. There 
wasn't a soldier in sight and there could have been no greater 
contrast to the Dunkirk beaches. As I was still very tired and 
extremely hungry I decided to spend the night peacefully, and start 
trying to sort things out next morning. So having booked a room 
in the Victoria Hotel I went straight into the dining-room. When I 
started ordering a gargantuan meal the manager suggested that I 
should leave the choice of menu to him. He produced a wonderful 
dinner complete with a bottle of champagne but as dish followed 
dish my uneasiness increased as it was obviously going to be 
extremely expensive. 

But when I asked for my bill, the manager said: " We should 
like you to have your first proper meal back in England as our 
guest." I was very touched, and as I found out afterwards it was 
typical of what was going on all over the country. 

The following morning I was told that all the promotions made 
during these kst days at Dunkirk were cancelled. Monty was back 
with the 3rd Division, Anderson was returning to the nth Brigade 
and I was to go back to my battalion once more. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE UNITED KINGDOM 1940-42 

ON THE I7th June, 1940, I was ordered to take command of the 
9th Brigade in the 3rd Division. This was wonderful news. I was 
back in the fold with Monty again, and the 3rd Division was being 
re-equipped before any other formation in the U.K. in order to 
return to France at once. I couldn't have wished for a better brigade. 
The 9th was called " The International Brigade ** because it con- 
sisted of the Lincolns, K.O.S.B. and the Royal Ulster Rifles; 
English, Scots and Irish. Luckily for us we did not return to 
France. 

My first task was to defend the south coast of England from 
Rottingdean to Shoreham one brigade of some 3,000 men was 
stretched in a thin line along ten miles of densely-populated coast- 
line. We wouldn't have stood much chance against a well-organised 
invasion, but even so this was probably one of the most strongly 
defended parts of Britain, because we were a well-trained and 
experienced regular division, complete with war equipment. 
Fortunately, few people in this country realised quite how thin was 
the shield protecting them from Hitler's victorious armies which 
were now just across the Channel. 

There was a curious atmosphere along the south coast. Everyone 
seemed to expect an invasion at any moment, but nobody was doing 
very much about it, and there was still an atmosphere of the peace- 
time hoHday resort about Brighton. We took over our responsibili- 
ties from a nondescript force which had been collected from the 
highways and byways, with very little equipment. I was never 
quite so worried about the prospects of an invasion as were some 
people, because having studied combined operations at the Staff 
College I knew that, owing to the immense amount of detailed 

93 



organisation required for an operation of this sort it could not 
possibly be laid on in a hurry, particularly by the Germans, who were 
not really a sea-faring nation. 

We, as a maritime power with territories all over the world, 
have had considerable experience in landing troops from the sea; 
the Germans have not. Nevertheless, given time there was little 
doubt that they could eventually stage a large-scale invasion of 
Britain, so our defence had to be organised with the utmost care to 
make up for our lack of numbers. 

It proved a very difficult problem because an enormous town like 
Brighton is laid out primarily to provide holidays by the sea, not as 
a fortress from which to repel an invasion. 

Monty used to pay constant visits. " Who lives in that house ? " 
he would say pointing to some building which partly masked the 
fire from one of our machine-gun positions. " Have them out, 
Horrocks. Blow up the house. Defence must come first." 

He was, of course, absolutely correct, but it was not always so 
simple as it sounded. My predecessor had, somewhat unwisely, 
positioned troops on the two piers without first of all allowing the 
civilian firms responsible for the entertainment booths to remove 
their possessions. I have never seen anything like the chaos which 
confronted me on my first visit; dolls and mementos were strewn 
all over the place, the slot machines of the " What the butler saw " 
type had all been broken open and the contents removed. We were 
in for trouble and we got it. Some months afterwards I received a 
bill for many thousands of pounds, which I hastily passed on to 
divisional headquarters. 

One day Lieut.-Colonel Selby Lowndes, my local gunner 
commander, said to me in disgust, " I never thought I should live to 
see the day when I occupied a battery position outside the Metropole 
on the front at Brighton." 

It was here that I first met the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston 
Churchill. He came down to have a look at our defences and watch 
the Royal Ulster Rifles carry out a small exercise. Though no one 
knew of his visit, he was quickly spotted and a large and enthusiastic 
crowd soon gathered. The complete confidence shown in him was 

94 



most touching, and rather frightening to us who knew that, to all 
intents and purposes, the military cupboard was bare. During one 
of these spontaneous demonstrations of affection I found myself 
standing at the back beside Mrs. Churchill. There were tears in her 
eyes, and I heard her murmur, ec Pray God we don't let them 
down." 

It was important that the troops, who spent long hours putting 
up barbed-wire entanglements, constructing defensive positions and 
preparing demolitions, should not become static minded, so I 
insisted on as much mobile training being carried out as possible. 
Our defensive positions, however, had to be manned every 
night. 

The most vital observation posts were at the end of the two piers 
from where the first warning of a sea-borne invasion would almost 
certainly come. They were occupied each night by some signallers 
under command of one experienced, reliable officer, whose orders 
were to communicate direct to his battalion and to my brigade 
headquarters both by wireless and line, as soon as he saw the invading 
craft, but only when he actually saw them with his own eyes. He was 
also to fire a white signal rocket. 

As more and more information came in about the German 
preparations on the other side of the Channel, which included the 
collection of barges suitable for invasion, I decided that no chances 
could be taken. My small brigade operations room was manned 
throughout the twenty-four hours and I slept in the room next door. 
One night just as I was going to bed my brigade-major, Charles, 
dashed in to say that a white rocket had gone up from the end of the 
pier. " Shall I send the code word, sir ? " This would alert the 
brigade group and start a chain of operations. It was a bad moment 
because I had never really thought that the invasion would come. 
Yet here it was. But was it? I wondered. Surely there must be 
some mistake. 

" Hold hard," I told Charles, " check up with the other observa- 
tion posts ! And why have we had no message ? " It was lucky that 
these second thoughts prevailed because there was no invasion at all. 
We discovered afterwards that a ship exactly in line with the end o 

95 



the pier had fired a white rocket which to our observers on shore 
had looked as though it was coming from one of the vital observa- 
tion posts. 

It was now decided that as the 3rd Infantry division was the most 
powerful formation in the country it should be pulled back into 
reserve with a counter-attack role. This involved several moves for 
the 9th brigade to Gloucester, Dorset and Somerset. 

Our first night in Gloucestershire produced a battle of a very 
different sort. The brigade was billeted round Cirencester which up 
to now had been an R.A.F. leave centre as there were many air- 
fields in the vicinity. Unfortunately our troops were convinced that 
the R.A.F. had let them down during the retreat to Dunkirk and 
subsequent evacuation. At this stage of the war unless the soldier 
actually saw our planes over his head he would not believe that they 
were operating at all. Do what we could it seemed impossible to 
explain to him that the R.A.E was fighting most gallantly against 
heavy odds many miles away, and well out of sight. It was particu- 
larly irritating because without the R.A.F. we should never have 
got back from France at all. 

Anyhow that was the feeling, and on that first night a battle 
royal between khaki and air force blue took place in Cirencester. 
It was entirely our fault and I spent much of the next day apologising 
to high level R.A.F. commanders who were justly indignant at the 
rough manhandling their men had suffered. 

Much of our training took place with the Home Guard, particu- 
larly while we were in the Beaminster area of Dorset. The more I 
saw of - ...ie Home Guard the more I came to respect their keenness. 
Their greatest asset was local knowledge and operating against them 
on exercises was like hitting a cushion; we could make a dent but 
they always bobbed up somewhere else. It was embarrassing at the 
conferences which were held after each scheme to find myself 
addressing rows of be-medalled figures who had held high rank in 
the last war and were now N.C.O.s or privates in the Home Guard. 
Quite apart from the military value there is no doubt that service in 
the Home Guard was good for the morale of the country. Men, 
and women too, who could not be spared from their civilian occupa- 

96 



tions felt that they were playing a part in the defence of their 
country. 

I enjoyed my time with the 9th Brigade but all things come to an 
oid and in January, 1941, I was sent to be brigadier-general staff, 
Eastern Command, where I remained for the next five months, 
engaged mainly in organising large-scale training exercises. It was 
interesting work but I was delighted when on the 25th of June I was 
made an acting major-general and ordered to take over command 
of the 44th (Home Counties) Division, because I much prefer being 
a commander to a staff officer. 

The 44th was an old-established Territorial division whose three 
brigades came from Surrey (The Queens isist Bde.), Kent (The 
Buffs, and West Kents I32nd Bde.) and Sussex (issrd Bde.) and 
it occupied the south-eastern corner of England. I found myself, 
therefore, responsible for what was then regarded as the No, I 
German invasion area, stretching from the Isle of Thanet to Dover 
and on to Folkestone. 

Invasion or not, it was certainly the most exciting part of England 
at that time. We had a grandstand view not only of the Battle of 
Britain, with its dog-fights over our heads, but also of the nightly 
naval war that went on in the Channel. This was directed by 
Admiral Ramsay from his operational H.Q. at Dover and whenever 
possible I used to slip down in the evening and listen in to these 
exciting high-speed operations fought out by the small ships of both 
sides* My pleasant host was to play a momentous part in subsequent 
combined operations, notably during the Sicily and Normandy 
landings. Bertie Ramsay was a true friend to the army and when 
he died on 2nd January, 1945, we all felt his loss deeply. It was a 
tragedy that he did not live to see the successful conclusion of the 
war to which he had contributed so much. 

A division is probably the best command in the British Army 
because it is a tactical unit complete with its own gunners, sappers, 
supply and medical services, and as I was once more back in the 
Monty sphere of influence, the next few months were hectic and 
intensely interesting. 

I had previously experienced Montgomery's training methods 

97 



when I had been a brigadier in his 3rd Division just after our return 
from Dunkirk, but even so I was unprepared for his astonishing 
activity as the G.O.C.-in~C, South Eastern Command. It was as 
though atomic bombs were exploding all over this rural corner of 
Britain. Before his arrival a distinctly peace-time atmosphere had 
prevailed; officers and warrant-officers were in many cases living 
with their families and, according to Monty, commanders and staff 
were spending too much time in their offices to the detriment of 
active training. 

All this changed almost overnight, and the first bomb exploded 
among the wives and families, who were summarily packed off, 
out of the command. Monty argued that in war a soldier could not 
concentrate on his military training if half his mind was concerned 
with domestic problems, and if an invasion materialised he would be 
worrying about the safety of his family instead of getting on with 
his job as a soldier. Every conceivable effort was made to circumvent 
this order and the wives clung on like limpets. Monty, however, 
was quite ruthless, and I have even seen him send an officer on a 
motor-bicycle to intercept and interrogate some female who looked 
as though she might have a military connection. 

Out they went, one and all, and this gave rise to many amusing 
incidents. There was one young officer in Monty's own H.Q. who 
explained to the landlady where he was billeted that his wife was 
coming to visit him for the week-end, but in view of Monty's orders 
she must be called Miss Smith. The landlady was all sympathy and 
agreed at once. The week-end proved an unqualified success. 
And the visitor really was Miss Smith after all. 

The second explosion might be called the cross-country bomb. 

" Too many officers spend too much time in their offices and are 
becoming fat and almost permanently chair-borne. No good for 
war," Monty said. " Every officer in the command must carry out 
two cross-country runs weekly, irrespective of age or rank." His 
senior medical officer protested against this no-exception rule and 
mentioned a senior administrative staff officer. "Colonel X must not 
run, sir. If he runs he will probably die/' 

Monty replied, " Let him die. Much better to die now rather 

98 



than in the midst of battle when it might be awkward to find a 
replacement. 5 * Colonel X did run and Colonel X didn't die. 

There were constant training exercises of every sort and by now 
Monty had perfected his famous conference technique, when the 
lessons learned during the exercise were rammed home to all 
concerned. It was a superbly staged performance. All the officers, 
and, if there was room, warrant-officers as weE, were concentrated 
in some immense cinema. On the stage were large maps and 
diagrams, while the walls were covered with " No smoking " 
notices. Suddenly the audience would be called to attention, as 
the well-known figure of the army commander wearing batde- 
dress advanced to the centre of the stage. 

** Sit down, gentlemen," he would say in a sharp, nasal voice. 
" Thirty seconds for coughing then no more coughing at all/* 
And the curious thing was that we didn't cough. 

Then, perhaps for as long as two hours, he would keep us spell- 
bound as he described all the salient points of the exercise. I have 
held many similar conferences myself and have always tried to follow 
the Monty technique, though I have never had the face to insist on 
that no coughing rule, as I could never hope to acquire Monty's 
power of mass hypnosis. 

Army commanders with many thousands of troops under their 
command tend to become remote God-like characters whom few 
know even by sight, yet in some extraordinary way Monty's 
influence permeated all strata of S.-E. Command, and his knowledge 
of the personalities under his command was uncanny. Often he 
would ring me up in the evening and make the most searching 
inquiries about some young second-lieutenant whom he had noticed 
on training. He would certainly have made a first-class talent spotter 
for any football club. The only way I could deal with these inquiries 
was to have a book containing details of every officer in the division 
handy beside the telephone. I showed it to Monty during one of his 
inspections and he was much amused. 

I always reckon that I learned most of my practical soldiering 
first of all as a brigade-major at Aldershot under Wavell and 
secondly during the nine months which I spent in south-east England 

99 



under Monty, I had toped to go overseas with the 44th (Home 
Counties) Division but it was decided otherwise, and on the 2oth 
March, 1942, 1 was ordered to take command of the 9th Armoured 
Division then in the Northampton area with H.Q. at Guilsborough. 
I hated having to leave this division, which I had been training 
for nine months, though it was some consolation to know that I was 
to be succeeded by Ivor Hughes, a ** Queensman " himself, who had 
been commanding the isist Queen's Brigade. He was the perfect 
choice, and he would, I knew, be very popular. 

Hughes had been an outstanding staff officer, acting as brigade- 
major of the Dover Brigade, but in 1935 he decided to retire from 
the army and accompany his brigadier, Sir Charles Howard, to the 
House of Commons, where they became Serjeant and deputy 
Serjeant-at-Anns respectively. As he ended the war a Major-General, 
C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., and is now a most successful Serjeant- 
at-Arms himself, he has had a remarkable career in two widely 
different spheres of activity. 

It didn't take me long to realise how fortunate I was to have 
been given command of this particular division. It was composed 
of first-class cavalry regiments such as the 1 5th/ 1 9th Hussars, 5th 
Dragoon Guards (Skins), 4th/yth Dragoon Guards, the I3th/i8th 
Hussars blended with the East Riding and Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. 

For the rest of the war I always had yeomanry regiments under 
my command. In spite of mechanisation they have retained that 
independent, self-reliant outlook which was the hall-mark of their 
ancestors, the yeoman farmers of this country. They were largely 
composed of young men with a gleam in their eyes, who took 
to mobile armoured warfare as ducks take to water. I liked and 
admired them very much. I am indebted to a yeomanry regiment 
for my most precious souvenir of the last war. One day long after 
it was over I received by post a beautifully-bound book from the 
Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry claiming that they had fought more 
battles under my command than any other armoured regiment, and 
inside on vellum were inscribed the signatures not only of the officers 
but of some 500 warrant-officers, N.C.O.S and men as well. An 
immense amount of trouble must have been taken to produce this 

100 



book, which now occupies a special position of honour in my study. 

A couple of years back I was lunching in a famous Oxford 
restaurant, and as we were being shown to our table by the dapper, 
suave head-waiter I noticed that he was wearing some miniature 
medals, including the D.C.M. He seemed such a smooth young 
man that I could hardly believe my eyes, so in a somewhat doubting 
voice I asked him where he had won it. 

With a broad smile he replied: " You ought to know, sir, be- 
cause I got it while fighting in your corps." It turned out that he had 
served in the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, as a tank commander, 
the whole way from Alamein to Luneburg Heath. Moreover ten 
tanks had been " brewed up " burned out under him. Under- 
neath that smart tail-coat he must have been a man of iron to have 
survived with his nerve unimpaired* ** It only goes to show " as 
the troops say, that neither a man's appearance nor his civilian 
occupation are any indication how he will react to moments of great 
danger on the battlefield. 

My predecessor in command of the 9th Armoured Division, 
General (Brocas) Burrows had insisted on the most meticulous basic 
training for all ranks. The gunners, signallers, drivers and technical 
experts, who comprise such a large part of an armoured formation, 
were all highly trained. The framework had been well constructed, 
and all I had to do now was to weld the different component parts 
into a fighting formation, 

I came to the conclusion that they had been too long in 
Northamptonshire. The wives and families had of course arrived 
and they were all living too soft. So I moved the division to the 
Newmarket area where many of the units lived under canvas in 
winter and, most important of all, good training areas for tracked 
vehicles were available. I worked them very hard indeed; exercise 
after exercise, and the harder they worked the more they seemed to 
enjoy it. I think by now they had come to accept me as a necessary 
evil, even though I originated in a lower stratum of life the 
infantry. 

During this period I also learned a great deal myself about the 
control of armour in mobile warfare where all orders are given by 

101 



wireless from a command tank, and this was to stand me in good 
stead later on. 

When in the field all messing was done on a tank basis. Officers* 
and sergeants' messes and O.R.s' cook-houses disappeared. My own 
particular mess in the field consisted of the driver, operator-gunner, 
tank commander and myself. There was nothing unusual about 
this; it was the normal practice during operations in the Middle 
East, but it surprised the Press who, during one exercise, descended 
on my tank complete with camera men. I was highly embarrassed 
the following day to find large photographs in the daily papers 
bearing the caption " A new type of general has appeared." This 
took a lot of living down during the next few weeks. 

I have always been a great believer in working hard, and then 
playing hard, so when the time came for the war-time Derby to 
be run at Newmarket, I gave the whole division four days' leave, 
and added that I hoped they would all go to the Derby as I would be 
there myself. I was careful to add no government petrol must be 
used to get there. Almost the whole division turned up, and the 
most assiduous questioning by a young reporter who was out for a 
lovely story failed to elicit one single scandal. They woiild probably 
have got there in any case. How much better, therefore, that they 
should do so with a clear conscience. 

Suddenly orders were received that we were to move to the 
Northumberknd/Durham area. The long drive up went very 
smoothly, and it seemed that the division was rapidly becoming fit 
for active operations. 

If you were to ask any W.O., N.C.CX or man in the pth 
Armoured Division to name the pleasantest billets which he occupied 
during the war he would unquestionably mention some small 
northern mining village. The Geordies and their wives invited the 
soldiers into their homes, threw open their clubs, and allowed them 
free access to the pit-head baths. They were magnificent hosts. 
By now I was firmly wedded to this division with its famous 
Panda sign and hoped that I might be privileged to command it in 
battle. But once more authority stepped in and it was not to be. 

At 7 p.m. on I5th August, 1942, the telephone rang in my billet 

102 



near Newcastle and the voice of a senior staff officer from the 
War Office said, " You are to travel down to London to-night, and 
you will be going on a journey almost immediately." 

" Cold or warm ? " I asked in those days, remember, walls 
had ears, or so we were constantly reminded. 

" Warm,** he replied, " and you will be moving t one up.* ** 

This seemed to indicate that I was to be sent to the Middle East 
to command a corps; and so it turned out. Within thirty-six hours 
I took off from Lyneham in Wiltshire as the sole passenger in a 
Liberator on my way to Cairo, with one intermediate stop at 
Gibraltar. 

I suppose I ought to have been jubilant. After a year's training 
in England I had been selected to command one of the only two 
corps which were actually fighting. In point of fact I was miserable. 
And the lonely figure sitting in that bomber was about as far 
removed from the popular idea of an up-and-coming young general 
as it was possible to be. I hated leaving the pth Armoured, which 
was developing into a first-class division, for the entirely strange 
atmosphere of the desert about which I knew very little. I had 
once, years before, done a company training round the Pyramids at 
Mena, and that was all. It seemed a rather inadequate preparation 
for the impending battles with the redoubtable Rommel. 

How would I shape as a corps commander, I wondered ? It was a 
big step up fromcommand of the 2nd Battalion, The Middlesex Reg- 
iment during the withdrawal to Dunkirk, which was the last time I 
had been on active service. My subsequent promotions to brigadier 
and divisional commander had been made during training in the 
United Kingdom. I thought of all these things and I wondered 
whether I really had the qualities necessary for high command in 
battle. I was not unduly concerned about the technical military side. 
Even though warfare in the desert had certain peculiarities of its own, 
it was still warfare, in which the normal rules held good, and as an 
ex-instructor at the Staff College, Camberley, I ought to be able to 
cope with this side. No, it was the personal aspect of command I 
was worried about. I strongly suspected that neither Monty nor I 

103 



would receive a very warm welcome from the desert veterans, 
How right I was ! 

Suddenly Gibraltar lay below us, with its rather precarious- 
looking runway jutting out Into the sea. It is always a heart-warming 
sight to arrive at Gibraltar by air and see the famous Rock looming 
like an old lion guarding the western entrance to the Mediterranean. 
All the same, on this occasion I couldn't help feeling that if Spain 
were to enter the war, or if German forces were allowed to operate 
from there, this British fortress would receive short shrift. I 
had seen just how useless those elaborate fortresses in the Maginot 
Line had proved in the test of battle. I suppose I was very anti- 
fortress-minded, but It didn't seem to me that Gibraltar, with 
Its teeming civilian population packed like sardines on the side 
of the rock, could hold out for long in face of a modern air 
attack. 

When the aircraft came to rest, I found awaiting me a dis- 
tinguished reception party, headed by Major-General Sir Colin 
Jardine, the military commander. They had no idea who was 
coming, merely that the aircraft contained a solitary V.I.P. Goodness 
knows whom they expected, but their hastily concealed disappoint- 
ment as I emerged was very obvious. " I am very sorry," I said, 
" but I'm afraid it's only me/' 

Luckily I knew Colin Jardine, who had been senior to me at the 
Staff College, and there was no one whom I would rather have met 
at that moment. If I say that he was the best example of a genuine 
Christian who really led a Christian life I shall certainly be mis- 
understood. But that is exactly what I mean. When he heard that 
I was on my way to command a corps in the Middle East, he 
assumed the kindly, sympathetic manner adopted by a Harley Street 
specialist towards a patient who is seriously ill. At that time generals 
in the Middle East didn't as a rule last very long. Command in the 
desert was regarded as an almost certain prelude to a bowler hat. 
As Rommel is reported to have said once: " If only the British 
would leave their generals for a little longer they might learn more 
about desert warfare." 

In the dusk I took off again for an all-night flight over North 

104 



Africa to Cairo. As we had to cross territory occupied by the 
Germans and Italians it was necessary to fly very high, which meant 
wearing an oxygen mask most of the time. It "was a most uncomfort- 
able and almost sleepless night, so when we landed near Mena 1 had 
a splitting headache and was hardly in the best of shape to take over 
the most exacting job of my life, 



105 



CHAPTER VIII 

CORPS COMMANDER IN 
THE MIDDLE EAST 



A STAFF officer was waiting for me on tlie airfield, and after breakfast 
we drove to General Alexander's H.Q. In the major reshuffle which 
had just occurred he had taken over the supreme command in the 
Middle EasL 

I had never had the privilege of serving under General Alexander, 
but I knew him well by reputation. Who didn't ? By repute he was 
Winston Churchill's fire brigade chief par excellence, the man who 
was always being dispatched to retrieve the most desperate situations. 
He had commanded the final evacuation from Dunkirk and the 
withdrawal from Burma. I expected, therefore, to be confronted 
by some terrific fire-eater, but instead I was greeted by a quiet man 
with a very pleasant personality. He gave me the impression of 
being remote from the battle, and on the few occasions I met him 
subsequently I always felt the same, that he lived in a world of his 
own which few others were encouraged to enter. I never got to 
know him any better than I did at this first meeting in Cairo. 

It was immediately obvious that, quite rightly, he had left the 
conduct of the campaign in the Western Desert very much to 
Montgomery. He told me that Monty was busy organising a 
strong mobile reserve with which to drive Rommel out of Egypt; 
that he had sent for me specially at Monty's request with the object 
of ultimately commanding this reserve. As I left to drive up to 
8th Army H.Q. in the desert I thought that I had seldom met a more 
calm, unruffled and confident general, which was all the more 
remarkable because, according to the reports I had seen m the 
War Office, Rommel's victorious army was almost at the gates of 
Alexandria. 

106 



As I drove along the famous desert road, which I came to know 
so well, I kept passing vehicles bearing the red egg divisional sign of 
the 44th Home Counties Division, I had commanded this division 
at home and it was a cheering thought that here at least would be 
friendly faces; they had just arrived, and were in the process of 
moving up to the desert battle. 

Monty was, as I expected, cheerful, alert and with that gleam of 
battle in his eye which always indicated that he was up against some 
tough military problem. From a professional point of view he was 
unquestionably enjoying himself. No time was wasted. I was taken 
straight to the map caravan which served as his mobile office and 
he outlined the situation. This was one of the most remarkable 
military appreciations I ever heard. Remember, he had arrived in 
Egypt only five days before; yet in this short space of time he had 
acquired a complete grip of the situation. Even to-day I can 
remember almost every word of it, and this is what he said: 

" After several advances and withdrawals by both sides, the two 
armies, that is the German-Italian Army commanded by Reid- 
Marshal Rommel and the 8th Army commanded by me, are now 
facing each other on a thkty-five-mile front about sixty miles west 
of Alexandria. Our defensive positions are on what is known as 
the El Alamein Line (this, incidentally, was the first time I had heard 
this historic name). The chief merit of our position is that both 
flanks are secure; on the right we have the sea, and on the left the 
Qattara Depression, where the going is so soft that it is impassable 
for a large number of vehicles. So no outflanking movements are 
possible and the enemy will have to break through our positions 
before advancing on Alexandria and the Delta. 

" This position had been occupied by the 8th Army before I 
arrived, but I found the existing plan envisaged a further withdrawal 
of our left flank if necessary. I have stopped this, and ordered the 
8th Army to fight and, if necessary, die, where it now stands. 
There will be no further withdrawal at all, and I have ordered dumps 
of supplies and ammunition to be built up in the forward areas. 
I believe that this has had a good effect on morale. The troops were 
getting bewildered; now they know where they are and what they 

107 



have got to do. Rommel, my opponent, is undoubtedly suffering 
from a number of administrative headaches and is very short of 
petrol. I am certain, however, that he will launch one last all-out 
attack to smash the 8th Army and get through to the Delta. This 
may come any day. 

** We have two corps in the line; 30 Corps on the right and 
13 Corps on the left. The position of the former is strongly 
held in depth and protected by mine-fields. I do not anticipate any 
penetration in this part of the front. I haven't sufficient troops to 
hold the whole thirty-five miles in depth, so 13 Corps on the left 
is rather thin on the ground. This has been done purposely in order 
to tempt Rommel wide out into the desert where he will use more 
petrol. And it is against 13 Corps that he will undoubtedly launch 
his main attack. 

" You, Jorrocks, are to take over command of this corps 13 
and you will defeat Rommel and repel his attack without getting 
unduly mauled in the process. This is vital, because as soon as possible 
I want to build up a strong mobile reserve consisting largely of 
armoured divisions, on the lines of the German Afrika Korps. 
When this is equipped and trained I shall attack and hit Rommel 
for six right out of Africa. If you suffer heavy losses in this forth- 
coming battle it will delay the formation of this mobile striking 
force. I don't much like the existing plan on 13 Corps front. Go up 
and alter it as you think fit, but keep me informed of what you 
propose to do and I will come and see you at any time. In my 
opinion the key to the battle on your front is the Alam Haifa ridge 
which is now occupied by the 44th Division/' 

He then went on to describe to me his outline plan for " kicking 
Rommel right out of Africa,'* in order words, for the offensive 
which subsequently became known to the world as the battle of 
Alamein. Although this battle did not start until 23rd October, 
two months later, the plan he outlined to me that day, with one 
exception, was never altered to any major extent. 

I thought I knew Monty pretty well by now, but this apprecia- 
tion was an astonishing tour deforce even for him. Well might the 
German general who was captured at Tunis say, " With the arrival 

108 



of Montgomery war in the desert ceased to be a sport." What made 
him such a dangerous opponent was the way he planned bis battles 
with an Ice-cold brain. He was always working at least one jump 
ahead, not concerned so much with the current battle as with the 
next or the next but one. I can see him now, as I left the caravan, 
shaking his finger at me and saying: " Remember, Jorrocks, you 
are not to get mauled/* 

I left the caravan with the definite impression that prior to 
Monty's arrival the plan had been for the 8th Army if heavily 
attacked to withdraw still farther to the east. Monty has confirmed 
this in his book w r hen he described his interview with the Com- 
mander-in-Chief, Middle East, General Auchinleck on the I2th 
August, 1942, after his arrival in Egypt. He states how he listened in 
amazement when Auchinleck put forward his plan that at all costs 
the 8th Army must not be destroyed in battle. If Rommel attacked 
in strength, as was expected soon, the 8th Array would fall back on 
the Delta ; if Cairo and the Delta could not be held, the Army would 
retreat southwards up the Nile, etc., etc. 

There is no doubt that Monty really believed this to be so, yet 
Field-Marshal Auchinleck has flatly denied that he ever said anything 
of the sort. 

It is obviously highly impertinent, and even dangerous for a 
mere corps commander to intervene when two Field-Marshals fall 
out over a matter of feet, but, as I was involved in this controversy 
in that I took over command of the corps on the left flank which was 
presumably supposed to initiate this withdrawal, I have been at 
considerable pains to ferret out the truth. As I wish to remain 
unbiased, I have not approached personally either of the main 
contestants. Moreover even at the ripe old age of sixty-three I 
have no desire to have my head bitten off. 

To understand the situation it is necessary to go back to 25th 
June, the day when Auchinleck decided to take over command of 
the 8th Army from General Ritchie. His personal intervention on 
the battlefield in this hour of need was the act of a great fighting 
commander, but while he was engaged in the day to day tactical 
battle, trying to halt Rommel's rapid advance eastward he was also 

109 



responsible for the whole Middle East Command which involved 
not only the defence of the Delta, but also Persia/Iraq with its vital 
supplies of oil, the Basra base, Syria and Malta. All the time there 
was the distinct possibility of a German advance through the 
Caucasus into this area. 

Few generals have ever had such a load to bear. At this time the 
situation in the Western Desert looked disastrous. Our troops and 
the German Afrika Korps were both moving eastward at full speed, 
sometimes in parallel columns. A defensive position had been 
prepared at Alamein but as only the 2nd South Africa Division and 
an Indian brigade group were available to man it, this was by no 
means impregnable. It wasn't even certain that we should get there 
first with the remainder of the 8th Army, let alone be able to 
retrieve from the existing chaos sufficient batdeworthy formations 
to hold this position. I have always felt that the decision to stand and 
fight on the Alamein position was a bold one, as it involved bringing 
the only available reserve, the pth Australian Division, forward from 
Alexandria with the risk that it also might become involved in 
the rout. 

The decisive nature of the initial struggle which now took place 
at Alamein has never been appreciated by the general public, 
though General Alexander made the situation plain in his dispatch 
of 5th February, 1948 in which he wrote, " By this stand the 
survivors of the old Desert Army gained the vital time necessary 
for the arrival of the fresh divisions and improved tanks which 
were to turn the scale of battle." Had the battle-worn, exhausted 
and bewildered 8th Army not succeeded in halting Rommel's drive, 
we should most certainly have lost the Delta and Egypt, and the 
Mediterranean would then have become an Axis lake. 

It can be argued with justification that this heroic stand was the 
turning point in the war. Complete disaster in the Mediterranean 
Middle East might well have resulted from any failure. Could we 
have retained our hold on the Persian Gulf? Because this tempting 
prize might have induced the Germans to switch their drive south 
of the Caucasus. India, cut off from Persian oil, would have been 
in the gravest danger. Axis pressure could have forced Turkey into 

no 



the war against us. Faced with such a situation would Franco's 
Spain still have remained neutral ? If not, Gibraltar must have fallen. 
Italy would then have been preserved for Fascism and the landings 
in North Africa would never have taken place. 

It was the desperate fighting in the first fortnight of July, when 
the 8th Army rescued Egypt, which paved the way for our sub- 
sequent victories. 

It was decided to stand at Alamein but obviously it was prudent 
to organise another position farther back on the outskirts of 
Alexandria and the Delta in case we were defeated at Alamein. 
This was developed into the G.H.Q. Line, as it was sometimes called. 
Even so, the rest of General Auchinleck's vast Middle East Command 
was now almost denuded of troops and the most vital area of all, 
far more vital than Cairo, Alexandria and the Delta, was that con- 
taining the Persian oil. In the words of Viscount Alanbrooke, who 
was C.LG.S. at the time, " If we lost the Persian oil, we inevitably 
lost Egypt, command of the Indian Ocean and endangered the whole 
Indian-Burma situation/' So surely it was only right for the C.-in-C. 
Middle East to prepare plans to keep the 8th Army in being at all 
costs, and if the worst came to the worst, to withdraw it southwards 
up the Nile. 

I maintain that at this very difficult time General Auchinleck 
showed all the attributes of a very great commander. He stepped in 
personally to repair the breach in the Western Desert but at the same 
time ordered his staff, which was back in Cairo, to prepare plans in 
case his personal intervention in the battlefield failed. His opponent 
Rommel paid him an exceptional tribute when he wrote, " General 
Auchinleck had taken personal command of the operation in the 
Alamein position, conducting the battle with remarkable skill and 
tactically much better than Ritchie. His appreciation of the situation 
seemed admirably cool: he did not allow himself to be impressed 
by any of our measures and he did not have recourse to a * second- 
class solution/ remaining unmoved by the demand of the fleeting 
moment. This became very clear in the time to come." 

It is comparatively easy for a general to emerge^ as a great 
commander during a successful campaign when everything is going 

in 



his way but nobody can don the mantle of a famous captain of war 
until he has survived a military disaster. Auchinleck had done just 
this. He stopped the rot by his personal intervention and by the 
middle of July the serious threat to Cairo and Alexandria had 
disappeared. In fact, from now on Auchinleck' s mind was set on 
hitting back at Rommel and no further retreat was thought of. 

At this time Major-General Dorman Smith was with him at 
Headquarters 8th Axmy as Chief of Staff while Lieut-General 
Corbett in Cairo acted as Deputy Commander-in-Chief. On the 
2yth July Dorman Smith prepared an appreciation for his 
commander in which " the intention " was that the 8th Army 
would defeat any attempt of the enemy to pass through or round it. 
There was no mention in this document of any further withdrawal, 
but even so Auchinleck at first refused his agreement because it did 
not contain a sufficiently offensive spirit. There was nothing defensive 
about Auchinleck at this period. He wanted to return to the offensive 
as soon as possible. But after further discussion Dorman Smith 
convinced him that reorganisation and training were required before 
the 8th Army could launch an offensive with any reasonable prospect 
of success. So the provisions of this appreciation, which envisaged 
an offensive defensive by the 8th Army, were followed. 

As we now know the Prime Minister was moving heaven and 
earth to get the commander of the 8th Army to launch an immediate 
offensive. It says much for Auchinleck's moral courage that, at this 
time, when he was convinced that such an offensive would have 
little chance of success, and he was under a cloud, he refused to attack 
until he was satisfied that his troops were trained and reorganised, 
The 44th (H.C.) Division straight from the United Kingdom with- 
out any desert experience would inevitably have been in this attack. 
They might well erect a monument to Auchinleck who unquestion- 
ably saved them very heavy casualties. 

It seems clear, therefore, that from the middle of July onwards 
Auchinleck never thought of any further withdrawal. Indeed on the 
25th July he had issued a stirring order of the day in which he 
congratulated the 8th Army on having wrenched the initiative from 
Rommel, but in some curious way this does not seem to have 

112 



penetrated down to the company commander/squadron leader level. 
Meanwhile his headquarters in Cairo was still laboriously churning 
out orders and instructions which were being worked upon by 
subordinate staff in case a further withdrawal should become neces- 
sary. In other words they were several weeks behindhand. There is 
no doubt that at this period defeatism was prevalent in the rear and 
particularly in Cairo. 

But this does not explain how Montgomery came to believe that 
Auchinleck, even as late as I2th August, still envisaged the possibility 
of a further withdrawal. The answer lies, I believe, in a clash of 
personalities. The very qualities of self^onfidence and cocksureness 
which made Montgomery the ideal man to inspire the 8th Army 
at this difficult period must have proved very irritating to Auchinleck 
who had been subjected to a terrific strain during the preceding 
months. I am not suggesting that he was exhausted. Far from it. 
It is to his eternal credit that his physique and morale remained 
unimpaired in spite of considerable buffeting, largely because he was 
always able to sleep peacefully, however difficult the situation 
might be. 

Auchinleck, who a few days earlier had heard that he was to 
relinquish his present command he had refused to accept the 
Iraq/Persia command carrying equivalent rank which the Prime 
Minister offered him probably regarded his interview with 
Montgomery as an extremely painful experience to be got through 
as quickly as possible. Moreover, as Montgomery was under his 
orders until the I5th, when he handed over his command to Alex- 
ander, there was no need for him to go into the situation in the 
same detail as would have been the case if he had been handing over 
to his successor. This of course is pure supposition on my part as 
no one else was present at the interview, but I imagine that quite 
briefly he showed Montgomery on the map first of all the Alamein 
position and then the alternative lines behind, which were all part of 
the defence of Egypt defence in depth in fact. But when 
Montgomery arrived at 8th Army headquarters he found a gloomy 
atmosphere, which is not surprising. The chief of staff, Freddie 
de Guingand, was having a difficult and confusing time with 

113 



Auchinleck back in Cairo and the 8th Army temporarily commanded 
by Ramsden, one of the corps commanders. Moreover, Montgomery 
found Graham, one of his chief administrative staff officers, working 
out flagged routes back to the G.H.Q. Hue. It is understandable that 
under these circumstances Montgomery should have come to the 
conclusion that a further withdrawal by the 8th Army was con- 
templated. 

De Guingand afterwards assured me that there certainly had been 
a plan for a further withdrawal, but, when Montgomery took over, 
the 8th Army staff were in fact mainly concerned with plans for an 
offensive at Alamein. He felt that possibly quite unwittingly, he 
himself might have overstressed these withdrawal plans when mak- 
ing his report to his new commander. There can be no doubt, 
however, that almost at once Monty issued orders that any plans 
for a further retreat were to be destroyed and the 8th Army was to 
stand, fight, and if necessary die where it was. The effect of this 
order was magical. 



114 



CHAPTER IX 

ALAM HALFA 



THIS, HOWEVER, is all hind-sight. Let me now return to the lonely 
general leaving Monty's caravan for the greatest test of Ms life 
with a sinking feeling in his stomach, for it was painfully obvious 
that the fate of the Middle East rested firmly in his hands. 

On the way up to 13 Corps H.Q., which was right out in the 
desert, I had an opportunity of discussing the peculiarities of desert 
warfare with the young staff officer who had been sent to act as a 
guide. Pat Hobart belonged to the Royal Tank Corps and was a 
nephew of Major-General Hobart, the original commander of 
nth Armoured Division, who achieved fame as the brain behind 
" the funnies," all those curious tanks, such as the flails, flame- 
throwers, bridge-layers, swimming tanks, and so on, which played 
such a notable part in the D-Day landing in Normandy. 

Pat Hobart, though young in years, was a desert warrior of vast 
experience, so I couldn't have had a better mentor. Briefly, what he 
said was that the desert was a desperate place for infantry because 
there was practically no cover from view, and the tops of the small 
bills the commanding features in the barren countryside were so 
rocky that digging was difficult. The only way to construct a 
defensive position was in the first place to use explosives to blast the 
necessary excavations. Infantry could attack only under cover of 
thick smoke-screens fired by the artillery, or at night during the 
period of the full moon. (To this day veterans of the 8th Army talk 
about a " Montgomery moon " when it is full). 

So the tank was the queen of the battlefield. The armoured 
formations operated against each other by day and then withdrew 
into laagers for the night to rest and carry out maintenance protected 
by the infantry who occupied all-round defensive positions known 



as M boxes " at least, that Is what they were called until the arrival 
of Montgomery, who disliked fancy expressions of this sort. 

If either side suffered heavy casualties in its armoured formations, 
then it had lost the battle. It was as simple as that. Unfortunately at 
this period the Germans had more of the better tanks than the 8th 
Army, so we had to be very careful. And it was precisely in this 
direction that the existing 13 Corps plan required amendment. 

Both my chief of staff, Bobby Erskine, subsequently G.O.C. 
Southern Command, a tower of strength, and Major Freddy de 
Butts, in charge of intelligence, had no doubt at all about what 
Rommel would do. 

They said: " Rommel will attack your position with the whole 
of the Afrika Korps somewhere between the left of the New 
Zealand Division and the Quaret el Himeimat, a sharp, outstanding 
hill which marked the left flank of the yth Armoured Division 
position. Having penetrated your front and the yth Armoured are 
much too thin on the ground to prevent him penetrating he will 
do one of two things; either carry out a wide, encircling movement 
right round the Alam Haifa ridge to cut the desert road beyond it, 
or make a minor wheel and attack north, crossing over the Alam 
Haifa ridge about point 102 which is at present unoccupied, and 
thus cut your corps in two. In our opinion he will adopt the second 
course, because he is too short of petrol to carry out the wide 
encircling movement; moreover, he would hardly dare risk leaving 
the strongly-held Alam Haifa ridge on his flank." 

The existing plan was for the 22nd Armoured Brigade to counter- 
attack as soon as the Germans penetrated the position held by the 
yth Armoured Division. In this brigade were concentrated all our 
Grants, numbering sixty. These were the only tanks which could 
compete with the German Mk. Ills and Mk. IVs; they were known, 
in fact, as the E.L.H., Egypt's Last Hope, and I hated the idea of 
committing them head-on against a superior number of German 
tanks estimated at about 234. If we lost the E.L.H. then we had lost 
the day. 

So I decided to fight a purely defensive battle, and ordered 
Brigadier " Pip " Roberts, their commander, to dig his tanks into a 

116 




o 

s 

*4 

H 



defensive position round point 102. Later on, when loth Armoured 
Division, possessing sixty-six Grants, became available, 1 arranged 
for them to occupy a defensive position which would block the wide 
encircling movement, the other alternative Rommel might adopt. 
All my Grants were thus concentrated in one powerful, heavy, 
armoured division under the command of Major-General Alec 
Gatehouse, one of the most experienced tank commanders in the 
Middle East. He established his headquarters beside mine and we 
fought the battle from now on together. We felt, I think quite 
rightly, that we were well placed, for whichever way the enemy 
came he would run head-on into an armoured brigade, protected by 
anti-tank guns dug into a defensive position, while the other brigade 
would be available to operate against his flank and shoot up his soft- 
skinned vehicles. That was the plan. 

Now began the most difficult period of my life. Very naturally 
the desert veterans, who had been fighting continuously in the 
Middle East, resented the arrival of Montgomery and myself. 
Since Dunkirk we had been sitting in England. What did we know 
about desert warfare ? Anyway we looked all wrong. Our knees 
were white and, worst of all, we were wearing uniform, an almost 
unforgivable offence in the 8th Army, where the standard dress of 
the real desert type with sand between his toes was corduroy 
trousers, a khaki pullover and coloured scarf round his neck, the 
whole topped by the oldest and most battered cap he could find. 

The situation was particularly difficult for me because the 
previous commander of 13 Corps, who had been shot down in an 
aircraft on his way back to Cairo to assume command of the 8th 
Army, had been " Straffer " Gott, a very popular man and a famous 
general. I was all too obviously a very inadequate substitute. 
Wherever I went I noted a speculative look in people's eyes, and 
there was a good deal of belly-aching at orders which I issued. 
In fact there were one or two distressing scenes before I could get 
things done. 

To make matters worse, after I had been there about a week we 
had a visit from the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill. It was 
obvious from the start that the old warrior statesman did not think 

118 



much of the new commander of 13 Corps. His unfavourable 
opinion was further enhanced when I explained my plan to fight a 
defensive battle which I tried to make clear by saying that it was 
really a case of" dog eat rabbit." While the Germans blunted their 
noses against our positions we would strike at their " rabbits," in the 
shape of their lorries, on which they depended for their supplies. 

6 " That's no good," he said, " Trouble with you generals is that 
you are defensive minded. Why don't you attack ? That's the way 
to win battles, not by sitting down in defence." 

I couldn't help admiring the old man's pugnacity. It was 
precisely this spirit which had kept the country going during those 
dark days after Dunkirk. But his obvious disapproval of me and my 
plan did not improve my morale, which had already been subjected 
to some severe battering. 

" Dog eat rabbit ! " he muttered at intervals during the day. 
And before departing he turned to me and said: " You've got a very 
big responsibility on your shoulders, young man." I felt there was 
no need to teE me this. 

I heard afterwards that on the way back to Cairo he turned to 
Monty and said: " He's no good, get rid of him." Monty replied, 
" Look here, sir, you stick to your sphere and 1*11 stick to mine." 

This visit did an enormous amount of good to everyone except 
me. The troops loved the old man. I can see him now standing, 
with a sort of umbrella or sunshade over his head, saying to the only 
squadron of his old regiment, the 4th Hussars, which had survived 
the fighting: "Forty years ago I joined B squadron of the 4th 

Hussars " Unquestionably, with the exception of my own, 

everyone's morale was much higher after his visit. Monty must 
have realised that I had been through a gruelling experience, because 
he rang up that evening and was most encouraging. 

Everyone was full of stories about the famous Afrika Korps 
composed of the I5th and 2ist Panzer Divisions, who usually oper- 
ated in conjunction with the almost equally well-known poth Light 
Division, which, equipped with a high proportion of anti-tank guns, 
acted as handmaiden to the two armoured divisions. These three 
were Rommel's special pride, he had trained them himself and 

119 



often led them into battle. There was a feeling of complete mutual 
trust throughout this hard-hitting group, and I would say that they 
were the best German formations I encountered in the war. What is 
more, they always fought cleanly. 

There was an odd atmosphere about this desert war; never has 
there been less hate between the opposing sides: that is between the 
Germans and ourselves. Owing to the constant " to-ing and fro- 
ing " both armies lived alternately on each other's rations and used 
quite a quantity of each other's captured equipment. 

Unfortunately, however, there had grown up a Rommel myth. 
He was regarded by our troops as a sort of ubiquitous and invincible 
figure. Nobody realised better than Monty that almost the first and 
most important thing which he had to do was to replace this feeling 
with a Montgomery fable. And this he set about doing in a charac- 
teristic fashion. Very soon the soldiers were discussing their strange, 
new commander, who wore curious hats and, while buzzing about 
all over the place, constantly stopped and spoke to them. What was 
even more surprising, he seemed to know what he was talking about. 
Apart from his immediate staff, the Monty impact started from the 
bottom upwards; the troops accepted him long before he became, 
as he ultimately did, popular with their officers, who naturally didn't 
immediately take to the hats. 

Every night we expected Rommel to launch his attack, but 
nothing happened. The longer he delayed, the stronger we got, 
as more and more tanks which had been damaged were repaired and 
came from the base workshops. The 22nd Armoured Brigade now 
had ninety-two Grants, an increase of fifty per cent. I also had time 
to hold two exercises, so that everyone would be quite clear about 
their role in this new plan for a defensive battle. They were of great 
value and one of the brigadiers told me afterwards that when he 
wanted to know during the battle what was going to happen next 
he looked up the exercise. 

Freddy de Guingand, Monty's chief of staff, arranged a small 
deception which had a major influence on the batde. In some parts 
of the desert the going was hard and firm, in others it was so soft 
that vehicles were often stuck, or at least had to churn along in 

120 



bottom gear. So we all worked with " going maps " on which the 
hard and soft places were shown in different colours. The Germans 
had captured many of these maps in tie course of their advance and 
they made great use of them. So de Guingand arranged for a fake 
to be printed for the area which we now occupied in which a 
particularly soft area just in rear of the yth Armoured Division 
positions known as the Ragil depression was shown as good, firm 
going. This fake map, all dirty and covered in tea stains, was stuffed 
in an old haversack, then placed with soldiers' kits and the usual 
junk in a scout car which we arranged to have blown up in a mine- 
field in the front line. Next morning the car had been ransacked and 
the map had disappeared. During die battle die main German line 
of communication ran through the Ragil depression, where die 
vehicles must have used up a lot of extra petrol. Later a captured 
German general Von Thoma said that before the batde of Alam 
Haifa they had captured a going map which proved most useful to 
them the italics are mine. 

During this preparatory period I got into hot water with Monty 
for describing to the assembled British war correspondents who were 
paying me a visit how we proposed to fight this batde on 13 Corps 
front. I did this deliberately, because if correspondents are briefed 
beforehand their dispatches are much more likely to be accurate, 
and this has an appreciable effect on morale. Nothing more infuriates 
soldiers belonging to some regiment which has taken a notable part 
in the batde than to read glowing accounts of the activities of some 
other unit which took practically no part at all, but, because it was 
in reserve, was more readily accessible to the Press. Good, accurate 
reporting is a great morale raiser, and never once during the whole 
war was my confidence abused. 

Monty visited me several times and as always I was perfecdy 
clear how he wanted the batde fought. On one occasion we were 
sitting in my map caravan when the AJD.C. popped his head inside 

and said, " Quick, sir, Stuka attack " So we both nipped 

outside and lay side by side in the sand. In these Stuka attacks, which 
came quite frequendy, each aircraft, as it came screaming out of the 
sky, seemed to be directed at one personally. I couldn't help feeling 

121 



tliis time that an unlucky strike which, knocked out the commander 
of the 8th Army before he had really got into his stride might alter 
the whole war in the Middle East. 

As usual the bombs fell at least half a mile away from where we 
were lying. Monty obviously irritated by our ostrich-like per- 
formance, said, " They won't be able to do this sort of thing much 
longer/* He went on to give me a glowing account of the Desert 
Air Force commanded by Coningham. " We are just beginning to 
get command in the air/' he said. " And as you know the Army 
and the R.A.F. must fight hand in hand. It is one batde, not 
two. Up to now the two headquarters have been separated, now 
they are side by side." Monty was the most air-minded general I 
ever met. 

As the end of the month approached we entered the fell-moon 
period the attack must surely come now. On the evening of 
3Oth August I visited the New Zealand Division and after eating 
tinned oysters with their famous commander, General Sir Bernard 
Freyberg, V.C., we went to visit the Maoris who were carrying out 
a large-scale raid on the Italians that night. 

About ii p.m. I set off in my jeep to return to 13 Corps H.Q. 
when suddenly the whole of the southern flank seemed to go up in 
flames; everything opened up. This was obviously it. 

Sure enough, I returned to find the operations branch of my 
staff in full activity. Reports were pouring in that Rommel had 
attacked the yth Armoured Division in force just where we had 
expected him to come. For me this was a most exciting and 
dramatic moment, my first corps batde, and I would have given 
anything to have stayed there watching the battle develop on the 
operations map. But I had already learned one lesson, the value of 
sleep. The plans were all made. There was nothing I could possibly 
do that night, and it wouldn't be a very good example to my staff 
if the corps commander kept fussing round all night. It was far 
more important that my brain should be clear next day when 
important decisions would almost inevitably have to be made. 
So assuming a nonchalant air which I certainly didn't feel I said 
good night and walked over to the small hole in the sand where my 

122 



valise awaited me. I didn't expect to sleep very much, but I had 
quite a good night's rest. 

It was difficult, however, next morning to shave, dress calmly, 
and then walk over to the operations room. I would have Hked to 
have leapt out of my valise and run over, but the appearance of an 
unshaven, out-of-breath corps commander would not have created 
a favourable impression. 

Unfortunately that morning there was a haze overhead which 
prevented our air force from being used to full effect, but at ground 
level viability was excellent. From my headquarters on the top of 
the Alam Haifa ridge it was possible through powerful glasses to 
study the enemy's movements and the mass of enemy tanks and 
vehicles moving slowly in an easterly direction was an impressive 
sight. 

By approximately n a.m. we had definitely identified the whole 
of the Afnka Korps and the poth Light Division in the south, so the 
other attacks which had been made, notably against 30 Corps front, 
were only diversionary. I rang up Monty and asked for die 23rd 
Armoured Brigade, with its 149 Valentine tanks, to come under my 
orders as promised. He agreed, so Brigadier Richards started mov- 
ing his brigade to the positions which he had reconnoitred during the 
exercises. By 1400 hours he was there, all along the north side of 
die hill running between Alam Haifa and the position occupied by 
the New Zealand Division. 

At 1300 hours the German columns halted, obviously to refill 
with petrol. Would they continue in an easterly direction, we 
wondered, in which case they would be embarked on the wide out- 
flanking movement which Freddy de Butts had mentioned as the 
first possibility? But no, they turned north towards the Alam 
Haifa ridge. So Freddy had been right, and Rommel was doing 
exacdy as predicted. We almost cheered as we watched, because if 
he carried on with this course his tanks would even pass through the 
aiming posts which we had put out in the desert to mark the 
different ranges for our tanks and anti-tank guns. We felt that from 
our point of view Rommel was behaving very decendy. 

At 1730 hours 1 5th and 2ist Panzer Divisions launched an all-out 

123 



attack on the 22nd Armoured Brigade whose tanks were well dug-in 
round the famous point 102. This was the key to the whole battle* 
Could the Germans with their superior numbers break through? 
Pip Roberts husbanded his resources and handled the battle with his 
usual skiH. When the Germans made a slight penetration into his 
position he brought up his reserve armoured regiment, the Greys, 
which counter-attacked and drove them out again. As the light 
began to fail the German panzer divisions withdrew for the night 
into the Ragil depression. This fateful day, 3ist August, had gone 
well for us and the crisis was over. 

The remainder of the battle can be described in a few words. 
Next day a much weaker attack, which seemed to consist of only 
one armoured division, was launched against Pip Roberta's position; 
then, veering round to the west, it ran into the 23 rd Armoured 
Brigade just over the crest and was driven back. 

Visibility was now good, and a ceaseless stream of our aircraft 
pounded the Germans in the Ragil depression. Artillery fire was 
also concentrated against any German tanks and vehicles which were 
within range. The initiative had definitely passed to us, but I 
refused to allow any Grants to attack the German positions. Remem- 
ber, I had been told at all costs not to get mauled. Time after time 
in the desert warfare the whole balance of the battle had been sud- 
denly altered because of the severe losses caused when our tanks 
had run on to a German anti-tank screen. During the next two days 
the Germans tried over and over again to lure us out of our defensive 
positions, but to no avail. Why should we risk casualties, when the 
enemy was suffering severely as a result of our shelling and attacks 
from the air? An intercepted wireless message indicated that they 
had already lost over 100 tanks. 

Monty came up to see me and decided that the New Zealand 
Division should attack due south on the night of 3rd September in 
order to start closing the door behind Rommel's forces. This was 
only partially successful for although the Maoris on the left got 
through to their objectives, many things went wrong with the attack 
of the right brigade, the I32nd Brigade, whose first desert battle 
this was. Nevertheless Rommel had seen the red light, and on the 

124 



4th the Germans started to withdraw, each vehicle pulling at least 
two others behind it. We harried them from the air and also with 
all the light tanks that could be mustered, but I still refused to allow 
one of my precious Grant tanks to take the offensive. 

On yth September, my birthday, the battle was called offleaving 
the Germans in possession of our forward mine-field and also of the 
Hnneimat hill. Naturally both Monty and I have been criticised for 
not at once launching an armoured counter-attack. " Rommel's 
forces were streaming back in disorder. Now was the moment to 
destroy him" that was the general feeling among many sub- 
ordinate commanders. To some extent I shared their feelings, 
because from die corps point of view it was an infernal nuisance to 
have the enemy sitting on this hill from which he could observe 
everything that went on in the southern part of my sector. I should 
like to have driven him off Himeimat, which we could have done 
quite easily. 

But Monty said no, and taking the larger picture he was, as 
usual, quite right. First of all, he was taking no chances. Several 
times before Rommel had snatched a last-minute victory when our 
tanks had run headlong into one of those famous anti-tank gun 
screens which the German 9Oth Light Division organised so quickly 
and skilfully to cover any withdrawal of the Afrika Korps. But more 
important still Monty's plan was to destroy the Axis forces. He 
realised that the 8th Army required a period for reorganisation and 
training before it could be launched in a major offensive, and this 
was the offensive which he was already planning. Part of the 
deception plan for this next battle, the battle of Alamein, consisted 
of constructing dummy pipe lines, dumps and so on, down in the 
south to make the Germans believe that the main thrust was coming 
in this sector when actually it was being launched from the north, 
" What is the good of constructing all these dummies if the Germans 
cannot see them ? " he said. " Leave them in possesdon of Himeimat 
That is where I want them to be." 

We derived considerable satisfaction from the thought of all the 
Italian women in Alexandria who had been having their hair 
specially done to greet the victorious Italian armies on their entry. 

125 



We also knew that Mussolini had arranged for a special white 
charger to be sent from Italy so that, mounted in suitable fashion, he 
could head the victory parade. 

This was one of the few battles in which I fought that went 
exactly according to plan. When it was over I rang up Monty and 
asked him whether I could send a wire to the Prime Minister. 
** What do you want to say? " he asked. " Only four words/ 5 I 
replied. ** DOG ATE RABBIT. HOSROCKS." " Certainly not,* 5 he said. 
But I still believe that Winston Churchill would have been delighted 
to receive it ! 

On the day after the batde finished I was sitting in my head- 
quarters purring with satisfaction. The batde had been won and I 
had not been mauled in the process. What could be better? Then 
in came a liaison officer from 8th Army headquarters bringing me a 
letter in Monty's own hand. This is what he said: 

"Dearjorrocks, 

Well done but you must remember that you are now a 
corps commander and not a divisional commander. . . ." 

He went on to Hst four or five things which I had done wrong, 
mainly because I had interfered too much with the tasks of my 
subordinate commanders. The purring stopped abruptly. Perhaps 
I wasn't quite such a heaven-sent general after all. But the more I . 
thought over the batde the more I realised that Monty was right. 
So I rang him up and said, " Thank you very much." 

I mention this because Montgomery was one of the few com- 
manders who tried to train the people who worked under him. 
Who else, on the day after his first major victory, which had altered 
the whole complexion of the war in the Middle East, would have 
taken the trouble to write a letter like this in his own hand to one of 
his subordinate commanders ? 

The psychological effect of this victory was terrific, for nothing 
succeeds like success, particularly in war. Troops will always follow 
a successful general. Monty had unquestionably won the first round 
in his contest with the Desert Fox; what is more, he had won it in 
exacdy the manner in which he had said beforehand he would win 

126 



It. Everyone felt that a new dynamic force had entered into the 
tired, rather stale, old body of the 8th Army. I, of course, also bene- 
fited from the change of heart, and from now on things became 
much easier. 

One of the most fascinating studies of the last war was the 
contrast between these two great commanders, Montgomery and 
Rommel, each IB his own way an outstanding general, yet utterly 
and absolutely different in almost every respect. 

Rommel was probably the best armoured corps commander 
produced by either side. Utterly fearless, fuE of drive and initiative, 
he was always up in front where the battle was fiercest. If his 
opponent made a mistake, Rommel was on to it like a flash, and he 
never hesitated to take personal command of a regiment or battalion 
if he thought fit. On one occasion he was found lifting mines with 
his own hands. His popularity with the soldiers was immense, but 
a great many officers resented tis interference with their commands. 
All this reads like the copy-book general but, in point of fact, this is 
not the best way to control a swift-moving, modern battle. Very 
often at a critical moment no one could find Rommel, because he 
was conducting personally some battalion attack. He tended to 
become so involved in some minor action that he failed to appreciate 
the general picture of the battlefield. 

I would say, also, after reading a good deal about him, that 
Rommel worried too much. It is a curious fact that his health, 
which seemed to be all right in victory, began to deteriorate when 
the tide turned against him. This is borne out by a letter written to 
his wife on 29th October, 1942, during the battle of Alainein, in 
which he wrote: " At night I lie with my eyes open wide, unable 
to sleep for the load that is on my shoulders. In the day I am dead 
tired." 

Generals who fail to sleep seldom last long. Auchinleck had 
proved of sterner stuff during his period of trial. 

Monty was not such a dashing, romantic figure as his opponent; 
nor would you find him leading a forlorn hope in person, for the 
simple reason that if he was in command forlorn hopes did not occur. 
He had an extraordinary capacity for putting his finger straight on 

127 



the essentials of any problem, and of being able to explain them 
simply and clearly. He planned all his battles most carefully and 
then put them out of his mind every night. I believe he was 
awakened in the night only half a dozen rimes during the whole 
war. 

Their handling of the battle of Alam Haifa makes the contrast 
clear. Having made the best possible plan to win the battle, yet at 
the same time to husband his resources, Monty dismissed Alam 
Haifa entirely from his mind and concentrated on the next one. 
His insistence on the fact that I was not to be mauled was typical of 
his forward thinking. 

Rommel was suffering considerable administrative difficulties, 
particularly lack of petrol, and this was exploited by Montgomery 
to the fullest extent Monty disposed his forces so as to force 
Rommel wide out into the desert, where he would use more petrol: 
the going map was planted for the same purpose. Furthermore, I 
am not convinced that the shortage of petrol was quite so acute as 
Rommel claimed in his book. My information, from the most 
reliable sources, is that two, or possibly three, petrol ships arrived 
in Tripoli on 28th August, giving him 400 k.m.s. worth of petrol 
per vehicle. 

Rommel attributes his defeat to three main causes : 

(1) Lack of petrol, which I have already discussed. 

(2) Our superiority in the air. Yet on the first day, the 3 1st, when 
the battle was virtually decided, our air forces could not operate with 
maximum efficiency owing to bad visibility. 

(3) He claims that surprise was essential, but owing to the 
unexpected strength of the defences which held up his initial attack, 
he was delayed, and the British, who usually reacted slowly, were 
given time to regroup. 

There was never the slightest possibility of achieving surprise, 
Rommel did precisely what we expected and hoped he would do. 
No regrouping was necessary at all; in fact, he conformed exactly 
to the dispositions which we had practised in our exercises. 

Finally, he says that Montgomery never really launched an 
attack against him during the whole battle and left him in possession 

128 



of oor original front line* which included Himeimat. ! have already 
explained that he was left here because Monty wanted him to be 
able to see the dummy preparations for Alamein. While Rommel 
was leading his troops in person against our strongly-held defensive 
positions on the Alam Haifa ridge, Montgomery was planning the 
battle of Aianiein. That was the difference between the two. 



129 



CHAPTER X 

ALAMEIN AND AFTER 



EVEN BEFORE the battle of Alam Haifa was over Montgomery began 
withdrawing troops from the Hue in order to build up 10 Corps, 
which was to form his mobile striking force. General Alexander 
had told me originally that I was to command this corps d*elite 9 but 
the more I thought about it the more I realised that I was not the 
best man for the job. 10 Corps was to consist of two armoured 
divisions and the completely motorised 2nd New Zealand Division, 
It would, therefore, be composed largely of the real old " desert 
sweats," and although I had, to a limited extent, won my spurs at 
Alam Haifa, I was still very much a " foreigner from the U.K." 

It was most unlikely that an infantryman straight from home 
would be welcomed by the cavalry and tank corps formations which 
formed the hard core of this mobile force. It would take time to 
break down their prejudices, and time was all too short. So I went 
to see Monty before any final decisions were taken; I knew only too 
well that once he had made up his mind nothing on earth would 
alter it. I suggested somewhat tentatively that the obvious man for 
the command was Herbert Lumsden, who would be readily' 
acceptable to everyone. A cavalry officer and a well-known 
amateur rider before the war, he had all the qualities required in a 
first-class steeplechase jockey, physical fitness, nerve, and the 
capacity to make up his mind in a split second. He had commanded 
the 1 2th Lancers brilliantly during the withdrawal to Dunkirk. 
Since then he had proved himself over and over again on the 
battlefields of the Western Desert. 

But it was his long desert experience which was to prove the 
stumbling block. He could never bring himself to accept us new 
arrivals from England, and was in consequence inclined to play a 

130 



lone hand. Anyhow, lie was the obvious man and Monty at once 
agreed though probably it had all been decided before 1 nude my 
suggestion. 

This meant that I should have only a subsidiary role in the large- 
scale attack now preparing. The front was still held by 30 Corps 
on the right and my corps, 13, on the left in the south. The main 
attack was to be made on the right, and after 30 Corps had punched 
two broad corridors through the heavily-defended mine-fields, 
10 Corps was to follow up and pass through. My corps was to 
attack also, and if we could break through, so much the better, 
but our main role was to mislead the enemy into believing that ours 
was the main effort and thus contain, in the south, as many enemy 
troops as possible; in particular 2ist Panzer Division, which was in 
reserve opposite my sector of the front, It was impossible to prevent 
the enemy knowing that the attack was imminent. The best we 
could hope for was to deceive him about the time and place of the 
main effort. 

Monty's very able staff, under the direction of Freddy de 
Guingand, worked out in detail the number and position of all 
vehicles and guns which would be required for the assault. These 
were concentrated in their proper pkces behind 30 Corps front very 
early on ; but they were not the real operational vehicles. They were 
spares and, above all, dummies. Though the German aircraft 
photographed these concentrations constantly, they always remained 
the same, and there was no sudden increase just before the battle. 
As the assaulting divisions moved into position, their operational 
vehicles merely replaced the dummies, the change-over taking place, 
of course, at night. 

In my sector dummy dumps and workshops began to spring up 
like mushrooms, all supplied by dummy pipelines and water installa- 
tions. On the night of the attack it was arranged for the wireless 
sets of a complete armoured division to operate so as to suggest that 
large armoured forces were moving forward in this sector. In fact, 
I had the somewhat invidious task of trying to attract the enemy's 
attention to the place where I was due to attack. 

During this preparatory period Monty was building up his 



army on three basic principles which were drummed into all his 
subordinate commanders: leadership, equipment and training. The 
character and capability of all commanders were examined under 
the microscope, and a number of changes were made. Monty has 
often been accused of ruthlessness of sacking people right and left. 
He certainly didn't suffer fools gladly, and he demanded from his 
subordinates the same high standard of military integrity which he 
set for himself, but I have never known him to be unreasonable. 
If an officer failed for some good reason, such as staleness or illness, 
he was always given a second chance. His detailed knowledge of 
quite junior officers was astonishing, even alarming on occasions. 

The main change which occurred at the top was the arrival of 
Oliver Leese to command 30 Corps in place of Ramsden. I had 
hardly ever met Leese btfore but knew him to be a great character 
reputed to have a wonderful flow of language on occasions who 
had firmly impressed his personality on the Guards Armoured 
Division. He turned out to be a fine commander and an easy man to 
work with. He had the dubious reputation of being the only man 
who drove a motor car faster and more dangerously than I did. 
It was with great amusement, therefore, that a few months after he 
had retired I saw his name in the paper as opening the " road safety 
week of Wolverhampton." 

The equipment situation improved rapidly and this is where 
General Alexander was such a help. I have seen him sitting in 
Monty's caravan making notes himself of all the many requirements 
of the 8th Army. Then, somehow or other and within an incredibly 
short space of time, they would start arriving. If one item more than 
any other helped to win the battle of Alamein it was the Sherman 
tank. 

I feel that the time has come for the history of the Sherman tank 
to be made public, if only in tardy acknowledgment of the work of 
our tank designers, for whom nobody in the desert ever had a good 
word to say. "Why are our tanks always inferior to the Americans ?" 
was the cry heard on every side. Yet the fighting part of the 
Sherman was built to British design. Although the American Grant 
was mechanically a great improvement on anything which had so 

132 



far been produced, it had many drawbacks from a fighting point of 
view chiefly the position of the gun which was housed in a sponson 
beside the driver and had only a limited arc of fire forward. If the 
gun had to fire to a flank, the whole tank had to turn. This meant 
that while the Grant was a useful tank in defence it was not really 
suitable for offensive operations. Moreover it had too high a 
silhouette and the wireless layout was inconvenient for the tank 
commander. At first the Americans would not accept our criticisms 
of their tank and make the necessary alterations. So 300 were 
constructed for us, and to our design, in the extension to the Lima 
Locomotive Works for which we paid in hard dollars both for the 
works and for the tanks. This was, of course, in the days of cash and 
carry. Then came Pearl Harbour followed by lease lend and the 
Munitions Allocation Board in Washington allotted these 300 tanks 
to the U.S. ground forces. 

At that time it was not considered diplomatic for us to claim 
that the improved fighting qualities of the Sherman were due to 
British brains, so our backroom boys not for the first time just 
had to grin and bear it. We did, however, claim credit for installing 
the ly-pounder gun in the tank during 1944. The Sherman was 
really a first-class example of Anglo-U.S. co-operation, the fighting 
part British and the mechanical side American. 

This does not in any way detract from Roosevelt's generous 
action in handing them over to us after the fall of Tobruk, which no 
doubt had Marshall's backing as he was always a great friend of the 
British. By this time they had already been issued to the First U.S. 
Armoured Division in America. To remove these tanks from their 
own troops and hand them over to us was a fine gesture and their 
timely arrival in the Middle East tipped the scales at Alamein- 
At last we had a match for the German tanks. 

Almost every day our artillery resources increased and there was 
plenty of ammunition, so there were no worries about inadequate 
equipment. Such riches had never before been accumulated in the 
Middle East. 

Training, however, was not quite so good. Although the troops 
looked brown and fit, many of them were not really hard and 

133 



tough.. Moving always in lorries and long periods in defensive 
positions, were not conducive to extreme physical fitness. Nor was 
the standard of military training as high as it should have been. 
It was because of this that Monty was forced to modify his original 
plan for the forthcoming battle, to ensure that more was not 
demanded of the formations than they could do. Instead of first 
attempting to destroy the enemy's armoured formation, the original 
plan, he decided to make his initial attacks against the enemy's 
holding troops, the infantry divisions, and to use_ our tanks to hold 
off the enemy armour which was certain to counter-attack. 

One evening as I emerged from the caravan lean-to which served 
as my mess I saw a cloud of dust in the distance which heralded the 
arrival of the 5ist Highland Division. And next morning at reveille 
I awoke to the sound of the pipes. So started an association which 
was to last throughout the war; in fact, on almost my last night in 
Germany as a corps commander, several months after the war was 
over I dined in their mess and they drank my health with Highland 
honours. I have always liked working with Scottish troops. To 
start with they are very suspicious and inclined to be obstinate, but 
once they make up their minds that, for a foreigner, you are a 
reasonable human being, then nobody in the world can be more 
helpful. 

Major-General Douglas Wimberley soon became a familiar 
figure in the corps area. Sitting crouched in a jeep with his bony 
knees almost touching his chin, he was here, there and everywhere, 
watching over the interests of his beloved Jocks. He had two main 
objects. First, to repay with interest the debt incurred when most 
of the original 5ist Division was captured at St. Valery, and secondly 
to keep the 5ist a Scottish division in every way. If an appointment 
became vacant it was always filled by a Scotsman in preference to an 
Englishman, even though the latter might have the better creden- 
tials. 

On ipth and 20th October Monty explained the plan to all 
officers down to lieutenant-colonel. I knew what to expect, because 
I had heard him speak on many occasions before, but the effect on 
this occasion was electrifying. Clear, and full of confidence, he 

134 



Scale of Miles 



012345 

Enemy zone 
including minefields fy 



NORTHERN CORRIDOR 

KIDHEYR1D&Z ~,s 



10 

CORPS 

(I ARM? 
I D1V 
(lOARMH 
V IMV 




THE BATTLE OF ALAMEIN 



explained tltat the initial attack would be made by the pth Australian, 
5ist Highland, 2nd New Zealand and ist South African Divisions 
from right to left. He then described the enemy situation, the deep 
mine-fields, anti-tank guns and so on. He stressed that there would 
be some very hard fighting, a dog-fight, in fact, which might last 
for up to ten days. After giving details about our great strength he 
drammed in the fact that everyone must kill Germans. 

During the next few days all this was explained to every soldier 
taking part in the battle, and there is no doubt that die 8th Army 
entered the battle of Alamein in a state of great enthusiasm, almost 
exaltation. They had been told by their commander that this was 
the turning-point of the war, and they believed him. 

October 23rd was D-Day. There was a lovely full moon, and 
the desert on a moonlight night was very beautiful. But our minds 
were on other things. We were waiting. And at 2140 hours 
exactly a thousand guns opened up in thunder and gun flashes 
flickered across the desert. There was practically no answering fire 
from the enemy, a clear indication that the deception plan had been 
successful. The Germans and Italians must have wondered what had 
hit them. 

We launched our subsidiary attacks as ordered, but unfortunately 
the 44th Division and yth Armoured ran on to some loose mines 
some distance on our side of the mine-field proper, and we did not 
obtain our bridgehead beyond the second mine-field until the second 
night. It has been suggested in some quarters, usually by people who 
themselves had no personal experience of desert fighting, that I was 
inclined to over-estimate the depth of the mine-field in the Alamein 
position. This may well be true, though the mine-fields on our 
operational map were plotted from our intelligence reports which 
were as a rule astonishingly accurate. Anyhow, as my role was 
strictly subsidiary to the main attack, I was not justified in taking 
risks. 

My chief memory of the battle is an early morning visit to our 
bridgehead when the tanks of the 22nd Armoured Brigade were 
sitting in open formation being steadily shelled by the enemy. 
A small figure climbed out of the turret of a tank and walked over to 

136 



my car. It was their commander, General John Harding. I hardly 
knew him at all, but I was immediately impressed with his calm 
competence. For thirty-six hours he had had practically no sleep 
but he seemed as fresh as when he had started. Here was a man, I 
felt, who would certainly go far; and he did. 

Although the main thrust was being made by 30 Corps I had 
secretly hoped to break through in the south as well, but my hopes 
were dashed when Monty rang me up and said that under no 
circumstances was I to incur tank casualties. I was to make faces at 
the enemy, but offensive operations on my front were to be 
restricted to small-scale raids. 

At intervals throughout the next few days he would ring me up 
an inquire how I was getting on. He always ended by asking 
whether there had been any tank casualties. While it is possible to 
fight a defensive battle without incurring casualties this cannot be 
done in an attack. So for the rest of the battle I confined myself to 
what in theatre parlance is called noises off. But from the wings I 
was a most interested spectator of the main performance being carried 
out by 30 and 10 Corps in the north. We had nevertheless played 
our part, because it was not until the night of the 26th/2yth that the 
21 Panzer Division was moved up to the north. 

The battle lasted for eleven hard-fought days and it was Alamein 
that established Monty's reputation as a master of the set-piece 
battle. He kept himself balanced, i.e., always with sufficient troops 
in reserve, either by drawing formations from my front or by 
pulling divisions out of the line to regroup and rest. All the time 
he was changing the axis of his attacks. As soon as the Germans 
moved their reserves to blunt his thrust, he would halt it and 
initiate another elsewhere. This meant that the German reserves 
were forced into what he always called wet hen. tactics rushing 
hither and thither. 

All battles have their crisis and this one came at 3.30 a.m. on 
25th October. After three days' hard fighting we still hadn't 
completely cleared the two lanes forward and the situation had 
deteriorated badly, particularly in the south where a deep, hitherto 
unlocated, mine-field was discovered on the reverse slope of the 

137 



Miteiriya ridge. This lane through the mine-fields was congested 
and being heavily shelled by the enemy. A feeling was beginning 
to spread that we should never get through, and under the strain of 
forty-eight hours bitter fighting everyone was tired and on edge. 
The infantry complained bitterly that they had cleared the gaps in 
the mine-fields and suffered heavy casualties in the process, but now 
the tanks wouldn't go through. 

" The only way to get them on is to put anti-tank guns behind 
them," was the sort of bitter remark that was heard. The armoured 
formations accused the infantry of never knowing where they were; 
in fact, of claiming to have reached certain objectives when they 
were still several thousand yards short. They felt very strongly that 
their precious tanks were being wasted. 

" How can we debouch from bottlenecks formed by the lanes 
through the mine-fields when these are ringed round with enemy 
anti-tank guns ? It is the job of the infantry to knock out these 
anti-tank guns and let us out." As an infantryman who had also 
commanded an armoured division, I could sympathise with both 
points of view. 

During previous desert battles our tank commanders had been 
accused over and over again of charging recklessly on to the enemy 
anti-tank guns, and thus incurring heavy tank casualties. But, as long 
as the guns in the enemy tanks out-ranged ours, the German 
armoured divisions could sit back out of range of our guns and 
destroy our tanks one by one. Our tanks had to get in close before 
they could hope to do them any damage. With the arrival of the 
Shermans, however, the position had been levelled up as we now 
possessed a tank to equal the German models. Lumsden, the 
armoured corps commander, had therefore issued orders that there 
were to be no more Balaclava charges. A brewed-up tank is not a 
pleasant sight. Walking over the battlefield afterwards I counted in 
one stretch of a few hundred yards eighty-five tanks belonging to the 
pth Armoured Brigade, all burned out. 

I will not go into the details of this battle, which has already been 
described many times by those who played the leading roles, but it 
has always seemed to me that the moment when Montgomery 

138 



emerged, as a great battle commander came in the early hours of 
25th October. It almost seemed as though an anxious hush had 
fallen over the battlefield the first enthusiasm had waned. People 
were beginning to ask whether we should ever break through the 
deep crust of mine-fields which protected the German positions. 
They were beginning to look over their shoulders, a little anxiously, 
towards their commander. Any hesitation at this period would have 
been fatal, and Alamein might well have ended in a stalemate with 
our forces bogged down in a sea of mine-fields. But there was no 
hesitation. Montgomery faced the first real crisis of his career as a 
high-level commander with unflinching courage. This was the first 
concrete example of Monty's steely determination when things go 
badly, which is the hall-mark of a great commander. After a week's 
dour fighting the turning-point of the struggle came at oioo hours on 
2nd November, when the I5ist and I52nd Brigades, under command 
of the 2nd New Zealand Division, attacked to punch the final hole 
in the enemy defences. The pth Armoured Brigade was then to pass 
through, followed by the ist and yth Armoured Divisions. The 
operation was called Supercharge. This was a very critical moment, 
for these two brigades were almost the last infantry reserves avail- 
able. Yet the enemy still showed no signs of cracking. That after- 
noon I visited 8th Army H.Q. and found Freddy de Guingand 
somewhat tense. 

Sitting in a deck-chair with his cap over his eyes was Monty. 
A squadron of our medium bombers flew overhead, and Monty 
pointed to them and said: " They are winning this battle for me; 
the R.A.F. are doing a wonderful job." By this time " Mary " 
Coningham, that tough New Zealander who commanded the 
Desert Air Force, had achieved virtual air supremacy with his 
squadrons. All the German and Italian prisoners-of-war complained 
bitterly of the devastating effect of our continuous air attacks. 

We waited anxiously for news of Supercharge. Just after dawn 
next day Freddie de Butts, my intelligence officer, came running to 
my caravan "We're through!" he said. "Our armoured cars 
have broken out into the open country beyond. The Royals and 
the 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment have both reported 

139 



by wireless that they are having a wonderful time shooting up 
streams of Axis transport heading for the west." 

The battle was over, and Alamein had been won, but in eleven 
days, not ten, as Monty had prophesied. The success of Supercharge 
was largely due to the pth Australian Division, who had carried out 
continuous attacks night after night in a northerly direction. In spite 
of heavy casualties they had almost destroyed the i64th German 
Infantry Division and had tied down in the northern area both 
1 5th Panzer and poth Light Divisions. 

After the battle I went to see General Morshead, the Australian 
commander, to congratulate him on the magnificent fighting carried 
out by his division. His reply was the classic understatement of all 
time. He said: " Thank you, General. The boys were interested." 

Rommel had not sufficient transport to evacuate the whole of 
his army, so many Italians were left behind to march into our 
prisoner-of-war camps. Badly equipped and extremely badly led, 
they had never had much heart in the war and were glad it was 
all over. 

But we had more important things to worry about than rounding 
up Italians. The vital question was whether or not it would be 
possible to cut off the remnants of the German Army, which was 
certain to fight a series of stubborn rearguard actions to cover the 
withdrawal of their administrative units. 

Monty has been criticised for allowing the Germans to escape 
and it is true that the pursuit started rather slowly. This, however, 
is a familiar phenomenon in war. Over and over again throughout 
history the full fruits of victory have been lost because of a failure to 
pursue the defeated opponent energetically after a hard-fought 
battle. The classic example was Napoleon's failure to follow up 
Bliicher after the battle of Ligny, as a result of which he lost 
touch with the Prussians and did not realise that, instead of going 
off at a tangent towards their own country as he had expected, 
they had withdrawn parallel to Wellington's army. This caused 
his defeat at Waterloo. 

After a long drawn out, hard-fought battle there is always a 
natural tendency for the victors to relax the pressure: the battle has 

140 



been won, so, " What the hell? " This is the time more than any 
other when commanders must go round " driving " and " driving " 
in order to get the pursuit into top gear. But in this particular case 
there were two additional factors which caused a slow start. It was a 
very dark night, making cross-country movement in the desert a 
slow and painful business, particularly for tired troops. Moreover, 
these highly-mechanised divisions were very dependent on supplies 
petrol was their life-blood and it was a tremendous task for the 
administrative echelons to get forward and join them through the 
maze of mine-fields and all the junk of the battlefield. I wonder 
how they ever joined up at all. 

Eventually the pursuit got under way and then no time was lost. 
Two outflanking movements had been ordered, a short hook by the 
ist and 8th Armoured Divisions directed on Galal with the object 
of cutting the desert road some fifteen miles west of Daba and a 
wider encircling movement by the 2nd New Zealand Division 
towards Sidi Hanesh. There were moments when it looked as 
though a big proportion of Rommel's Afrika Korps might be cut 
off, but the German rearguards were skilfully handled and our three 
divisions were constantly plagued by shortage of petrol. Meanwhile 
the loth Armoured Division by-passed the trouble and moved 
straight up the desert road, occupying Mersa Matruh which had 
been vacated by the Germans. 

Then, when things seemed to be going very well, the weather 
broke and violent rainstorms flooded the desert, which at once 
became quite impassable for wheeled and tracked vehicles. It was 
most unfortunate, for the ist Armoured Division was practically 
within sight of the vital desert road. Not one of these three divisions 
could move a single yard; they might have been stuck in glue, and 
what is more, none of their supply lorries bringing up petrol, 
ammunition and food could get anywhere near them. 

By the 9th, when movement again became possible, the enemy 
had slipped away. The same thing happened a few days later when 
the yth Armoured Division was almost in a position to block the 
escape route on the escarpment at Sollum. Again rain intervened 
and Rommel's rearguards moving along the road got clear. 

141 



The pattern for the pursuit was now clear. Lumsden's 10 Corps 
and Lease's 30 Corps were in the van, while poor old 13 Corps 
became the 8th Army's Mrs. Mopp, left behind with the unpleasant 
task of clearing up the battlefield of Alamein. 
* The number of formations in a corps is always fluctuating, unlike 
the units in a division, wliich remain fairly constant. This was the 
period when I sank to my lowest ebb as a corps commander, for at 
one time the only formation in 13 Corps was one salvage unit. 
We got to know each other very well, for I visited them almost 
every day. It is a lonely feeling to be left behind. All we could do 
was to study on the map how the 8th Army was speeding along the 
coast road. Capuzzo, Sollum and Bardia, and by nth November 
the Axis forces were out of Egypt. Tobruk was entered on 13th 
November. There was no delay once the pursuit really got going. 

The main problem at this period was whether the 8th Army 
could overrun the important airfields in the Derna area in time for 
them to be used by our air forces and thus give air cover to a vital 
convoy which was sailing to Malta. It was a close-run thing. 
Malta was almost at its last gasp, but we won the race and the island 
was saved by about twenty-four hours. Benghazi was reached on 
the 20th, so the 8th Army had advanced 700 miles in fifteen days. 
But here there was obviously going to be a battle because the Axis 
forces were preparing to fight on the Agheila position. The desert 
veterans reminded us gloomily that twice before we had reached 
this position, but never got any farther. 

Would we be more successful at the third attempt? We were. 
The attack started with active patrolling on the nth December and 
by the ipth the German rearguards were streaming back. 

By now Harold Young of the I2th Lancers had become my 
A.D.C. and we remained together, except for the period when I 
was in hospital, up to the end of the war. Few people realise what 
an important part an A.D.C. plays in the military hierarchy. He can 
be of the greatest assistance to his commander or he may be a 
complete menace. A general in battle leads a lonely life with 
immense responsibility resting on his shoulders. For much of the 
time he is putting on an act, disguising his innermost feelings. 

142 



He alone must make the decisions which affect the lives of thousands 
of his men, for battles cannot be run like board meetings. 

A commander will spend a large part of every day driving round 
units accompanied by his A.D.C. and it makes all the difference if 
they get on well together so that the mask can be dropped when they 
are alone. An A.D.C. can act as a buffer between a commander and 
an all-too-importunate staff, but this has to be done with consider- 
able tact or the A.D.C. will be accused of becoming swollen- 
headed. The sensible, sympathetic A.D.C. who is trusted and liked 
by both the commander and staff is worth his weight in gold, and 
he can do a great deal to make the wheels go round smoothly. 
I was very lucky with mine. 

Later on in Europe Young was joined by Lord Rupert Nevill 
who in spite of a very youthful appearance turned out to be extremely 
shrewd. Both of them really became personal staff officers and I 
would say quite seriously that their contribution to the successful 
battles fought by my corps was out of all proportion to their 
rank and age. 

I was now told that Herbert Lumsden was going back to the 
United Kingdom and I was to take over command of 10 Corps, 
then in reserve at Termimi some fifty miles west of Tobruk. 
Though my new command was admittedly in reserve it was at 
least several hundred miles closer to the battle and I was getting 
very bored with being out of it all. 

My headquarters was eventually established outside the town of 
Benghazi on the embankment looking down on the airfield which 
had been so successfully raided by Major Stirling and two N.C.O.s 
of the S.A.S. I could also see the famous Benghazi-Barce narrow- 
gauge railway. This short strip of the line was most useful for 
moving stores, and was therefore highly prized by the administrative 
staff. So, when we had been forced to withdraw from Benghazi in 
face of Rommel's initial offensive, the officer in charge of the 
railway had removed a vital part of the one available diesel engine 
and thrown it into the sea. But the plan miscarried. As soon as the 
British had departed a wily Arab who had watched the whole 
proceedings dived into the water and retrieved the vital part, which 

143 



he then sold to the Germans. The story, however, does not end here. 
When the time came for the Germans in their turn to beat a hasty 
retreat from Benghazi the same Arab was watching again. Sure 
enough a German officer this time threw the same vital part into 
the sea. It was once more retrieved and proudly sold to us at an 
increased price when we reoccupied the town later on. Had 
Benghazi continued to change hands in this mobile war a most 
deserving Arab would unquestionably have died a rich man. 

We heard of great goings on in Tripoli. The arrival of the 
Prime Minister and the CLG.S. (General Sir Alan Brooke now 
Viscount Alanbrooke), victory parades and a magnificent address 
which Mr. Churchill gave to 30 Corps in which he said: 

'* In days to come, when asked by those at home what part 
you played in the war, it will be with pride in your hearts that 
you can reply * I marched with the 8th Army 

My first visit to Tripoli came on isth February when Monty 
laid on a series of lectures, demonstrations and discussions so that 
the successful battle technique developed by the 8th Army, and 
particularly our system for joint Army/R.A.F. control, could be 
passed on to everyone. This was a great get-together for all of us, 
but my chief memory is of meeting for the first time that remarkable 
character, General George Patton of the U.S. Army. I found 
myself walking back to our hotel with Patton after Monty's initial 
address on " How to make war," so I asked him that he thought of 
it. He replied in a southern drawl, with a twinkle in his eye: " I 
may be old, I may be slow, I may be stoopid, but it just doan mean a 
thing to me ! " 

It was soon quite obvious that he was neither slow nor stupid. 
One of the remarkable things about him was the way in which, 
seemingly at will, he could put on two entirely different acts. 
Ether the fine old southern gentleman and cavalry officer with his 
polo ponies, or the real tough guy with a steel helmet and two 
revolvers stuck in his belt. He was unquestionably a very strong 
personality and had terrific drive. His pet phrase, however sticky 
the battle might be, was " Keep 'em rollin' forward." 

144 




Montgomery and his three Corps Commanders before the battle of Alamein, 
October 1942. Left to right: Leese (30 Corps], Lumsden (10 Corps], Montgomery, 
Horrocks(i$ Corps) 

Explaining the plan for the battle ofAlam Haifa to officers and men at 13 Corps 
H.Q., August 1942 





The end of the left hook during the battle of Mare th; 
my. command tank entering El Hamma, March 1943 



After being wounded at Bizerta, North Africa 




It was during this conference that we heard the news of the 
American reverse in the Kasserine Pass battle in North Africa. 
This we knew could have a big effect on us, because the closer we 
came together the more the operations of the ist Army west of 
Tunis and the 8th Army west of Tripoli must merge into one 
campaign. 

It was in Tripoli that I witnessed an example of the affection in 
which the 8th Army now held their commander. We were all 
seated in the Opera House for an entertainment given by a very 
high-level concert party headed, I believe, by Leslie Henson. 
Everyone had been looking forward to this immensely because 
visits from concert parties, let alone one of this calibre, had been 
rare events up to now. When Monty entered his box in the dress 
circle the audience of all ranks turned their backs on the stage and 
cheered for several minutes. When the performance was over the 
same thing happened again, only this time they chanted " We want 
Monty." The British soldier is not as a rule very demonstrative and 
his attitude to brass, unless it happens to be his own particular bit of 
brass whom he knows well, is normally far from complimentary. 
So this spontaneous outburst from a British audience was all the 
more remarkable. 

The basis of all good generalship is the relationship built up 
between a commander and his troops. Napoleon's greatest and, as it 
turned out, almost his only asset on his return from Elba was the 
devotion of his army. His physical condition might have deterior- 
ated, his military genius might have waned, but so long as his 
soldiers were prepared to die for him the French Army was still a 
formidable fighting machine. 

And here in the 8th Army was the same outward and visible 
sign of the greatest batde-winning factor of all a spirit of complete 
trust, confidence and affection within a formation. This sort of happy 
family atmosphere is common enough in divisions which have lived, 
trained and grown up together, but it is comparatively rare in higher 
formations. I know of only two in our army where it existed 
strongly during the last war Montgomery's 8th Army and Slim's 
I4th Army. And it is significant that both men took over their 

145 



commands at a time when things were going badly and morale 
was low. 

Monty had the harder passage of the two to start with. As we 
know, the old desert sweats did not welcome him with open arms 
far from it. Yet only a few months later, here in Tripoli was this 
remarkable demonstration of personal affection. 

How had it been done ? Cynics will say that Montgomery was 
successful, and that soldiers will always follow a general who wins 
battles. Wellington's troops never loved him, yet they would have 
followed him anywhere. I would say that there were four main 
qualities of leadership which bound the 8th Army to Monty. 

Pirsl^When all was confusion he had the supreme gift of reduc- 
ing the most complex situation to simplicity. More than any other 
man I have ever met he was able to sit back and think with the result 
that he was never deluded by " the trees." 

Second He took infinite pains to explain to every man in the 
Army exactly what was required of him. 

Third He was very tough mentally, both towards the enemy 
and, perhaps more important still, towards the political direction 
from the United Kingdom. No amount of urging would ever 
induce him to launch his army into battle before it was ready. 

Finally He was obviously a complete master of his craft, the 
craft of war. 



14.6 



CHAPTER XI 

THE BATTLE OF MARETH 



ROMMEL, WORKING on interior lines, was now like a boxer fighting 
desperately to prevent the inevitable knock-out. Having landed a 
hefty punch with his right on the American jaw at Kasserine, he 
turned to deliver a sharp left hook against the 8th Army at Medenine 
but he was too late. Monty was balanced and waiting for him. 
After ineffectual efforts to pierce our positions the Germans with- 
drew with the loss of fifty-one tanks which they could ill afford. 
This was a model defensive battle second only to Alam Haifa. 
The defensive position had been so well chosen that the Germans 
defeated themselves. I took very little part in the battle as 10 Corps 
was still behind, but I came forward with a small headquarters to 
organise the defence of the main administrative area at Ben Gardane, 
just in case the Germans tried a wide encircling movement against 
our rear. Nothing of the sort developed and we had to be content 
with listening to the battle on the wireless and hearing the rumble 
of guns in the distance. 

On reading through what I have written since Alamein it sounds 
as though I was a very bellicose person, but this is not so. Nobody, 
if he is honest, likes fighting, and the closer to the front you are, the 
less you like it. All the same, if there is fighting to be done it is 
unpleasant to be left out. This doesn't apply just to generals, who 
are comparatively safe compared with the front-line troops, but to 
all ranks as well. On many occasions N.C.O.s and men who had 
recovered from their wounds and had been sent to some reinforce- 
ment unit in the Delta escaped and thumbed lifts for over a thousand 
miles in order to rejoin their units at the front. 

Medenine was Rommel's last battle against the 8th Army a few 
days later he flew back to Germany. 

147 



In spite of the failure to disrupt our forward movement the 
Axis Powers decided to make a determined stand on the Mareth 
line, which had originally been constructed by the French to protect 
Tunisia against attack by the Italians from Libya. The main defences 
stretched for twenty-two miles from the sea to the Matmata Hills. 
At the eastern end by the sea, the Wadi Zigzaou had been widened 
and deepened to form a tank obstacle, and was covered along its 
whole length by a complicated system of concrete and steel pill- 
boxes protected by wire obstacles and deep mine-fields. 

The soft sand and the broken ground of the Matmata Hills made 
it impossible to get round the flank of this formidable position, 
except by a very wide detour of some 150 miles round the left flank 
towards the Wadi Merteba, a valley with steep hills on either side 
leading towards El Hamma. The designers of the position decided 
that such an outflanking movement was virtually impossible because 
the going was so bad, but all the same they had constructed a switch- 
line defensive position to block the valley leading to El Hamma. 
The coastal strip was held mainly by the Italians with poth Light 
Division and i64th in the vicinity and I5th Panzer Division in 
reserve. 

Monty's plan was for 30 Corps to attack the Wadi Zigzaou with 
50th Division and 23rd Armoured Brigade, while the New Zealand 
Division plus the 8th Armoured Brigade, General Leclerc's Free 
French and several additional gunner regiments, which made it 
virtually a corps, was dispatched round the left flank to burst through 
the switch line, called " Plum," and outflank the Mareth position via 
El Hamma. 10 Corps, with 1st and yth Armoured Division under 
command, was in reserve ready to exploit success towards Gabes. 

On the evening of 2Oth March Monty invited us to dinner at his 
tactical H.Q. to show us the film Desert Victory which he had just 
received. As we sat in a wadi watching the performance, all around 
us were the guns firing the opening salvoes for the battle of Mareth. 
It was an odd sensation watching two battles at the same time. 

At 2230 hours, supported by a terrific artillery bombardment, 
the attack went in, and after some hard fighting the 50th Division 

148 



secured all Its objectives. But during the next two days little 
progress was made. The main source of trouble was the infernal 
wadi, which made it very difficult to get tanks or anti-tank guns 
forward to the infantry bridgehead on the far side. It became a 
death-trap, still remembered with horror in many households in 
the north of England, whence the bulk of 50th Division came. 

On 22nd March heavy rain added to their difficulties, and when 
1 5th Panzer Division counter-attacked, the Geordies and Yorkshire- 
men were forced to withdraw by sheer weight of tanks. In spite of 
the utmost bravery, the main thrust in the coastal plain had failed 
and die crisis in the battle had now arrived. 

At 0800 hours next morning I was summoned to a conference 
at 8th Army H.Q. where Monty explained a complete change of 
plan. The isth Panzer Division and poth Light Division were now 
firmly committed to the coastal plain. 30 Corps was to break off its 
attack, but do its best to keep these two German divisions tied down 
on their front. 

The main effort was now to be made round the left flank. I was 
to go round with my corps H.Q. and the ist Armoured Division 
and take command of the New Zealand Division which was then 
preparing to carry out a final assault on the " Plum " position. 
We were then to smash through to El Hamma. It looked as though 
the Italians who were holding this switch-line had been reinforced 
by the i64th German Division plus 2ist Panzer Division, but we 
were promised the full weight of the Desert Air Force behind us in 
our assault. 

Monty made it quite clear that this was the turning-point in the 
North African campaign and whatever happened we simply had to 
break through to El Hamma. 

I was delighted. This was an operation after my own heart. 
As we left the conference Oliver Leese turned to me with a smile 
and said, " Off you go, Jorrocks, and win the battle " a very 
generous gesture from a commander whose attack had failed. 
Freddy de Guingand took me on one side and said, " It's all right 
you going off like a dog with six tails, but I am a little worried 
about your reception. The New Zealand corps has done all the 

150 



hard fighting, now you are going to arrive at the last moment, 
take over the whole show and carry out a spectacular victory. 
I cannot see you receiving a very warm welcome, and we don't 
want the attack messed up by friction." 

He was right; General Freyberg, the New Zealand commander, 
would have every right to feel aggrieved. After all, he was a world- 
famous figure and a most courageous general who had forgotten 
more about soldiering than I was ever likely to know. So I suggested 
to Freddy, that contrary to the principles of war, it might be better 
to address all messages and orders to us both, and I felt certain we 
could work out the battle together on those lines. From then on 
Freddy, with his usual tact, called us Hindenburg and Ludendorf. 

I set off with my small tactical headquarters on the long 150-miles 
drive past Foum Tatahouine a desolate spot reputed to be the 
worst French peace-time garrison, where troops were only sent as a 
punishment then through the mountains via Wilder's Gap. My 
desert-worthy car got through all right, but it was obvious that 
some of the vehicles belonging to the ist Armoured Division were 
going to have a difficult journey, and time was all-important. 
As a matter of fact, their last vehicles arrived only thirty minutes 
before the attack was launched. Speed was so essential that we 
arranged for the ammunition lorries in many cases to drive right up 
to the gun positions instead of dumping their shells at the wagon 
lines which were farther back. It was a risky proceeding because the 
gun positions were overlooked by the enemy in the hills on both 
sides of the valley and the lorries were liable to be shelled in the 
forward areas. I was much amused at the R.A.S.C. drivers who, 
quite undeterred at finding themselves in this exposed position, 
leant out of their lorries as they drove past the wagon lines and called 
out to the gunners, " Come on, you base wallahs." These R.A.S.C. 
drivers were a remarkable body of men and their contribution to 
the final victory was considerable. Many of them had been long- 
distance lorry drivers before the war and seemingly they could go 
on for ever without sleep. As one of them said to me, " As long as 
I have a wheel in my hand I am all right." 

On arrival I met the frigid atmosphere which Freddy had 



anticipated, but I explained that there was no question of my being 
sent round to run the New Zealand attack; the main reason was 
that the number of troops now involved in this left hook was more 
than one divisional headquarters could handle. It was my corps 
H.Q. rather than me that was required there. 

Freyberg was much too good a soldier to allow personal feelings 
to interfere with his handling of the battle, and whatever he may 
have felt inwardly at the arrival of a comparatively unknown, 
skinny corps commander, he co-operated most nobly. After con- 
sulting Monty, we decided on a blitz attack straight up the valley. 
The New Zealand division and 8th Armoured Brigade supported 
by every gun we had were to attack at 1600 hours with the sun 
behind them, a most important factor in desert fighting : up to the 
present the Germans had always had this advantage, but now it was 
our turn. The air support was on a scale never attempted before by 
either side during the war. The continuous low-flying attacks 
organised by Harry Broadhurst, the new commander of the Desert 
Air Force, were to form the pattern of army/air co-operation for 
future battles in Europe. 

The ist Armoured Division was to follow behind and pass 
through the New Zealanders when the crust had been broken. It 
would continue to advance until dusk, then halt and wait for the 
moon to rise before continuing the advance right through the night. 
The whole point of this night advance was that the valley was 
ambushed by the hills on either side which would prove a death-trap 
in daylight. I remember Freyberg turning to me and saying, " If we 
punch the hole will the tanks really go through ? " (shades of 
Alamein!) I said: "Yes, they will, and I am going with them 
myself." 

The battle went like clockwork. My chief memories are of our 
fighters and bombers screaming in at zero feet, the first time that 
this had been attempted in the desert. 

Then the tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade, Staffordshire and 
Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, commanded by Roscoe Harvey, 
advanced up the valley in open order. They thought they were 
being launched on a second Balaclava, but there was no hesitation. 

152 



The New Zealanders emerged from their trenches where they 
had been lying up all day and swarmed forward. What magnificent 
troops they were. 

Finally the really awesome sight of a whole armoured division 
moving steadily forward. It impressed me, so what must it have 
looked like to the German defenders? Tanks and still more tanks 
moving continuously towards them. This was the sort of attack 
which the Germans themselves always tried to carry out, the real 
" schwer-punkt" everything concentrated in great depth on a com- 
paratively narrow front. There was some very hard fighting, partic- 
ularly by the Maoris on Hill 209, which was too steep for the tanks, 
but nothing could withstand this punch air, artillery, tanks, infantry 
in fact everything we had got. 

It was the most exciting and worrying night of my life. As my 
small tactical H.Q., consisting of three tanks, took up its position in 
the armoured mass, I realised very well that if this attack went wrong, 
there was no doubt as to whose head would be on the block. I could 
hear the arm-chair strategists in their clubs in London saying 
" Heavens ! The man must be mad. Fancy trying to pass one 
armoured division through an enemy armoured division. And in 
the dark too." Because that was what we were trying to do. 

And, of course, in the cold light of day, viewed from England, 
they would be quite right; but in reality it wasn't quite so mad as it 
seemed. The Germans as a rule do not react very quickly to some-* 
thing new, and in this attack two new techniques were being tried 
out. Never before had they been subjected to such devastating low- 
level air attacks and they were shaken, or so it seemed. Because the 
8th Armoured Brigade, leading the New Zealand assault with their 
Balaclava charge, had not suffered such heavy casualties as might 
have been expected. Then on top of this was the unusual employ- 
ment of armour by night. 

All round was the rumbling of tanks, vague shapes looming out 
of the dusk. I started very bravely with the upper part of my body 
sticking out of the turret of my tank, but as the advance went on I 
got lower and lower until only the top of my head was visible. 
There was too much stuff flying about for comfort, though most of 

153 



the enemy fire was going over our heads into the area which we had 
just vacated. 

Then suddenly it was dark, and we halted. This was the most 
trying time of all: we couldn't even risk that 8th Army panacea for 
all ills, a brew up. We just had to sit, deep in the enemy positions, 
and wait. I got down into the tank to see how my crew, the 
gunner-operator and driver were feeling. They were cheerful and 
completely unimpressed by the fact that they were taking part in a 
unique military operation: they might in fact have been driving up 
the long valley at Aldershot. In moments of crisis the phlegm of the 
British soldier is very reassuring. 

This long halt seemed to go on for ever: then a pale dusty moon 
began to make its appearance. And at last, thank goodness, we were 
off again. It was just possible to make out the dim shape of the tanks 
in front and on either side and there was a great deal of ill-aimed 
firing all round. At times the tanks were crunching over occupied 
enemy trenches, and we could see terrified parties of Germans and 
Italians running about with their hands up. But we hadn't time to 
bother about prisoners. 

Our progress was desperately slow. That was my chief worry. 
If we didn't succeed in getting through in the dark, the situation in 
the morning didn't bear thinking about. We should be surrounded 
by the enemy and dominated by the hills on either side of the valley. 

The reason for the continuous halts soon became clear: the 
valley was intersected by wadis, many of which were tank obstacles 
and it was not easy for the leading regiment to find crossing places. 
Sometimes this necessitated getting on to a one-tank front. But we 
steadily rumbled on and this difficult night advance was brilliantly 
carried out by the ist Armoured Division. As the night wore on 
the noise of the firing came more and more from the rear, and 
suddenly I realised that we were through the impossible manoeuvre 
had come off. It was an unforgettable moment. 

The Germans, consisting of the remnants of the 2ist Panzer and 
i64th Division, were now in our rear, sandwiched between us and 
the New Zealand division, and we were faced with a hastily-manned, 
last-ditch position round El Hamma itself. 

154 



It was an incredible situation. The New Zealanders were still 
fighting hard clearing up pockets of resistance; while the 2ist 
Panzer Division was attacking our tail. This had been foreseen and 
the rear of the ist Armoured Division was protected by a strong 
anti-tank screen, including some of our new ly-pounder anti- 
tank guns. I went back to watch them come into action for 
the first time, and very effective they were the answer to the 
German 88. 

The Germans opposite the Wadi Zigzaou, the sector occupied 
by 30 Corps were now in danger of being cut off, but once more 
the weather intervened to save them. Our attacks on El Hamma 
were delayed by dust storms and the enemy managed to escape up 
the coastal road. 

Monty said afterwards that this was the toughest fight since 
Alamein. i5th and 2ist Panzer Divisions suffered a tremendous 
hammering from which" they never really recovered. i64th Division 
lost most of its heavy weapons and vehicles. At least three Italian 
divisions lost so heavily that they ceased to be of any fighting value. 
The total bag of prisoners amounted to 7,000, of whom 2,500 were 
Germans, almost all captured at El Hamma. 

On 29th March, 1943, when the battle was practically over, a car 
drove up to my headquarters in the desert near El Hamma and out 
stepped a square, squat figure in unfamiliar uniform. There was, 
however, a sort of familiar Slav look about him which took me 
back over twenty years to niy days in Siberia and Russia after the 
First World War. Russians are as a rule unmistakable, for they all 
seem to have come off the same assembly line with their low 
chassis, tough, square bodies, short legs and expressionless faces. 

He was, as I expected, a Russian general who was paying a 
courtesy visit to our 8th Army. Even so there was something 
curiously menacing about him with his stubby revolver strapped to 
his belt. But I was glad to see him as I wanted to get a first-hand 
account of their colossal victory at Stalingrad where the 6th German 
Army, some 300,000 strong, had been written off. I was also feeling 
very pleased with myself, and eager to describe my recent victory 
to this visitor from another theatre of war. I thought even a Russian 

155 



would have teen Impressed by the remarkable feat carried out by 
our tanks in passing right through a German armoured division 
at right. 

Not a bit of it. He showed not the slightest interest and in fact 
gave me the impression that, as far as he was concerned, our opera- 
tions were chicken feed* He seemed far more impressed by the fact 
that I spoke Russian for he immediately broke into a long, detailed 
account of warfare on the eastern front. Unfortunately my know- 
ledge of the language was so rusty that I was able to take in only the 
gist of what he was saying, but he nevertheless whetted my interest 
to such an extent that since then I have taken every opportunity of 
studying that fearsome Russo-German theatre of war. 

The main thing which has always struck me is that there were in 
fact two wars, ours and the Russians, which might have been taking 
place on different planets for all the resemblance there was between 
them. 

We reckoned in the 8th Army that for quite long periods in the 
desert we led a fairly spartan existence, particularly during the 
blistering heat of midsummer. We were operating at the end of 
long lines of communication, and battle requirements such as 
ammunition, petrol, medical and R.E. stores had to be given first 
priority, so luxuries were, quite rightly, restricted to the minimum. 
One pint of water for all purposes was far from lavish. As a result 
I did not have a bath for three months, and one of my staff officers 
had not had one for six a fact which became painfully obvious 
towards the end of that period. 

As something had gone wrong with the refrigerating plant at 
the base there was no fresh meat and I have depressing memories of 
continuous, hot, bully-beef, which is never at its best when melted; 
biscuits, stews, and those horrible " V " cigarettes of dreadful 
memory. Lucidly for us the desert was a clean place in which to 
fight, so these privations had no effect at all on our health, which 
with the exception of periodical epidemics of jaundice was excellent. 
They were, in fact, minor irritations, that was all, and, compared 
with the conditions which prevailed in the east, particularly during 
the German withdrawal from Moscow in December and January, 

156 



1 * an d above all in Stalingrad, we were living in the lap of 
luxury. 

Nowhere in the west, not even when the ist British Airborne 
Division was almost surrounded at Arnhem, was there such appalling 
suffering as during those ten weeks of bitter, winter weather between 
2Oth November, 1942, and 2nd February, 1943, when the 6th 
German Army was cut off by the Russians at Stalingrad. Rations 
were reduced to one slice of black bread per day and one tin of 
vegetables between sixteen men. The only meat that was available 
came from the dead horses which lay frozen stiff in the snow. 
Soon even these were so scarce that starving German soldiers were 
blown up in mine-fields trying to crawl through and get to one of 
the remaining carcases. Medical supplies ran out and, as everyone 
was lousy, typhus spread rapidly. 



CHAPTER XII 

END IN AFRICA 



THE NEXT obvious place where the enemy might try to hold us up 
in the advance from El Alamein was in the twelve-miles wide 
Gabes Gap, a natural defensive position consisting of the Wadi 
Akarit dominated by some steep-sided hills. If this was held in 
strength we would be faced with another full-scale battle. 

On 30th March I was driving round the front in my armoured 
car, while 10 Corps probed the enemy position, when a wireless 
message came through instructing me to report immediately to 
8th Army headquarters. On arrival I was shown into the map lorry 
where were seated Montgomery and Eisenhower. As this was the 
first time I had seen our new C.-in-C. I was very interested. 

Monty introduced me, then said: "Jorrocks, I want you to 
explain the situation on your corps front to General Eisenhower/' 
Monty knew the situation as well as if not better than I did, so I 
presumed that this was part of an act designed to show the new, 
inexperienced commander from the U.S.A. how the veteran 8th 
Army worked " Corps commander reports latest situation," etc., 
etc. So, harking back to the old days, I delivered what I hoped was a 
short, snappy, military appreciation in the approved Staff College 
manner, ending with the conclusion: " The Wadi Akarit position 
is too strongly held to be bounced and we shall have to stage a proper 
set-piece attack before we can break through." 

"While delivering this military peroration I was surreptitiously 
studying General Eisenhower, the completely unknown American 
general who had recently been appointed to command us all. 
Why had he been selected, I wondered ? Was he a military genius ? 
Obviously not but he certainly had something. 

The contrast between these two men could hardly have been 

158 



greater. Monty, the commander, the complete master of the art 
of war: the man who made it his business to win battles; small, 
alert, tense, rather like an intelligent terrier who might bite at any 
moment. Eisenhower, a large, friendly, shrewd person with a 
broad grin, who was a co-ordinator rather than commander. 

By the time I left the lorry I had already partially succumbed to 
the Eisenhower charm. His most endearing quality was his complete 
selflessness. It was obvious even then that he was concerned with 
only one thing to win the war and that the last person to count 
with him was General Eisenhower. 

He was not a military genius he never pretended to be. Nor 
had he, at that time, had any practical experience in command, but 
he was prepared to let the experts like Monty get on with the battle 
while he welded the different nationalities into a workable team. 

To my mind they were perfectly placed. At the top the co- 
ordinator; in the field the commander. Neither would have been a 
complete success in the other's job. In fact I doubt whether anyone 
but Ike could have succeeded in driving his difficult team of Monty, 
Patton and Bradley to final victory. Men don't rise to command 
great armies in war unless they are strong men who do not lightly 
brook interference with their plans, and these three were no 
exception. 

There was a delightful story going round the 8th Army. Monty, 
having changed the original plan for the invasion of Sicily, was 
summoned to Algiers for a conference. On arrival at the airfield he 
said to Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, who had come to 
meet him, " I expect I am a bit unpopular up here ! " Bedell Smith 
replied: " General, to serve under you would be a great privilege 
for anyone: to serve alongside you wouldn't be too bad. But say, 
General, to serve over you is hell ! " 

Whether there was any truth in this I cannot say. But I have 
yet to meet the really successful commander who wasn't hell to 
serve over. 

On 6th and yth April, 30 Corps launched a full-scale attack on 
the Wadi Akarit position, and after some hard fighting, particularly 
by the 5ist Highland and 4th Indian Divisions, they smashed their 

159 



way through. It was now the turn of my mobile 10 Corps to burst 
out of the bottleneck and sweep forward over the fertile coastal 
plain of Tunisia towards Tunis. 

The hills across the Gabes Gap were like a gateway opening on 
to an enchanted garden. In front of us was an open plain with small, 
white villages, olive groves and cultivation. It seemed all wrong 
that war should descend on this pleasant land. Up to now, with the 
exception of Tripoli, most of the fighting had taken place in the 
arid desert, populated by a few scraggy Bedouin, who appeared 
from nowhere to stand beside some desert track offering for barter 
the smallest hen's eggs I have ever seen in my life. Otherwise there 
was no one, and we soldiers could wage our beastly war without 
interfering with anyone. 

From now on it would be different; we were entering a country 
inhabited by French colonists. Sfax and Sousse were pleasant little 
seaside towns, and as each was liberated the authorities staged a 
suitable and very French welcome. At Sousse I found myself stand- 
ing immediately behind Monty while the French mayor read a long 
speech of welcome. Around us were crowds of inhabitants, flags, 
guards of honour, in fact, all the trappings of a liberation ceremony. 

After the speeches, as was usual on these occasions, a very 
charming young French girl moved on to the stage and presented 
Monty with a beribboned bouquet. So far all had gone according 
to plan. But suddenly, as Monty shook her by the hand and said, 
" Thank you, mademoiselle," we all heard a shrill girlish voice 
saying, " Plees kees me." 

This certainly was far from normal procedure. I glanced out of 
the corner of my eye at my commander, wondering how he would 
react. I need not have worried. After a brief pause Monty bent 
down most gallantly and kissed her on the cheek. "We heard after- 
wards that the young lady refused to allow her fiance to kiss her for 
twenty-four hours, and wouldn't even wash her face as she did not 
wish to remove the touch of ** Le Liberateur" 

I had my suspicions that this charming ceremony was not 
entirely unpremeditated, and, sure enough, we discovered that 
Monty's A.D.C., John Poston, who was killed almost at the end of 

1 60 




The futility of war: Caen in August 1944 

The King meeting regimental commanders of the $2nd U.S. Airborne Div. at 
30 Corps H.Q., September 1944. Left to right: the author, H.M. the King, 
the divisional commander General Jim Gavin, the regimental commanders 





Normandy 1944. With Brigadier George Webb and Harold Young, my A.D.C. 
Commanding 30 Corps during the Rhine crossing, March 1945 




the war, had organised thewhole incident, and had spent the previous 
afternoon happily rehearsing the young lady. 

It was during our advance towards Sousse that we made our 
first physical contact with the U.S. forces, who were operating 
alongside ist British Army in North Africa. An excited British 
voice came up on the air from one of the I2th Lancers armoured 
car patrols : 

" We have made contact with friends on our left! " 

The voice of a suspicious senior officer was then heard to say: 
" What do you mean, friends. What friends? " 

" Friends to whom Smokey went," came the answer. 

Smokey referred to a I2th Lancer officer called Smokey Douglas 
who had been flown over to act as liaison officer with American 
forces under General Patton with whom we were likely to make 
first contact, as the two armies were converging rapidly. Then 
came a fresh voice, and there was no doubt to what nationality it 
belonged: 

" Sure, we're Smokey's friends." 

So the big link-up had taken place, and the remainder of the 
Axis forces were now encircled in the north-west corner of Africa. 
A few days later I drove over in my armoured car keeping my 
fingers crossed in case we should hit a mine, as this particular road 
had not been cleared to contact our ist Army, which had occupied 
the old, historic town of Kairouan, and here I met Charles Keightley, 
the commander of the 6th British Armoured Division (afterwards 
General Sir Charles Keightley who commanded the forces at Suez). 

Here was the perfect example of the value of British Staff College 
training. Charles Keightley and I had been instructors there together; 
we were great friends and understood exactly how each other's 
mind worked. There was no likelihood, therefore, of any mis- 
understanding between our two formations, and from then on I 
had no anxiety about my flank. 

It must have looked to the world outside that all we had to do 
now was to move in for the kill. But it wasn't as simple as that. 

The German and Italian forces were holding very strong defen- 
sive positions and if they intended to stay put and fight it out, then 

161 



this, the last hurdle, might prove the most difficult of the whole 
African campaign certainly as far as 8th Army was concerned. 

On i6th April orders were issued by i8th Army Group for the 
final offensive to take place. All the Allied forces in turn, British, 
French, and Americans in the ist Army and our own 8th Army 
were to attack in a wide arc all round the imprisoned Axis troops. 
Practically every available formation was to be committed. It was 
rather like the closing stages of the battle of Waterloo, when 
Wellington gave the order " The whole line will advance." 

The 8th Army was to go in first, so on the night of the i9/20th 
10 Corps launched a full-scale attack on the Enfidaville-Takrouna 
position. After some hard fighting we captured both these places 
and made a little progress beyond, but were then held up by one 
of the strongest defensive positions I have ever seen. The coastal 
plain narrowed into a funnel, overlooked by a series of almost 
vertical hills: these were wired, mined and held by the enemy. 
It was a horrible place to attack. 

It was the New Zealanders who captured Takrouna. This 2nd 
New Zealand Division commanded by General Freyberg was 
unquestionably the most experienced and formidable fighting 
machine in the 8th Army. No man was even considered for a 
commission unless he had been in at least six actions, and a high 
proportion of the men had been wounded two or three times. 
They were equally at home in left hooks, day or night attacks: in 
fact in every type of battle which a division might be called upon to 
undertake. Yet even for them Takrouna was a truly formidable 
objective. 

It consisted of steep slopes, half-covered by boulders surmounted 
by a high rock pinnacle with a flat top on which were stone buildings 
and an Arab tomb, occupied in strength by the enemy. The sides of 
the pinnacle were almost sheer. 

A platoon of Maoris was given the final task of capturing 
Takrouna, but by the time it reached die foot of the pinnacle only 
two sergeants and seven other ranks were left. Somehow or other 
these few men scrambled up one at a time led by a most gallant 
sergeant called Manahi, and captured the whole feature. The enemy 

162 



casualties were 150 prisoners and forty to fifty killed, all by this 
handful of men. 

A few days later I visited Takrouna myself and it was all I could 
do physically to get to the top. How the Maoris did it wearing full 
equipment and in face of tough enemy opposition, I simply do not 
know. Incidentally, while I was on the top there was a sudden roar 
over my head and the New Zealand divisional artillery brought 
down a beautifully tight concentration within 200 yards of where 
we were sitting. Their head gunner, Steve Weir, told me afterwards 
with a grin that there certainly had been a call for defensive fire, but 
he had turned the whole lot on just to show the corps commander 
what the N.Z. gunners could do. 

I have mentioned this fight in some detail because in my opinion 
it was the most gallant feat of arms I witnessed in the course of the 
war, and I was bitterly disappointed when Sergeant Manahi, whom 
we had recommended for a V.C., only received a D.C.M. 

We were now ordered to sit tight while the main effort was 
made on the ist Army front. Monty showed me the plan for these 
operations and asked me what I thought. I was not very hopeful. 
Too many units were attacking on too wide a front and there didn't 
seem to be sufficient strength to break through anywhere. 

" I quite agree," said Monty. " I want you now to work out a 
plan to break through to Tunis by a strong attack up the coastal 
plain/' Next day he flew back to Cairo to discuss plans for the 
invasion of Sicily. 

The next few days were among the most unpleasant of my life. 
Under me were two very able and experienced divisional com- 
manders, Freyberg and Tuker, who commanded the New Zealand 
and 4th, Indian Divisions respectively, and they both hated the idea 
of the forthcoming attack up the coastal funnel. A division in war 
soon becomes very much like a family, and this was particularly so 
with the New Zealanders and the Indians. The father of the family 
is the divisional commander. He is, of course, devoted to his men, 
and they develop confidence in his judgment. They trust him and 
if he orders a particular operation, come what may they will try to 
carry it out* 

163 



Both Freyberg and Tuker knew that this attack would result in 
very high casualties. I was, therefore, a far from popular figure 
when I arrived to discuss the plan and give orders. Unfortunately 
for me, in my heart of hearts I sympathised with them. That has 
always been one of my great weaknesses as a commander. I have 
too much imagination and can see too much of the other man's 
point of view. 

There was no doubt that we could break through, if we had to, 
but at a heavy cost. I also hated the idea of blunting the cutting 
edge of what we honestly believed to be Britain's best army. 
We had come 1,800 miles and fought many hard battles, and by 
now the whole show worked like a piece of well-oiled machinery. 
As I went round in my armoured car studying the country in front 
of me I could see no other way out than a direct attack, and our 
losses were bound to be heavy. But on no account must I show 
anyone what I felt, and this proved a tremendous strain. 

I think by now everyone was feeling edgy. Divisional com- 
manders were irritable, rows would break out between staff officers 
who normally worked together in the greatest harmony. There was 
an end-of-battle feeling so near and yet so far. It was simply 
maddening. 

Monty returned from Cairo on the evening of the 26th in a 
very irritable frame of mind. He didn't like the existing plan for 
the invasion of Sicily and here was 10 Corps apparently stuck at the 
last ditch. As a matter of fact he was far from weU and retired to 
bed next day with a high temperature. I was accused of belly- 
aching, a favourite Monty expression when a subordinate disagreed 
with him, and was told to get on with the battle as ordered. As a 
parting shot, before leaving his caravan, I said, " Of course we can 
break through, but there won't be much left of your fine 8th Army 
when we have done it. Why can't we make an attack on 1st Army 
front where the country is more suitable for a break through than 
it is here ? " Monty merely grunted and but I went. 

So for the next three days I continued to drive, encourage and 
cajole my most unwilling team into this thoroughly unpleasant 
operation. Then miraculously everything changed, 

164 



On 30th April I was once again ordered by wireless to report 
forthwith to 8th Army headquarters. Sitting on the grass outside 
Monty's caravan was Admiral Ramsay, an old friend from the days 
when he had been flag officer Dover. He winked at me and said, 
" You are in for a bit of fun, my boy ! " Inside the caravan were 
Generals Alexander and Montgomery standing in front of a map. 
Monty turned to me and said: " The whole weight of the final 
attack is being shifted from here round to the ist Army front, 
from where the final coup de grace will be administered. You will 
go off to-day, taking with you the 4th Indian Division, yth 
Armoured Division, and 2oist Guards Brigade, and you will assume 
command of the 9 Corps in General Anderson's army. You will 
then smash through to Tunis and finish the war in North Africa." 

When I inquired what had happened to Crocker, the commander 
of 9 Corps, I was told that he had been wounded during a demonstra- 
tion and would be out of action for a few weeks. 

My heart leapt. This was the real art of generalship a quick 
switch, then a knock-out blow. How much better than battering 
our heads against the strong Enfidaville position. And what luck 
for me that I should be selected for the job. Then my better nature 
asserted itself and I began to feel very sorry for poor John Crocker 
who, after bearing the brunt of all the fighting in North Africa, 
was to be deprived of the final fruits of victory. 

At 3.15 I was off, taking with me a small staff, and by that 
evening I had entered a new world, because the 1st and 8th Armies 
were as different as chalk from cheese. It is astonishing how each 
army in battle develops its own personality. These two most 
certainly had. They looked different and felt different. 

There was no doubt that the 8th Army was by this time a very 
efficient force, but it was the scruffiest-looking army you could 
imagine. The vehicles were battered and old, and round them hung 
a collection of old tin cans each of which had an important role to 
play in the by now famous desert brew* 

Few people, certainly among the officers, wore uniform, and 
when they did it was patched and holed. The Americans when, we 
first joined up, poured over, complete in full uniform and equip- 

166 



ment and wearing their steel helmets, to have a look at the famous, 
victorious 8th Army. And what did they find? A curious sort of 
gypsy encampment ! Montgomery Hke his distinguished predecessor 
Wellington paid little attention to dress. As Gratton who served 
in the 88th during the Peninsular War wrote: 

" Provided we brought our men into the field well appointed 
with their sixty rounds of ammunition each he (Wellington) 
never looked to sec whether trousers were black, blue or grey; 
and as to ourselves we might be rigged out in any colour of 
the rainbow if we fancied it." 

These words might well have been written about the 8th Army 
in the desert. It is a curious fact that two of Britain's most 
successful armies, Wellington's and Montgomery's were also two 
of the scruffiest which ever went to war. 

The ist Army looked much more like an army. Their vehicles 
were fairly new and painted green, not yellow like ours. Head- 
quarters were camouflaged, everyone wore uniform. In fact this 
was the army with which I had trained in the U.K. up to nine 
months before. 

Coming from the 8th Army I didn't expect to be exactly 
welcomed with open arms because, as I knew only too well, there 
was no love lost between the two. But I was getting used to this 
sort of situation by now. 

I have no doubt that many people will be surprised to read so 
often of dislikes, jealousies and personal animosities, but just because 
people go to war they don't change their natures. In fact the 
unpleasant traits in people's characters tend to be emphasised. 
Everyone is living under considerable strain for most of the time. 
On the battlefield the niceties of peace-time civilised behaviour 
disappear, and the naked emotions, fear, hatred and jealousy are apt 
to emerge. Bitter animosities flare up suddenly; in the 1914 war 
the gunners and infantry were constantly at loggerheads, in the 
desert it was the infantry and tanks who did not get on. 

A regiment may imagine that the one next to it, by failing to 
capture some objective, has uncovered a flank, and as a result a 

167 



bitter hostility grows up between them which may last for years. 
These are the sort of things which happen in war and it is no good 
pretending they don't. 

In this case I could quite understand why the ist Army so 
disliked us. They had experienced some hard fighting in that 
difficult North African mountainous country and had come through 
a gruelling test with great credit. If you have any doubt about that, 
read the account of the battle of Tebourba, when the 2nd Battalion 
the Hampshire Regiment held out for four days though attacked by 
German forces which outnumbered them by four to one, supported 
by modern tanks and with complete air superiority. 

Yet the ist Army had no spectacular gains to show for all their 
hard fighting, and the papers were full of the victorious drive of the 
8th. We had captured the headlines, and by this time were in- 
sufferably conceited. When I met a senior ist Army general a few 
weeks before, he greeted me by saying sarcastically, " You must be 
having a wonderful time rounding up the Italians in the desert." 

So bitter was this feeling that later on, when y8th Division, the 
famous ist Army " Battle Axe " division, came under Montgomery's 
orders during the invasion of Sicily, they bore proudly on their 
vehicles the words, " We have no connection with the 8th Array." 

These things have to be faced, and on arrival at 9 Corps head- 
quarters I assembled as many people as I could and explained that I 
had not come there as a superior being from a superior army to 
teach them anything at all. I knew very well the difficulties they 
had been through. I couldn't help the fact that I came from the 
8th Army, and I probably wasn't as bad as they thought. Anyhow, 
here I was and they had better make the best of me. This cleared 
the atmosphere considerably, because everyone laughed. 

I had been warned that General Anderson, the ist Army 
commander, was a dour Scot and a difficult man to serve, but as far 
as I was concerned no one could have been nicer. He was quite 
clear about what I was to do: " Capture Tunis " it was as simple 
as that. Then he went on to enumerate the forces he proposed to 
place under my command, namely: two infantry divisions, the 
4th British and 4th Indian with 160 Churchill tanks and two 

168 



armoured divisions, the 6th and yth, supported by the whole 
tactical air force commanded by " Mary " Coningham, and an im- 
mense weight of artillery. My spirits soared. If I failed to break 
through with this immensely powerful force under command, then I 
deserved to be shot. 

From the map it seemed that the obvious place to launch the 
assault was from Medjez el Bab, up the valley via Massicault, and 
St. Cyprian, straight through to Tunis twenty-five miles away. 
As this was the sector of the front occupied by 5 British Corps I 
made their headquarters my first call. Fortunately for me their 
commander was Charles Allfrey, another ex-instructor from the 
Staff College, whom I knew well. He was one of the most popular 
officers in the British Army and nobody could have been more 
helpful. The capture of Tunis was the result of the closest co- 
operation between our two corps, 5 and 9. 

Allfrey at once took me on a personal reconnaissance of the whole 
front. Everywhere we went I could see curious glances at my 
desert-camouflaged car, which somehow looked rakish and indecent 
surrounded by the dark-green ist Army vehicles. 

This country was entirely different from the desert where I had 
spent the last nine months. It looked far more like England, with 
its growing crops and small hills broken by the mountains on either 
side. But to see the country meant visiting the forward units who 
held positions overlooking the Medjerda valley. This is not as a 
rule a popular procedure with the forward troops, to whom there 
is nothing more irritating than too brave generals who refuse to take 
the normal precautions and stand upright, wearing a red cap, in the 
front line, thus inevitably inviting retaliation from the enemy 
artillery the shells descending on the heads of the unfortunate 
troops usually after the general has gone. During the First World 
War we used to have a notice-board in our trenches bearing the 
words, " Please remember we live here." 

On this occasion I removed my red cap and explained to the 
troops that I would take every precaution, but that I simply must 
see the country. If after my departure they were shelled well, I 
was sorry, but it was the fortune of war. 

169 



The more I saw of this country the more convinced I was that 
here was a wonderful opportunity to employ the type of attack 
which, given the right sort of terrain, can be irresistible. This was 
to advance on a narrow front in great depth, so that there are always 
more men and more tanks to maintain the momentum. This endless 
procession, when seen from some enemy trench which is being 
steadily shelled (we had one gun to every seven yards of front) and 
attacked from the air, must surely strike despair into the hearts of 
even the stoutest of defenders. So I decided to attack on a 3,000- 
yard front with the two infantry divisions followed by the two 
armoured. 

Zero hour was 3 a.m. on 6th May. On the previous afternoon I 
moved into a small command post which had been dug into a hill 
reasonably close to the start line. Some hours later I was sitting 
with my feet on the table, sipping a short drink and reading a novel, 
when the canvas screen which served as a door was pushed aside and 
in came General Alexander, who must have had a long, exhausting 
drive to get up to me. 

Obviously dusty and tired, he said rather testily, " You don't 
seem to have much to do/' I looked at him in surprise and replied: 
" If I had anything to do now, sir, we should have lost to-morrow's 
battle before it ever started/' 

Nevertheless I much appreciated his visit and he impressed on 
me the importance of speed and of not allowing the enemy to draw 
us off from the direct route to Tunis. 

I never felt so confident about any battle before or after. Every- 
thing went like clockwork. The two infantry divisions punched the 
initial breach, and at 7.30 a.m. I was able to order the two armoured 
divisions forward. By midday we were through the crust and the 
tanks were grinding their way forward down the valley towards 
Tunis. It was a most inspiring sight to see these two weU-trained and 
experienced armoured divisions being used in, a role for which 
armoured divisions were specifically designed to exploit a break- 
through deep into the enemy's heart. They worked like efficient 
machines, aircraft, guns, tanks, infantry and vehicles each fitting 
into the jig-saw of battle in its proper place. 

170 



I do not claim this as a great feat of generalship; it was nothing 
of the sort. I was merely fortunate to be in command of a battle 
in which victory was a foregone conclusion. On yth May the 
advance continued, and as I was standing beside the road a soldier 
wearing the famous brown beret of the nth Hussars leant out of his 
vehicle and shouted, " First in again, sir! " The nth made a habit 
of being first into captured towns. 

But whether or not they succeeded on this occasion is open to 
doubt. Their claim is hotly disputed by the Derbyshire Yeomanry, 
another armoured car regiment. It is almost certain that the leading 
troops of these two regiments entered Tunis by different routes at 
exactly the same moment. Later we became quite blase about 
liberating cities. 

The confusion in Tunis must have been unique. The town was 
full of German soldiers, who were completely surprised by the 
speed of our advance : some were even walking the streets arm-in- 
arm with their girls. A few of the most stout-hearted opened up 
with tommy-guns, or tried to organise the defence of some house; 
others just surrendered. Irretrievably mixed up with these local 
battles were thousands of inhabitants who gave full vent to their 
joy at being liberated. 

I heard all this at second-hand because I never entered Tunis 
myself. When at 4 p.m. a report came through that the town had 
fallen, I went oft' to Charles Keightley's headquarters to turn his 
6th Armoured Division away south-east through Hammam Lif to 
Hammamet, in order to cut off the Germans who had escaped into 
the tip of the Cap Bon Peninsula and separate them from those who 
were facing die 8th Army. I arrived at Harnmam Lif just in time to 
watch the Welsh Guards clearing the top of the hill which dominated 
the one road through to the south-east. 

In my eagerness to get on I didn't pay sufficient attention to where 
our front Mne was, but went off with my A.D.C. on a personal 
reconnaissance. Suddenly eight figures with hands above their heads 
jumped up almost at our feet. To my disgust I realised that they were 
very frightened Italians. Had they been stalwart members of the 
Afrika Corps it would have been different; we could have escorted 

171 



them back proudly into our new lines. But for the corps commander 
to return with eight weedy, miserable Italian prisoners in tow 
would have made me the laughing stock of the entire corps. So, 
feeling rather ashamed of myself, I handed them, over to my A.D.C. 
and went back alone by another route. 

Tills was almost our last battle. Driving throughout the night 
the 6th Armoured got through to the coast at Hammamet next 
morning. As we had complete air superiority I ordered Charles 
Keightley to forget all about open spacing and to drive along this 
one road nose to tail, two abreast if necessary as long as he got there 
quickly. That was all that mattered. 

General Anderson arrived next morning, and as we sat together 
on a hill watching the armoured division pouring along the road 
below us, he turned to me and said: " I have waited a long, long 
time for this." 

Next day the surrender started. First of all a trickle, then a flood 
of Germans and Italians poured into our lines. Many of them were 
driving their own vehicles ; they were well fed, quite well clothed 
and perfectly cheerful. This is a side of the German character which 
I find it difficult to understand. The previous day they had been 
fighting well, there was no shortage of food, ammunition or equip- 
ment. So why should an entire army, apparently without any 
orders, just lay down its arms and surrender ? 

By I3th May some 217,600 Germans and Italians had done so. 
Under similar circumstances I feel certain that quite a number of our 
formations would have gone on fighting in the mountains for ages. 
And if the Germans had elected to do so it would have taken us a 
long time to winkle them out, and they might well have interfered 
with the time-table for the landings in Sicily. The same sort of thing 
occurred when we entered Germany in 1944; white sheets were 
hanging out of every house. Yet no one would deny that the 
Germans are first-class troops wlio fight with great courage. I caa 
only imagine that they are too well disciplined; as long as every- 
thing is proceeding in the orderly manner to which the German 
mentality is accustomed they will go on for ever. But once the 
command structure breaks down and orders do not come through, 

172 



then they are not prepared to think for themselves in the same way 
as the more independent-minded British. 

The final curtain in North Africa came down on two particularly 
fitting scenes. First, the original Desert Rats, the yth Armoured 
Division, were in at the final kill; and secondly, those stalwart 
opponents the German poth Light Division, insisted on surrendering 
to the New Zealanders. 

A few days later I returned to the 8th Army and moved back 
with my corps to Tripoli. The next month was a pleasant interlude 
in the turmoil of war, rather like a period of convalescence after a 
serious operation. The whole corps relaxed, refitted, reorganised, 
and bathed, while the remainder of the 8th Army was busily 
preparing for the invasion of Sicily. My caravan was on the coast 
and twice a day I used to drive out into the Mediterranean in my 
amphibious jeep and swim. 

By now Tripoli had become a main medical area and some 
twelve base hospitals had been erected in the vicinity. Hospitals 
meant nurses, British girls whom many of the corps had not seen 
for a very long period. Every evening, outside their camps, were 
parked rows and rows of jeeps waiting to drive the sisters to parties 
in the different officers* messes. This was all very well but it didn't 
seem to me that the troops were getting their fair share, so I invited 
all the matrons to lunch. This I regard as my bravest act of the 
whole war. I have always found one matron frightening, but here 
I was alone with twelve ! 

However, as a result of that lunch party they all responded 
nobly, and we were able to organise a twice-weekly dance for other 
ranks only. These proved an enormous success, because it meant a 
great deal to men who had not spoken to a British woman in some 
cases for years to be able to dance with one again. 

This was too good to last and sure enough I was ordered to 
establish a planning headquarters in the Ecolc Normale just outside 
Algiers in order to prepare for a landing in Italy. 

But the trouble was to find out where. Every evening we 
attended a conference which was known as " the children's hour," 
when a representative from General Eisenhower's Supreme Head- 

173 



quarters arrived to tell us what new plot had been hatched for our 
benefit during the day. There seemed to be a certain number of 
suitors for the hand of 10 Corps. At one moment I was placed 
under command of General Mark Clark's 5th U.S. Army: then 
next day a wire would arrive from Monty's headquarters in Sicily 
informing me that I was still under 8th Army and was to report at 
once for orders. Eventually General Eisenhower stepped in and we 
were firmly wedded to General Mark Clark for the landing at 
Salerno. 

To celebrate the occasion I flew down to 5th Army's headquarters 
where I received an almost royal reception. My first experience of 
serving in an American formation was a particularly happy one, 
because Mark Clark's chief of staff was the famous Al Gruenther 
(afterwards Supreme Commander at S.H.A.P.E.), reputed to be 
one of the best bridge players in the U.S.A. Whether or not he was 
a maestro at bridge, he certainly had all the qualities that go to make 
a superb staff officer a first-class brain, great charm and a phenom- 
enal memory. His only weakness was that he tended to do every- 
thing himself and not to decentralise sufficiently. The amount of 
work he got through in twenty-four hours would have killed most 
people, but he seemed to thrive on it. 

Although we were very sorry to leave the 8th Army I was glad 
that at last someone had decided under whose orders we were to 
come and where our next operation was to take place, because time 
was running out. Any form of combined operation involving an 
opposed landing needs the most meticulous planning beforehand. 
Ships have to be loaded well in advance and what goes into the hold 
first, comes out last. So careful loading tables are required to ensure 
that the right sort of ammunition, stores, and, shall we say, bridging 
equipment, are available when required. An operation of this sort 
is really the military equivalent of taking up a small-sized town, 
putting all the people with their different requirements into ships 
and then landing them on an open beach complete with all the 
necessary services, food, water and so on. And then in addition 
providing them with the means to make war. 

It was these loading tables which proved my undoing. As the 

174 



beaches at Salerno were certain to be heavily attacked by the 
German Air Force we were trying to decide whether or not to include 
as part of the air defence plan a new form of smoke-screen which 
was claimed by the Americans to be extremely effective. If we took 
it, we should have to leave something else behind, because, as usual, 
shipping space was strictly limited. At the beginning of June I went 
to Bizerta to watch the 46th Infantry Division carry out a full-scale 
rehearsal of its assault on the Salerno beaches. While talking to the 
divisional commander in his headquarters I heard the air-raid warn- 
ing sound. Here was obviously a golden opportunity to see whether 
this U.S. smoke-screen was really effective or not, so we all went 
out into the street and watched it rolling steadily over the town. 
Suddenly out of the smoke emerged a low-flying German fighter 
with all guns blazing away into the blue with no particular target 
at all. A sledgehammer hit me in the stomach. I lost control of 
my legs and collapsed on to the ground, but even thei% I don't think 
I realised that I had been hit. I discovered afterwards that the bullet 
entered the top of my chest I must have been leaning forward at 
the time and then, starting with my lungs it pierced almost every 
organ in my stomach and intestines, emerging at the bottom of my 
spine. It was pure bad luck; no one else in the party was even 
scratched. Here was further proof of that old military adage " If 
your name is on a shell or bullet, there's nothing in the world that 
you can do about it it will get you in the end." 

I retain only two memories of the next twenty-four hours. 
The first was when I was lying on the floor of divisional headquarters 
with a group of people standing round. Recognising the face of the 
divisional A.D.M.S. the chief doctor I asked him if I would be 
well enough to take the corps to Salerno. He shook his head. 
Luckily for my peace of mind it never entered my head that at this 
time he thought I was going to die. 

Some hours later I became aware of a strange face bending over 
me and an American voice saying delightedly: " General, you are 
not going to die. I didn't think it was possible until I operated but 
you are not " and he kept on repeating " not " " going to die." 
This turned out to be Colonel Carter, the head surgeon of an 

175 



American field hospital on the outskirts of Bizerta to which I had 
been taken. I came to know Carter very well during the ensuing 
weeks and no man could have done more to save my life. He was 
one of the leading surgeons in Dallas, Texas, from where the whole 
hospital came. I developed a great affection for these cheerful 
Texans who were so friendly to the " Limey " general who had 
suddenly appeared in their midst. There was no doubt in their 
minds, nor in mine after a few weeks of their company, about which 
was the best State in the U.S.A. and who was really fighting this 
war Texas and the Texans. 

Apparently the outside world also believed that my number 
was up, as the troops say, but luckily this never entered the heads 
of the two people most concerned, Colonel Carter and myself. 

Dick McCreery arrived one day to say that he had been 
appointed to command my corps during the Salerno fighting, but 
the only other visitor whom I remember distinctly was my A.D.C., 
Harold Young, who had established himself somewhere in the 
vicinity of the hospital and came in to sec me regularly. If only I 
hadn't been feeling so ill, the next few weeks should have been 
amongst the most interesting of my life. I occupied the corner of a 
general ward with a constantly changing population of troops from 
every country taking part in the war, friend and foe. The toughest 
of all, unquestionably, were the French gournier from the North 
African mountains, on whom pain and discomfort seemed to have 
no effect whatever. One day, unknown to me, Colonel Carter got 
hold of Harold Young and said that my wound was not healing 
satisfactorily. He could do no more for me in the field and reckoned 
I should be got back into a base hospital in the U.K. as soon as 
possible. This must have presented quite a problem for Harold 
because we were both by now very much out on a limb: everyone 
is so busy in war that anyone who disappears from the military 
scene is soon completely forgotten. He realised that the only 
chance was to see someone at the top so, undaunted, he set off on 
his own for Supreme Headquarters in Algiers. It says a great deal 
for his initiative or cheek if you like that this young British 
captain succeeded somehow in bluffing his way into the office of 

176 



Eisenhower's famous chief of staff, General Bedell Smith. Although 
I didn't know Bedell Smith very well at the time, this made no 
difference to him at all. He responded at once and in a few days I 
was flying home to England in the forward half of a U.S. aircraft 
accompanied by Harold, Colonel Carter and a U.S. nurse. The rear 
was occupied by General Bradley going back to U.K. to start work 
on the invasion of Normandy in which he commanded the U.S. 
assault forces. 

We stopped for one night at Marrakesh close to the Atlas 
Mountains, where I was privileged to occupy Churchill's room in 
Mrs. Taylor's villa. When we resumed the flight the weather deter- 
iorated rapidly and although I was well doped with morphia 
Harold and the nurse had to take it in turns to hold me down so 
as to keep me in my bunk. However we survived, and after chang- 
ing planes at Prestwick we ultimately made a perfect landing on the 
airfield at Farnborough near Aldershot. I was then whisked away 
in an ambulance to the Royal Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot. 

I have always been a fatalist and feel convinced that some good 
fairy must have taken a hand in directing me to this particular 
hospital where I came under the care of that magnificent surgeon, 
Edward Muir, of King's College Hospital, now surgeon to the 
Royal Household. I owe my life to his skill and devotion. He 
carried out five major operations on my midriff and as a rule 
visited me at least five or six times each day. The relationship 
between a patient and his surgeon is of vital importance. I relied on 
Muir to such an extent that I became miserable if he even went 
outside the hospital precincts. He was backed up by some splendid 
nursing, notably by Miss Wilkinson and Miss Piercey amongst 
others. 

The real crisis of my life came when I was recovering from my 
third operation in a convalescent home at Somerley, near Ringwood 
in Hampshire. After subjecting me to a lengthy examination the 
Southern Command surgical specialist announced that at least one 
more operation would be necessary, but I should have to wait a 
minimum of six months before this could be done. 

" It would be bad surgery," he said, " to do it in your present 

177 



condition." I was appalled. This meant that my days of active 
command in the field were over. I had no intention, however, of 
giving up without a struggle, so 1 returned smartly to the attack. 
" Bad surgery," I said, " only applies to peace-time. Surely your 
job is to get me fit enough to return to the battle." The argument 
went on and on endlessly. Eventually driven almost mad by this 
intractable general bouncing about in his bed the specialist went 
to the window and stood with his back to me saying nothing at all. 
I realised only too well that this was the turning-point in my whole 
military life. I simply couldn't bear the thought of lying about 
doing nothing month after month while the war was reaching its 
climax. Suddenly he spun round on his heels and said: " All right, 
have it your own way. You know the risks, m ask Muir to 
operate but if he does not want to do so you will have to abide by 
his decision/* 

I sighed with relief. Muir agreed to carry out this difficult 
operation, contrary, I suspect, to his own wishes. 

For fourteen months I alternated between the Cambridge 
hospital and Somerley. Towards the end of this long period I 
became a sort of tame parrot in the hospital. Everyone knew me and 
all sorts of people used to drop in for a chat. This had its amusing 
side. All the nurses had been invited to a New Year's Eve dance in 
a nearby officers' mess, but had run into difficulties because matron 
had decreed that everyone must be back in their quarters by II p.m. 

Eventually a deputation of nurses canie to see me. Their plan 
was simplicity itself. As all the doors would be closed to them after 
ir p.m. those wishing to return to the hospital in the early hours of 
the morning would get in through my window which was con- 
veniently placed on the ground-floor. No one in authority, they 
thought, would have any suspicion that a general's room was being 
used for this illicit purpose. I, of course, agreed, and all weat well. 
Nurse after nurse returned successfully. 

Then came disaster. The head night-sister spotted one of them 
emerging from the door of my room and immediately gave chase. 
The nurse being younger gained a short lead, slipped into her room 
and junjped into bed. Sure enough the door opened and in came 

178 



sister. The nurse apparently put up a magnificent performance of 
a girl awakening from deep sleep. But to no avail. The sister merely 
said tartly, " Do you usually go to bed with your hat on ? " The 
poor nurse was on the mat next morning. 

During all this time I had heard nothing from my late com- 
mander, who must have been desperately busy preparing the 
Normandy landings, but when I was allowed to leave hospital and 
become an out-patient I was at once invited to -spend a night at 
Monty's billet near St. Paul's School. I did my best to impress him 
with my complete recovery but without much success. " You 
haven't recovered yet," he said. " Go away and get fit. Then we 
shall see." 



179 



CHAPTER XIII 

RETURN TO THE WAR 



BY THE end of July, 1944, I was almost well again. In fact on 
3 ist July, I attended the Cambridge hospital for my final injection, 
and though the medical board had refused to classify me Ai, I was 
to all intents and purposes fit for active service. 

Ever since D-Day, 6th June, I had watched the battle of 
Normandy unfold very much on the lines which Bedell Smith, 
Eisenhower's chief of staff", had predicted when I had visited his 
headquarters at Bushey two days after the landings had taken place. 
I knew enough about war to realise that some very bitter fighting 
must be taking place as the Normandy beach-head was surely but 
very slowly expanded. The battle of the build up in fact. 

Could the Germans concentrate troops in Normandy more 
rapidly than we could land them on the beaches? The whole 
operation might almost be reduced to this simple fact. The success 
of this, the largest combined operation in history, depended more 
on the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy than it did on the Army. 
The initial landings on D-Day had been a triumph of naval planning 
and seamanship, while the air effort provided by the British and 
U.S Air Forces was on an unprecedented scale. 

All this I had watched with growing impatience. Then, on 
ist August, I received a telephone call from the War Office to say 
that Monty was sending his aircraft back for me the next day and I 
was to fly out to France to take over 30 Corps in the British Libera- 
tion Army, 

This was splendid news, particularly as it meant I was to get 
command of 30 Corps, that veteran formation of the desert. 

Monty hadn't wasted any time. Before the arrival of this 
message we had arranged to leave the Farnborough Park Hotel, 

180 



where we had been staying so that I could be near the Cambridge 
hospital, and move to a small, very attractive cottage which 
belonged to my wife at Compton in the southern outskirts of 
Winchester. Now, instead of all three going together, I saw my 
wife and daughter drive off before going up to Northolt to await 
the arrival of Monty's aircraft. When the pilot showed me the 
course he proposed to take to Normandy I realised that we passed 
over Winchester, and he agreed to circle over our cottage at tree- 
top height so that I could wave good-bye. Almost my last sight of 
England was my wife and daughter in the garden of Yew Tree 
Cottage. My daughter was jumping up and down beside a white 
table-cloth which they had stretched out on the lawn. We then 
straightened out and were soon over the Channel on our way to the 
Normandy beach-head. 

I don't know what I had expected to find across the Channel, 
but my first sight of the Normandy beaches was very stirring. 
Offshore there was intense maritime activity, ships at anchor, ships 
unloading at the monstrous Mulberry harbour monstrous that 
man should have had the impertinence to throw down such a 
challenge to the sea and construct, in a few days,' his own artificial 
harbour where none had existed before. It had been a truly 
Churchillian conception and here it was working away below me, 
playing a vital role in the battle of the build up. 

Small boats were darting about and hundreds of D.U.K.W.s 
were driving backwards and forwards between the sea and the 
beach-head. The area inland from the beaches looked just like a 
dusty ant-heap with stores, troops and vehicles moving about in 
every direction. And all the time aircraft were taking off and 
landing on strips which had been hewn out of the Normandy 
countryside. If it hadn't been for them none of this could have 
existed at all. Without almost complete air superiority we could 
never have dared to risk the concentrations of men and material 
which I saw below me. 

I was looking down on the last major combined operation of 
this sort that can ever take place. In my lifetime there had been 
many, starting at Gallipoli, and here was the end of the chapter in 

181 



Normandy. For in these days of thermo-nuclear warfare, no 
commander will ever dare to present his opponent with such a 
tempting target for an atomic missile. 

By the time we landed on one of the dusty airstrips my first 
mood of exhilaration had passed and doubts had begun to assail me. 
This always happened when I was on my way to take over a new 
command. I felt lonely. The intense military activity all round me 
was in such striking contrast to the peaceful hospital existence of the 
past year that I had entered a strange world. Fourteen months was 
a long time to be out of it all. "Would I find myself completely out 
of date? The thick hedgerows of the Normandy bocage were very 
different from the desert, even from the Medjez-El-Bab valley and 
Cap Bon. 

Would I know anyone, I wondered? The B.L.A. was composed 
mainly of formations which had trained in England, with only a 
very small proportion of my old friends from the Middle East. 
All the people whom I had come to know so well were in the 
8th Army, and must be somewhere in Italy. A great nostalgia for 
the old sweats with sand between their toes, and their coloured 
scarves, swept over me. Then, as we drove along in a jeep with 
ceaseless rows of traffic on all sides we were halted by a passing 
column of tanks. A dusty, grinning face looked down at me from 
a turret and I heard a voice saying, " Glad to see you back, sir ! " 

I suddenly felt much better. That young officer could not know 
how much his friendly greeting did to improve the morale of his 
corps commander. 

As I continued on my way to 2ist Army Group Tactical Head- 
quarters I saw more and more familiar faces. The people I had last 
seen in Africa were now seemingly in Normandy. Later, when I 
remarked on this phenomenon to Graham that old war-horse who 
had fought through the desert campaign as a battalion commander 
and brigadier in the 5 ist Highland Division, and was now command- 
ing the 50th Division he said in his dry Scots voice, " General, you 
ought to know by now that you always meet the same people 
battle-fighting." 

Of course he was right. Nobody enjoys fighting. Yet the for- 

182 



ward area in any theatre of war, the sharp end of the battle, as we 
used to call it, is inhabited entirely by young men with a gleam in 
their eye who actually do the fighting. They are comparatively 
few in number, and they are nearly always the same people. They 
had been in the desert, they had been in North Africa and Sicily. 
Now they were in Normandy, and they wouldn't have had it other- 
wise. 

At last we arrived at Monty's tactical headquarters. It was in a 
small orchard, a place of complete peace and calm, in marked 
contrast to the turmoil outside. Some green humps under the trees 
indicated the presence of a few lorries and caravans covered by 
camouflage nets, but that was all. There was no scurrying: in fact, 
there were no signs of military activity at all. It was incredible that 
this little orchard was the hub from which the hundred miles' 
battle-front peopled by 1,580,000 troops was controlled. 

Then the door of a caravan opened and out came two figures, 
Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, and Montgomery, com- 
mander of all the ground forces. They were talking earnestly as 
they walked slowly towards me. I wondered whether General 
Eisenhower would remember me after all these months, as I had 
met him only half a dozen times previously. But when he saw me 
the familiar Ike grin spread across his face and, shaking me by both 
hands, he said: " Jorrocks, there's nobody I am more glad to see out 
here than you." 

This was a gross exaggeration: I could think of many people 
who would have been of much greater value to him at that particular 
moment but it was a typical Eisenhower gesture, warm and friendly, 
and it gave me the feeling that I was back in the team at last. 

After he had gone Monty took me into his map lorry, where I 
underwent a minute scrutiny, which, I felt, concerned my physical 
fitness. Had I really recovered sufficiently to be entrusted with the 
command of a corps in battle ? This was what he was considering. 
And knowing how shrewd he was I felt uneasy because every now 
and then I had bouts of high temperature combined with sickness. 
I was afraid that if Monty discovered this I should be on the next 
plane back to England. 

183 



I must have passed the test, for lie turned to the map to give one 
of those military appreciations which I had come to know so well. 

I had also been studying him, and wondering how he was 
standing up to the strain of this difficult time. From what I had 
heard in England criticisms ahout his handling of the battle were 
growing, people were getting impatient and the Press were turning 
hostile. Monty had many enemies, and it looked as though the pack 
was moving in for a kill. This was all very different from the 
adulation of the 8th Army days. 

Yet it seemed to leave him completely unmoved. He explained 
to me that the battle was developing almost exactly in accordance 
with the plan which he had given out at his final conference in 
St. Paul's School, London, a couple of weeks before D-Day. 
This plan was basically simple for the British and Canadians to go 
on attacking in the eastern sector so as to draw to their front the 
bulk of the German reserves, particularly their panzer divisions, and 
thus enable the Americans in the western sector to capture the 
Cherbourg peninsula and break out in a southerly and south- 
easterly direction. 

At that time, on the British sector, fourteen British and Canadian 
divisions were opposed by fourteen German divisions and 600 tanks, 
while nineteen U.S. divisions were faced by only nine German 
divisions and no tanks. So the constant attacks on the eastern sector 
had fulfilled their purpose, and the U.S. forces were at that time 
breaking out of the beach-head. The whole front would then 
swing round, hingeing on the eastern flank, and advance to the 
River Seine. The days of the bitter, close-quarter fighting were 
nearly over. 

Of the Germans Monty said that, as usual, they had fought very 
well, but thanks to the continuous operations of the British and U.S. 
air forces it was almost impossible for them to move up reserve 
divisions by day or to stage a large-scale counter-offensive. Most of 
their reinforcements were forced to move by night and were then 
thrown into the battle piecemeal. 

I asked him about the German commanders and he said there 
were rumours that Rommel had been wouadcd and Von Rundstedt 

184 



sacked. He added that Von Rimdstedt was a very experienced and 
able commander, but that he was probably now getting too old and 
set in his ways for a life-and-death struggle like this. 

I got to know Von Rundstedt quite well after the war, when he 
was in the German generals' prisoner-of-war camp in Western 
Command. I was G.O.C. at the time and I went down on several 
occasions to fight some of the battles over again with him. To start 
with, he was suspicious, as he had never heard my name at all, 
which was hardly surprising because as one of the supreme enemy 
commanders he dealt in rather higher coinage than British corps 
commanders. He was particularly bitter about Hitler, and com- 
plained that when we landed in Normandy the Fuehrer had refused 
him permission to use his reserve panzer divisions to counter-attack 
the beach-head. 

" I was not allowed to use them without getting permission 
from the Fuehrer in his headquarters on the eastern front. What did 
he know of the battle in Normandy ? We rang up every few hours, 
but he refused until it was too late, until, in fact, you had your anti- 
tank guns and many tanks ashore. I practically had to ask him 
whether I was to put a sentry at the front or back of my head- 
quarters," he added bitterly. 

Von Rundstedt was chronically short of cigarettes but was much 
too proud to mention the fact. So we used to leave packets on the 
table by the door when we went out. I felt no particular hatred for 
the old field-marshal. We were both professional soldiers, and as 
far as I knew he had always fought cleanly. He was, however, a 
typical Prussian general of the old school. I once said to him: 
" Have you any complaints ? Is there anything I can do to improve 
the living conditions in your camp ?" He replied: "Yes. Some of 
the German generals in this camp are not the sort of people with 
whom we are used to mixing. I would be grateful if you could 
have them removed to another camp." 

" Who are these undesirable generals ? " I asked. 

" General doctors and general engineers," he said. " It is most 
unpleasant for us real generals to be forced to live with people like 
that." Needless to say, no steps were taken to effect this particular 

185 



improvement, and I left them all to get on together as best they 
could. 

After taking my leave of Monty I reported to my army com- 
mander, General Dempsey, at 2nd Army headquarters. Our two 
careers had been closely linked. I had twice taken over from him 
in staff appointments before the war, and he had taken over 13 
Corps from me in the Middle East. From now on, with the excep- 
tion of one short period during the battle of the Reichswald, I was 
to serve under his command up to the end of the war. 

Dempsey hated publicity of any sort, and had such a quiet, self- 
retiring personality that at first it was difficult to get to know him, 
but the longer I served under his command the more I liked him 
and admired his quick brain and complete grasp of the current 
military situation. 

He was also much tougher than he looked. I remember his 
arriving at my headquarters during a hectic battle. He gave me my 
orders with his normal lucidity, and then, as usual, confirmed the 
main points in writing (he wrote left-handed). In fact, he seemed 
his usual self. It wasn't until some hours after his departure that I 
heard that the small Auster aircraft in which he travelled round the 
front had turned over on landing and had been written off. Though 
he must have been badly shaken, he never even mentioned this 
mishap during his visit. 

At this time 8 and 30 Corps were attacking alongside the 
Americans, and opposite my corps loomed the famous, or in- 
famous, Mont Pinion. This hill feature, 1,200 feet high, dominated 
all the surrounding country. It was, in fact, the hinge of the whole 
battle on our sector of the front. From its top the Germans had the 
most wonderful observation of everything we did, but, once it was 
in our hands the tables would be turned. We were still some 
distance away, but it was obvious that sooner or later 30 Corps 
would have to assault this formidable bastion. 

My first task was to get the feel of the corps. After visiting a 
number of units it soon became clear that the gloss had been taken 
off that magnificently-trained army which had sailed across the 
channel in June. Seven weeks hard fighting in the difficult bocage 

186 



country with its small fields and thick hedges, so much better suited 
to defence than to offence, had taken their toll. This was particularly 
so in the infantry, which seemed to have lost the sharp edge of its 
offensive spirit. This is bound to happen after a long period of close- 
quarter fighting, because the offensive power of any infantry unit 
depends entirely on the leaders. 

It would be safe to say that out of a section of, say, ten men, 
two lead, seven are perfectly prepared to follow where they are led, 
and one would much prefer not to be there at all. This, of course, 
is only a rough average and varies in different units. One of the 
reasons why so many generals objected to men being asked to 
volunteer for special cloak-and-dagger private armies was that it was 
always the leaders who volunteered. In these special formations, 
composed of the picked men of the whole army, each leader 
represented only himself, because they were all of the same type; 
but in his regiment he was worth almost a whole section, for he was 
the man the others would follow. 

As the leaders take the most risks they tend, unfortunately, to 
become the first casualties, and as more and more of them are 
killed or disappear into hospital so the offensive power of their unit 
wanes. This was the position in Normandy at the beginning of 
August. Another disturbing feature was the comparative lack of 
success of the veteran yth Armoured and 5ist Highland Divisions. 
Both of them came again later on and finished the war in magnificent 
shape, but during the Normany fighting they were not at their best 

The problem of what might be called divisional psychology 
requires constant attention in war. A division may go into its first 
battle well trained and full of enthusiasm, but lacking in front-line 
experience. If it can have a quick success when it is still at the peak 
it will probably develop into a magnificent fighting formation. 
But some divisions never recover from a first unfortunate battle, 
or from being left in the line too long. To decide on the right 
moment at which a division should be pulled out of the line for a 
rest requires nice judgment on the part of the superior commander. 
The danger signal comes when the troops begin to say: " Is nobody 
else fighting this war ? " 

187 



The yth Armoured and 5ist Highland Divisions, after being 
lionised in the U.K., came out to Normandy and found themselves 
faced with an entirely different type of battle, fought under different 
conditions of terrain. And they began to see the difficulties all too 
clearly. A racing enthusiast once described this condition to me as 
" like an old plater who won't go in mud/' All the more credit to 
them that they eventually staged a come-back and regained their 
Middle East form. 

There seemed to me to be two ways of helping to put the punch 
back into the corps. First, to use to the fullest possible extent the 
magnificent artillery support which was now available, and secondly 
to explain to as many troops as possible how well the battle was 
really going. I therefore spent my first few days with 30 Corps 
rather like a U.S. politician on a whistle-stop tour, going round and 
talking to the officers and N.C.O.s of all formations, and showing 
them the latest situation on a large map which was usually hung on 
the back of a lorry. It was hard work, but I am certain that it paid a 
good dividend. 

30 Corps had unquestionably the most experienced and battle- 
worthy corps headquarters in the British Army. My B.G.S. (Chief 
of Staff) Pete Pyman (now Lt.-Gcneral Pyman, subsequently 
Deputy Chief of the General Staff at the War Office), was that rare 
bird, a first-class staff officer and also a commander. These two 
qualities are not often combined in one person. Like my Brigadier 
Q (Chief Administrative Staff Officer) George Webb, he came 
from the Royal Tank Corps. George Webb, who was killed later 
in the campaign, had a genius for administration. The popular 
conception of an administrative staff officer is of someone built 
more for comfort than for speed, but George Webb, who before the 
war had represented England at athletics, was one of the most 
energetic men I have ever met. Hardly a day passed that he did not 
visit some unit in the front line " Just to keep in the picture/' as he 
used to say. 

He could always be calculated to do the unexpected. I discovered 
one day, to my surprise, that 1 was the owner of a 30 Corps farm, 
run by Webb to supply our medical establishments with fresh milk 

188 



and eggs. After each battle all the stray cattle were rounded up into 
this farm and looked after by men with farming experience until 
their rightful owners could be found. 

One day a senior officer standing by the roadside was astonished 
to see lorry after lorry passing by, each full of cattle. " What on 
earth is this ? " he asked an officer by his side. " 30 Corps farm, sir, 
moving up," was the reply. It was probably the only completely 
mobile farm which has ever existed. 

Every day we were closing up on Mont Pinion. On 4th, 5th and 
6th August the 43rd (Wcssex) Division slowly fought its way 
forward in very hot, sultry weather against the most stubborn 
German resistance. Unfortunately their casualties, particularly in 
officers, were distressingly high. The 5th Wilts., for instance, was 
reduced to 500 men commanded by a comparatively junior officer. 
By the evening of the 6th, the 43rd had reached the foot of Mont 
Pinion and it looked as though we were in for a tough fight before 
we got to the top, as the whole feature was strongly held. But as I 
returned to my headquarters that evening Pyman came running 
towards me. Now senior staffofficers are not in the habit of running 
round their headquarters, so I wondered what had happened. 

" WeVe got it, sir! " he called out while still some distance 
away. "Got what?" I said. "Mont Pinion," he replied. I 
couldn't believe it. He told me a message had come through 
that two troops of tanks belonging to the I3th/i8th Hussars were 
now on the top of the hill. They reported, however, that they were 
feeling very lonely as there was a thick mist all round them and 
they could hear the Germans moving about everywhere. Pyman 
also added that he had been in touch with the 43rd Division, and the 
4th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment were now on their way up 
to join the tanks on the top. 

This was wonderful news. It seemed almost impossible that this 
key position should have fallen into our hands like a ripe plum, 
Here is how it happened. 

Captain Denny, who commanded the leading troops of tanks 
working with the 43rd Division, discovered a narrow track winding 
up the hiU, and reported by wireless to his C.O., Lieut-Colonel 

189 



Dunkerley, that this was apparently undefended. He was immedi- 
ately ordered to have a go. The track was so narrow that one tank 
toppled over into a disused gravel pit, but the others ground their 
way steadily upwards, until they broke out on to the top. So, 
thanks to the initiative of one young officer, the most important 
tactical feature in Normandy had been captured by six or seven 
tanks. Meanwhile the 4th Wilts., who were almost at the end of 
their tether after some forty-eight hours' continuous fighting, were 
being galvanised into activity by their C.O., Lieut.-Colonel Luce, 
who led the transport column himself. In single file in the dark this 
battalion somehow struggled to the top of the hill. 

It was a great achievement which had a profound effect on 
morale. Even from the early days in the U.K. this feature had stood 
out as the main bogey in the Normandy campaign. On all, the 
models of the countryside which had been used for training purposes 
in England Mont Piiifon had always loomed large. During battles 
men's minds tend to become fixed on some particular feature in 
front of them which gradually assumes an almost impregnable and 
sinister character. Mont Pinion had looked like this. Its capture 
made all the difference to me. From now on we were able to over- 
look the Germans. I used to sit on the top with my chief gunner, 
Stewart Rawlins, beside me, with 300 guns at the end of our wireless 
mast. If any units were held up, we were able to concentrate in a 
few minutes the fire of these guns on the enemy. And we blasted 
the tanks and infantry forward with artillery fire,, It was a very 
hard time for the gunners, who were never out of action day or 
night. The only way they could carry on was to form two teams 
for each gun by rounding up every available man; cooks, drivers, 
orderlies were all roped in to serve the guns. 

I have often said in lectures since the war that, although I am an 
infantryman, I would say that the Royal Regiment of Artillery did 
more to win the last war than any other arm. Time after time their 
young forward observation officers would step into the breach and 
take command of some forward infantry unit whose commanders 
had all become casualties, while the technical skill with which huge 
concentrations of fire were switched rapidly from one part of the 

190 



front to another was never equalled in any other army. The Germans 
never succeeded in acliieving anything like it. 

We started with limited objectives, but gradually the fighting 
loosened and soon daily objectives were several miles ahead instead 
of just a few hundred yards. During the next fortnight the Germans 
suffered one of their greatest defeats of the whole war, second only 
to Stalingrad (where General Paulus's 6th German Army was totally 
destroyed). In the Falaise pocket of approximately ten by twenty 
miles were concentrated the best part of 100,000 German troops, 
and all around them the Allied forces were pressing in, Canadian, 
Polish, British and U.S. from the south. Although the eastern neck 
was never quite closed the destruction of enemy equipment was 
prodigious. During the ten weeks' fighting in Normandy the 
Germans suffered half a million casualties of whom 211,000 were 
taken prisoner. Forty-three divisions were destroyed and their 
losses in equipment amounted to over 2,000 tanks and assault guns. 
Meanwhile the outer prong of the American encircling movement 
had reached the Seine: their 20 Corps crossed the river near 
Fontainebleau and 15 Corps turned north-west along the river bank. 

As we also approached the river from the west, it became a 
tricky problem to disentangle the British and U.S. lines of com- 
munication which crossed each other. I had decided to breach the 
River Seine on my front with the 43rd Division at Vernon, and 
was in the process of issuing the necessary orders to General Thomas, 
the divisional commander, when I began to feel very unwell. 
The skeleton was emerging from my cupboard. I was in for one of 
my bouts of pain accompanied by sickness and a high temperature 
which usually lasted for anything up to a week. I managed to 
complete the orders without Thomas suspecting anything, and then 
retired to my caravan, where I was soon bouncing about with a 
rigor. 

A few minutes later the door opened and in came my A.D.C. 
to say that Field-Marshal Montgomery was coming up to my 
headquarters first thing next morning. This was the worst possible 
news. If Monty saw me in my present state I was almost certain to 
be sent home, unfit for active service. So I told him to send a 



message to ask the Field-Marshal to postpone his visit as I would 
be very busy away from my headquarters during the next few days, 

A couple of hours later the caravan door opened again and to 
my horror in came Monty. " Ah, Jorrocks," he said, " I thought 
that something odd was happening so I came up to see for myself/* 
He then went on, " I know why you sent that message. But you 
needn't worry. If we can get you fit out here there is no question 
of you being invalided back to the U.K. But I am not taking any 
chances. Your caravan will now be moved to my tactical head- 
quarters and you are not to move from it back to your corps until 
1 give you permission. There is nothing you can possibly do for the 
next few days anyhow. Thomas has got his orders and will get on 
with the battle much better without the corps commander fussing 
round Mm." 

So my caravan was established next to Monty's, and during the 
next few days every medical specialist in the army came to see me. 
Each day Monty paid me a visit, and these talks proved more than 
usually interesting because this was the time when the big argument 
about the future conduct of the war was going on between Monty 
and Eisenhower. 

Monty argued like this: "The Germans arc now completely 
disorganised as a result of their defeat in Normandy. If we can 
prevent their recovering, there is a good chance of the war being 
won in the autumn of 1944. We should, therefore, stage a powerful 
thrust, preferably up the coastal plain, which must keep on and on 
without a pause, so that the Germans never get time to draw breath. 
We shall then be able to bounce a crossing of the Rhine before they 
can get their defences organised. We can encircle the Ruhr from 
the north, cut it off from Germany, and the war will then be over/ 1 

Eisenhower considered this narrow thrust to be too risky, and 
eventually decided to advance on a broad front up to the Rhine. 
This was a safer course, but it had two main drawbacks. First, the 
war could not possibly be won before 1945, which meant prolonging 
it by at least six months. Secondly, as a result of this broad front 
policy, almost all the available formations would be in the line all 
the time, and there would be very few reserves available to meet 

192 



any unforeseen eventuality, such as the Germans' counter-offensive 
in the Ardennes, for instance. 

Which plan was right ? 

I have thought about this a great deal and in my opinion each 
commander was right in his own sphere. Monty, as the ground 
forces commander, was right from the point of view of the actual 
fighting. His plan might well have succeeded. But it could have 
done so only if unceasing pressure was brought to bear on the 
Germans the whole time. This meant that every lorry and supply 
aircraft in the theatre would have to be made available to bring up 
petrol, food, ammunition and all the many requirements of modern 
war, so that the mobile thrust would never have to halt for lack of 
supplies. 

The only way to get all this transport would be to halt a large 
proportion of tlie U.S. divisions in France, and remove their 
vehicles in order to maintain this thrust, which would be, after all, 
a predominantly British affair. Had anything gone wrong with 
Monty's plan and there was, of course, a distinct element of risk 
the political repercussions would have been great. So Eisenhower, 
as the Supreme Commander, was correct to turn it down at his level. 

Many people may disagree with me, but that is my opinion. 

Anyhow, Monty was ordered to stage as powerful a thrust as 
possible up the coastal plain using his own resources, and the spear- 
head of this was to be 30 Corps. I was released from rny pleasant 
bondage at Monty's tactical headquarters on 26th August, and 
returned to prepare for as exciting a role as any commander could 
wish. 



193 



CHAPTER XIV 

ADVANCE TO BRUSSELS 



WHEN I arrived back at 30 Corps headquarters on 26th August, 1944, 
the 43rd Division had crossed the Seine at Vernon. My orders were 
to break out and seize the crossings over the River Somme, some 
seventy miles distant, before the Germans had time to organise the 
defence of the river. 

The Germans had never quite given up the idea that our main 
cross-channel assault would come in the Pas de Calais area, so the 
coastal belt was still thick with their troops, perhaps 150,000 of them. 
30 Corps was to drive north across their lines of communication 
by-passing any serious opposition which might be encountered. 
All that mattered was speed. 

But on my left the nearer you came to the coast the thicker the 
German troops would be. So whereas the 19 U.S. Corps and 
30 Corps were likely to have a fairly easy passage, 12 Corps would 
find the going much tougher, while the Canadians who were 
advancing up the actual coastal belt itself were bound to have hard 
fighting before they could clear the Channel ports which was their 
primary task. 

As I had never fought alongside an American formation, before, 
I visited the 19 Corps commander to discuss our mutual boundary. 
He was most co-operative, over coffee. I once asked an American 
commander how it was that the U.S. troops had so much better 
coffee than we could produce. He looked at me with a twinkle in 
his eye and replied: " Well, General, ours has the advantage of 
starting by being coffee." He was quite right. 

I told the U.S. corps commander that if, in order to get on 
quickly, his troops had to come into my sector there would be no 
hard feelings, and he reciprocated. This friendly arrangement, 

194 



however, nearly led to difficulties, because a few days later he had 
crossed the boundary to such an extent that if his troops had come 
any farther my right formation would have been unable to move 
at all. I was wondering what to do, because after all I had given him 
an open invitation, when fortunately I remembered that 1944 was 
the U.S. presidential election year. 

So I sent him a wire, " Delighted to have you in my sector, 
but if you come any farther I will vote for Dewey." He never 
moved another yard. 

On 29th August we burst out of the bridgehead on the Seine and 
set off on our chase northwards. This was the type of warfare 1 
thoroughly enjoyed. Who wouldn't? I had upwards of 600 tanks 
under my command, and we were advancing on a frontage of 
fifty miles: Guards Armoured, nth Armoured Divisions and 8th 
Armoured Brigade were scything passages through the enemy rear 
areas, like a combine-harvester going through a field of corn, with 
my old friends 50th Division clearing up the mess behind them. 
Small battles to overcome hastily-organised enemy defences at 
villages and cross-roads were going on right across this wide front. 
But there was no main enemy defensive position. 

Our artillery would drop into action while the tanks carried out 
an encircling movement across country. If this was not sufficient, 
which it usually was, then the lorried infantry might have to debus 
and attack. In all the villages and towns we were given the most 
rapturous welcome " Les anglais, les liberateurs " had arrived, and 
nothing was too good for them. It proved a wonderful tonic for 
the troops after the bitter fighting in the Normandy bocage. 

Everywhere the Resistance movement leapt into action and they 
proved of the greatest assistance, taking over care of German 
prisoners, providing guides, guarding bridges and vulnerable points. 
Had the Germans tried to carry out a similar advance through the 
British Isles, what a frightful thorn in their flesh our Home Guard 
would have been. We were lucky enough to have the French and 
Belgian equivalent working on our side, but progress would have 
been much slower if they had been against us. The only trouble was 
that their estimates of the number of German troops in the vicinity 

195 



were so exaggerated that eventually we came to divide tKe total 
by five. 

There were many bizarre incidents. One of our self-propelled 
guns (a gun on a tank chassis) broke down and had to be left behind 
in a small French village. By the time it had been repaired some 
forty-eight hours later the whole corps had gone on its way, and the 
gun-crew were the only British troops in the neighbourhood. 
But before setting off to join up with his regiment again the sergeant 
succumbed to an urgent appeal from the local Maquis to assist them 
in rounding up several hundred Germans who were reported to be 
still holding out in a large wood nearby. After a combined 
reconnaissance it was agreed that the gun should fire a concentration 
at one corner of the wood while the Maquis attacked from 
another. 

But when the plan was put into operation the Maquis under- 
standably came to the conclusion that the artillery support was 
inadequate. The British sergeant then decided to do the whole 
operation with his own crew. So having fired for four minutes at 
the corner of the wood, the gun-crew, less the driver, jumped out 
and, running as fast as they could to get close to their own con- 
centration, disappeared into the wood. Half an hour later they 
emerged with seventy German prisoners. On hearing this story the 
infantry said cynically that it was the only time in history that die 
gunners had ever followed up one of their own barrages. 

It was impossible to command a mobile operation of this sort 
from my headquarters, so, during the advance, my command post 
was a tank. The gun was taken out and replaced by a small table 
where we could sit and study the maps. My staff consisted of one 
young staff officer (G.S.O. 2), a signals officer and my AJD.C., and I 
never saw the rest of the corps headquarters for over a week. This 
sort of command structure has only been made possible by the 
improvement in wireless communication. 

It was the task of the staff officer with me to keep my cHef of 
staff, who was back at the main headquarters, informed by means of 
coded messages how the battle was going, and pass on the gist of 
any orders I had given verbally to the divisions. In addition I had 

106 



an escort of three tanks. This may sound unduly cautious, but each 
of our armoured columns was advancing up one road and disregard- 
ing entirely what lay on the flanks. 

There is a popular conception, encouraged, I suspect, by certain 
war historians who have never had experience of armoured warfare 
in the field, that an armoured division moves across country rather 
like a fleet at sea. This is a completely false picture. Whenever 
possible armoured divisions move along roads because progress is 
much faster, and they deploy across country only when opposition 
is encountered. In order to visit the different divisions and brigades 
I had to move from one road to another, and as none of the Germans 
had been cleared from the intervening country, I could not have 
done so without an escort of some sort. 

We advanced only about twenty-one miles on the 29th, which 
wasn't good enough if we were going to bounce the crossings over 
the Somme. So at 4.15 p.m. the next day I arrived at the head- 
quarters of the nth Armoured Division and ordered " Pip " 
Roberts, the divisional commander, to continue the advance 
throughout the night in order to capture the bridge at Amiens, 
some thirty miles away, by first light next day. This may seem a 
curious way to employ an armoured division, but I was a great 
believer in using tanks at night. I tried it on three occasions and was 
successful each time. It has a shattering effect on the morale of the 
enemy for them to wake up in the morning and find that some 
hundreds of tanks have penetrated deep into their positions under 
cover of darkness. 

Roberts had been in command of the armoured brigade in 
North Africa when I had ordered Charles Keightley's 6th Armoured 
Division to carry out a similar night march in order to cut off the 
Germans in the Cap Bon peninsula, an operation which had been 
completely successful. But there was one big difference. Then the 
drive had been carried out in bright moonlight, now it was pouring 
with rain, which meant practically no night visibility at all. 

This was asking a lot of the nth Armoured Division. Driving a 
tank is a very tiring business, and the drivers had already been on the 
go for some thirty-six hours. But Roberts never hesitated. The 

197 



division halted so that all tanks and vehicles could refill with petrol, 
and then started off on what proved to be one of the most fantastic 
night drives of the war. Drivers could barely see the vehicle in front 
of them. Utterly exhausted they fell asleep at each halt and very 
often, during this night of confusion, German vehicles and Germans 
were intermingled in our columns. But somehow or other the 
division went steadily on. Nothing mattered except that our tanks 
were penetrating ever deeper into the German positions. 

Early next morning I arrived at divisional headquarters expecting 
to find chaos. Not a bit of it. The leading elements of the division, 
with the help of the local Maquis, had captured the bridges over the 
Somme intact, the tanks had crossed and were in the centre of 
Amiens, while the lorried infantry brigade was at that moment 
moving into the town to take over from them. This was a remark- 
able performance which could have been achieved only by a very 
highly-trained division but Pip Roberts was probably the most 
experienced British armoured commander and certainly one of the 
best. 

Having given me his report he said, " I have a surprise for you, 
General." And from behind one of the lorries was led a scowling, 
unshaven and very ugly German officer dressed in black uniform. 
I would have disliked him at sight, even if he had not looked like a 
senior S.S. commander (which he wasn't). Roberts was exactly 
like a proud farmer leading forward his champion bull. He told me 
with great pride that his prize exhibit was General Eberbach, 
commander of the yth German Army, whom the nth Armoured 
had captured in his pyjamas during the night advance. 

With the Somme behind us we were now approaching the 
Belgian frontier. My big moment came on 2nd September, when I 
arrived at the headquarters of the Guards Armoured Division at 
Douai. The Guards make a fetish of understatement, and with long 
practice have developed a remarkable capacity for never showing 
any emotion under any circumstances. But on this occasion even 
they were slightly shaken when I gave their next day's objective as 
Brussels, for Brussels was seventy miles away. We had certainly 
come the full cycle from the hcdge-to-hcdgc fighting in Normandy. 

198 



F ol 50 / * / 

Forges / DIV / f //r 
>^/ . / / /V 




THE ADVANCE tfROM THE SEINE TO BRUSSELS 



There was a feeling of excitement, for it is not every day that a 
commander or a division is given the opportunity of liberating one 
of the great capitals of Europe. Brussels what a prize ! Next day 
the race was on, a pursely domestic affair between the Welsh 
Guards group (infantry and tanks) advancing on the right and the 
Grenadier group on the left. 

This the return to Belgium after our ignominious departure in 
I <P40 was a moment to which I had been eagerly looking forward. 
I was not disappointed. As I crossed the frontier just behind the 
advance guard I saw a young Belgian standing by the road with 
tears streaming down his cheeks. Seeing the red band round my 
cap he ran towards me, seized me by both hands and said, " I knew 
you would come back ! I knew the British would return ! " 

I was particularly touched by this, because almost the last words 
I had said to the sad-looking groups of Belgians whom we had 
left behind on our way back to Dunkirk were, " We will come 
back." 

We had kept our promise. 

As the day wore on it became obvious that it was to be a ncck- 
and-neck race between the two groups. Then, just before dusk, the 
Welsh Guards and some armoured cars of the Household Cavalry 
entered Brussels. On the left road the Grenadiers had run into a lot 
of trouble at the small town of Pont & Marcq, which was defended 
by a hard core of Germans who had no intention of surrendering 
without a hard fight. In the ensuing battle the King's Company and 
No. 2 Squadron of tanks lost twenty-two killed and thirty-one 
wounded (including four officers) which, marred for them the glory 
of the entry into Brussels. 

The Belgians, after four years of German occupation, had become 
used to the movements of troops through their capital, so when on 
the evening of 3rd September, they heard the rumbling of tanks in 
the streets they hardly bothered to look out. As far as they knew the 
Allies had not even entered Belgium yet, and the war was still many 
miles away. As one Belgian described it to me, " 1 glanced out of 
the window quite incuriously, and then my attention became 
riveted. These tanks looked different. It couldn't possibly be die 

200 



Americans or the British ? Yet could it ? Suddenly I realised that 
we had been liberated, and like everyone else in Brussels that night 
I went mad." 

From every house people poured into the empty streets, until it 
was almost impossible for the tanks to get through. There were 
flowers, fruit, champagne, girls on the vehicles and such kissing as 
has probably never been seen before or since ! By now we had all 
become connoisseurs of liberation ceremonies, which had been 
going on in every town and village since we had crossed the Seine; 
but everyone agreed that the welcome by the citizens of Brussels 
had never been equalled. 

What is more, it was no flash in the pan. Those kindly Belgian 
people took our troops to their hearts and into their homes. They 
were short of food and coal, yet before long nearly every officer and 
man had a Belgian home where he could go for nieals, for the night 
or, indeed, to spend his leave. Months after we had left Belgium 
applications continued to come in from all ranks to spend leave not 
just in Brussels, the leave centre, but often in some small village on 
the outskirts. What the British soldier really likes is to " get his feet 
under the table," and there were many tables available in Belgium 

in 1944-45- 

In 30 Corps at that time was a brigade composed of Belgians who 
had escaped to Britain, where they had been equipped and trained 
by us. Their commander was the famous Brigadier Piron, who was 
mainly responsible for the renaissance of the Belgian Army after the 
war. I was very anxious that they should share in this liberation 
ceremony, so when I entered the city early next morning I was 
escorted by some armoured cars from Piron's brigade. It must have 
been a wonderful moment for those men as they returned to their 
capital in triumph. When the crowds cheered and waved, I kept 
pointing to them and calling out " Beige, Beige, 9 " and the citizens of 
Brussels were delighted to see their own countrymen among their 
liberators. 

My first problem was to find somewhere to establish my head- 
quarters in comparative peace, so that we could get on with the war. 
The Guards had achieved their objective and captured Brussels, but 

201 



I had still to co-ordinate the activities of the nth Armoured and 
50th Divisions and 8th Armoured Brigade. 

This became increasingly difficult as we penetrated into Brussels 
itself. Girls and still more girls seemed to be perched on the top of 
our wireless vehicles. Then I ran into Brigadier Gwatkin, who told 
me that his 5th Guards Brigade was all round the Palace of Laeken, 
which was still inhabited by the Queen Mother. He suggested that 
the park round the palace would be a most suitable place for our 
headquarters vehicles, as it was surrounded by railings which would 
offer some protection from the madding crowds. 

The Queen Mother could not have been more helpful, and very 
soon 30 Corps headquarters was once more operational in the 
grounds of the palace. That night we invited her and her lady-in- 
waiting, la Baronne Carton de Wiart, a relation of our famous 
General de Wiart, V.C., to dinner. It was a rough-and-ready meal 
eaten off the usual six-feet tables in our small mess tent, but Queen 
Elizabeth told me afterwards that she never enjoyed any dinner as 
much. 

During the next few days she wandered round talking to all and 
sundry, and became almost our fairy godmother. As our corps sign 
was a wild boar, she presented us with a baby boar from the 
Ardennes, whose name was Chewing Gum. His nose, when pressed 
against one's hand, felt just like this essential ingredient to the 
American way of life. 

On the next day, 4th September, I was ordered to fly back to a 
conference at 2nd Army headquarters. The small two-seater Austcr 
aircraft which I used on these occasions was parked at the extreme 
end of a large airfield near Brussels. I was told, however, that the 
Germans were still in occupation at the far end, from which a rather 
unpleasant 88 mm. A. A. gun fired at uncertain intervals. My pilot, 
a gunner major, was anxious about my safety, so, as soon as we 
were in the air, he took violent avoiding action, much to my 
discomfort. 

I then settled down to study my notes for the conference* After 
about half an hour I happened to glance up and saw that my pilot 
was looking a very worried man. I asked him what was wrong and 

202 



he replied that his compass was not working and he had no idea 
where we were. This was a shock, because at that time there was 
only a comparatively narrow corridor occupied by the Allies 
stretching back to the rear. After flying round for a few minutes 
trying without any success to spot a familiar landmark, I suggested 
that the only thing to do was to come down and ask. So choosing 
the largest available field we made a very bumpy but safe landing. 
Within a minute or two we were surrounded by civilians, who to 
my horror showed me on the map that we were fifty kilometres 
behind the enemy Hues. 

I asked them whether there were any Germans in the vicinity 
and they said, " No the nearest are a couple of kilometres away." 
Even that was a bit too close for my liking, so we hurriedly took off, 
bumping across the field and just missing the trees on the far side. 
Our troubles weren't over.- A little later the pilot explained apolo- 
getically that he was getting short of petrol, so we had to make 
another emergency landing this time, I am glad to say, behind our 
own lines. I arrived at the conference three hours late, having been 
last seen heading straight for the German lines. 

By this time I had rather lost confidence in my pilot, and 
debated whether to risk the return journey with him or not. He 
obviously was wondering the same, and he looked very relieved 
when I climbed into his plane. Afterwards I was glad that I had 
done so, because he was killed a few weeks later. 

By 30th September, 30 Corps had covered 250 miles in six days. 
The Guards Armoured Division was in Brussels, the nth Armoured 
Division was in Alost, directed on Antwerp, and the 50th Division 
was strung out to the rear, protecting our left flank and collecting 
thousands of German prisoners who were now trying to break out 
from the coastal area in order to get back to Germany. 

Pip Roberts asked me to define his objective in Antwerp, and 
pointed out that an armoured division is not the best formation with 
which to occupy a large port. He was correct, but I had no other 
troops available. So, with vivid memories of the important part 
ports had played in the desert campaign, I said: " The docks. 
Go straight through to the Antwerp docks and try and capture them 

203 



before the Germans can carry out any large-scale demolitions," 
which is exactly what he succeeded in doing. 

At the time this seemed the obvious objective, but I realise now 
that it was a serious mistake. My excuse is that my eyes were 
fixed entirely on the Rhine, and everything else seemed of subsidiary 
importance. It never entered my head that the Scheldt would be 
mined, and that we should not be able to use Antwerp port until the 
channel had been swept and the Germans cleared from the coast- 
line on either side. Nor did I realise that the Germans would be 
able to evacuate a large number of the troops trapped in the coastal 
areas across the mouth of the Scheldt estuary from Breskeris to 
Flushing. 

Napoleon would no doubt have realised these things, but 
Horrocks didn't. His mind was fixed on the Rhine. I am not 
suggesting that with one armoured division I could have cleared 
both banks of the Scheldt estuary, but I believe that I could have 
seriously impeded, if not stopped altogether, the evacuation of the 
German 5th Army. As it was, the German General Schwabe 
succeeded in evacuating some 65,000 men belonging to eight 
shattered German divisions, using this route. 

If I had ordered Roberts, not to liberate Antwerp, but to by-pass 
the town on the east, cross the Albert Canal and advance only fifteen 
miles north-west towards Woensdrecht, we should have blocked 
the Beveland isthmus and cut the main German escape route. 
Roberts was ordered to, and did in fact, secure a bridgehead over the 
Albert Canal, but was subsequently forced to withdraw in face of 
increasing German resistance. He had not sufficient troops to seize 
the docks, clear the town and occupy the bridgehead. 

With the capture of Brussels and Antwerp 30 Corps was ordered 
to halt. The reason given was that we had out-rim our administrative 
resources. No port had yet been opened anywhere. The first, 
Dieppe, did not come into operation until 7th September, and then 
only for a trickle of supplies. It did not build up to the figure of 
6,000 tons a day until the end of September, We were still receiving 
all our supplies from the beach-head some 300 miles away, and we 
were told that supplies, particularly of petrol, were running short. 

204 



Tliis was a tragedy because, as we now know, on the next day, 
4th September, the only troops available to bar our passage north- 
wards consisted of one German division, the yipth, composed 
mainly of elderly gentlemen who hitherto had been guarding the 
north coast of Holland and had never heard a shot fired in anger, 
plus one battalion of Dutch S.S. and a few Luftwaffe detachments. 
This meagre force was strung out on a fifty-mile front along the 
canal. 

To my mind 4th September was the key date in the battle for the 
Rhine. Had we been able to advance that day we could have 
smashed through this screen and advanced northwards with little or 
nothing to stop us. We might even have succeeded in bouncing a 
crossing over the Rhine. But we halted, and even by that same 
evening the situation was worsening. A General Chill, with his 
85th German Division, had reached Turnhout in Holland on his 
way back to Germany to refit. On hearing that Brussels had fallen, 
and without any orders, he turned round and moved his division 
down to the line of the Albert Canal. He also placed teams of 
officers and N.C.O.s on all the roads to round up the German 
stragglers and reorganise them into efficient fighting units. 

By yth September he had succeeded in collecting quite a 
formidable force. He must have been a man of great initiative. 
But worse still, General Student's Parachute Army, headed by the 
6th Parachute Regiment, commanded by the redoubtable Van der 
Heydte, was being rushed down from Germany to bar our progress. 
So from 5th September onwards the German forces on the Albert 
Canal increased rapidly. 

It is easy to be wise after the event, and I was only a corps 
commander with no overall responsibility;; but I believe that if we 
had taken the chance and carried straight on with our advance instead 
of halting in Brussels the whole course of die war in Europe might 
have been changed. On 3rd September we still had 100 miles of 
petrol per vehicle, and one further day's supply within reach, so we 
were not destitute. But there would have been a considerable risk 
in advancing farther north with only these supplies and a lengthening 
line of comniiuiicatioii behind us. 

205 



When we were allowed to advance on yth September, the situa- 
tion had worsened drastically. We were no longer sweeping up 
through the coastal plain; we were fighting hard again. Every day 
fresh German formations appeared against us, and within three days, 
instead of being on a fifty-mile front, which is excellent when in 
pursuit, the Corps was concentrated on a five-mile front engaged in 
a tough battle. 

The Guards Armoured Division took four days to advance over 
the next ten miles up to the Meuse-Escaut Canal where the Irish 
Guards by a most successful coup de main captured a small bridgehead, 
which was at once named " Joe's Bridge " after Lieut.-Colonel Joe 
Vandcleur, O.C. their 3rd Battalion. This was very different from 
their previous record of 250 miles in six days. The Germans had 
been given time to recover and we had missed our chance. 



20<5 



CHAPTER XV 

ARNHEM I 



ON nth September I received orders for the advance to Arnhem 
and realised that once again 30 Corps was to play a leading role. 
The outline plan was for the 2nd British Army to advance approx- 
imately seventy miles to seize the Grave-Nijmegen- Arnhem area 
and then penetrate still farther northwards to the Zuider Zee in order 
to cut off all the enemy forces in the Low Countries from those in 
Germany. It was an exciting prospect because, if successful, it would 
go far to end the war as we should then be in an excellent position 
from which to outflank the Ruhr. The whole operation was given 
the code name of Market Garden " Market " was to be carried 
out by the 1st Airborne Corps commanded by " Boy " Browning 
Lt.~Gen.eral Sir Frederick Browning operating as part of the 2nd 
Army, and " Garden " by the ground forces, consisting of 30, 8, and 
12 Corps. 

The three Airborne Divisions were allotted the following 
tasks: 

1st British Airborne Division (which included the Polish Para- 
chute Brigade) to seize Arnhem Bridge and establish a bridgehead 
to the north of the river, 

82nd U.S. Airborne Division to capture Grave bridge, the rail- 
way and road bridges at Nijmegen and to hold the high ground 
south-east of the town,. 

lOist U.S. Airborne Division to capture and dominate the road 
leading up to the Grave from Eindhoven to the north. 

30 Corps consisting of the Guards Armoured Division, soth 
and 43rd Infantry Divisions, 8th Armoured Brigade and a 
Dutch brigade, was ordered to break out of the existing bridge- 

207 



US x 
// AIR/DIV vGroesbeek 



5 10 

The Advance 17^ SepP 

9 18 n mm 

fia to 




THE BATTLE OF ARNHEM I 



head, pass through, this airborne carpet which had been laid down 
in front of us and seize the area Nunspeet-Arnhem. 

8 and 12 Corps would be on our right and left flanks respec- 
tively, but as most of the available resources had been allotted to us it 
was realised that they would not be able to advance so quickly, and 
we should be operating on our own for a considerable period. 

During the next few days my staff were working almost round 
the clock as there was very little time available in which to tie up a 
complicated operation of this sort. But, as usual, somehow or other 
they accomplished this seemingly impossible task and all was ready 
by D-Day. 

At ii a.m. on Sunday morning, iyth September, 1944, 1 climbed 
up an iron ladder leading to the flat roof of a large factory on the 
south bank of the Meuse-Escaut Canal which was to be my com- 
mand post for the opening stages of the battle. It was a peaceful, 
sunny, Sunday morning and apart from the occasional swish of an 
88-shell passing over our heads, or the chatter of a distant machine- 
gun, there was no indication that any enemy was in front of us at all. 
Looking back I could see, carefully camouflaged and hidden in the 
woods and farms, some of the 350 guns which were waiting for my 
word to open fire. It had not been possible in this case to give a 
definite zero hour beforehand because airborne operations are 
dependent on the weather and may have to be postponed at the last 
minute. 

So, sitting on the roof and waiting, I had plenty of time to think. 
I knew that we were opposed by some tough German paratroops 
under the command of the redoubtable General Student, and 1 
remembered that the essence of Montgomery's plan had been to 
keep up a continuous pressure and never give the Germans time to 
recover from their defeat in Normandy. Yet we had been forced to 
halt in Brussels for three days, and now another week had been 
taken up with preparations for this battle. Market Garden could not 
possibly have been laid on any sooner, but these halts had given the 
Germans time in which to recover, and their resistance had been 
stiffening ever since we had advanced from Brussels. I felt quite 

209 



confident, but I was under no illusion that this was going to be an 
easy battle. I disliked having to launch this attack on a Sunday, not, 
I am afraid, because of any religious scruples but because no assault 
or attack in which I had taken part during the war which started on a 
Sunday had ever been completely successful. 

I had three main worries. 

First To break through the German defences in front of me. 
This was not so simple as it looked. Reinforcements, mainly of 
paratroops, were arriving from Germany daily. The country was 
wooded and rather marshy which made any outflanking operation 
impossible. The only thing I could do was to blast my way down 
the main road on a comparatively narrow front with as much air 
and artillery support as I could get. 

Secondly Even when we had broken through, the country did 
not favour a rapid advance because it was intersected with water- 
ways. Between us and Arnhem there were three canals all capable 
of taking the largest barges, and in addition three immense rivers, 
the Maas (or Meuse), the Waal and the Lower Rliine. All the 
bridges were, we knew, prepared for demolition. Could we get 
there before the enemy blew them up ? If not we should have to 
bridge them ourselves, and this would mean a large number of 
sappers involved in immense engineering projects, all of which would 
take time and might seriously delay our advance ; yet the essence of 
the plan was speed to get to the airborne troops as soon as possible. 

We had done our best to provide for every eventuality by 
concentrating a vast amount of bridging material in the Bourg 
Leopold area no fewer than 9,000 sappers and 2,300 vehicles. 
Air photographs of each bridge had been carefully studied and 
preparations made to rush forward both men and materials as 
required. 

Thirdly It looked as though we should have to advance on one 
road only, and in the corps were 20,000 vehicles. This meant the 
most careful traffic control. Elaborate arrangements had been made 
to treat this one road almost as a railway. Traffic control posts with 
breakdown gangs and first-aid detachments, complete with wireless 
and line communications, were to be established behind the leading 

210 



troops. No unit was permitted to put a column of more than 
vehicles on this vital road without getting a timing from a movement 
office in my headquarters. As we were likely to be out in the blue 
on our own, I decided to take with us as much food, petrol and 
ammunition as we could carry. It turned out that this was a wise 
precaution. 

In spite of these difficulties, however, I was confident that we 
should win through. The troops were in great heart. I had an 
experienced and very able staff, and the end of the war seemed to be 
approaching rapidly. 

Then I heard on the wireless that the airborne divisions were on 
their way. Suddenly the armada appeared overhead. Hundreds of 
transport planes in perfect formation, many towing gliders, droned 
steadily northwards, protected on all sides by fighters, like little, 
angry gnats which filled the sky. It was a comforting thought that 
some 30,000 airborne troops were being dropped or landed from 
gliders in front of us. 

As soon as the air armada came into view I ordered " Zero hour 
1435 hours." At 2 p.m. precisely there was a sudden, deafening roar 
and a noise as though an express train were passing overhead. Our 
guns had opened their counter-artillery programme, and the battle 
of Arnliem was on. Under cover of the preliminary artillery 
bombardment the Irish Guards started moving into position just 
short of the start line, 

I could imagine the drawn look on the men's faces, a look which 
is only seen before an attack. Being British they were of course 
making jokes. I once saw four men in an armoured carrier cross the 
start line for an attack wearing those black top-hats which Germans 
keep for funerals. This showed a macabre sense of humour, but it 
was typical* However much the troops may joke, they are under 
uo illusion about what lies in, front of diem. 

I always hated the last few minutes before zero hour and kept on 
going over in my mind again all the detailed plans, wondering 
whether everything possible had been done to give the leading 
troops a fair fighting chance. 

At 2.35 p.m. exactly Lieutenant Keith Heathcote of No. 3 

211 



Squadron 2nd Battalion Irish Guards a tank regiment ordered 
" Driver advance " and one of the greatest break-outs in history had 
started. A hundred yards in front of Heathcote's tank rolled a 
curtain of fire from some 350 guns. In front of this again was an 
endless stream of R.A.F. Typhoon fighters pouring their rockets 
into the German defences. From my command post the whole 
battlefield was visible and for the first ten minutes all seemed to be 
going weU. But just when we were congratulating ourselves that 
our blasting tactics had proved successful, the whole situation 
changed. 

Within two minutes the Irish Guards had lost nine tanks, and the 
whole advance was held up by accurate fire from enemy anti-tank 
guns. I could not help a fleeting feeling of admiration for the 
fighting qualities of the Germans, for in spite of a terrific battering 
both from the ground and the air, they were still fighting stubbornly. 
Such feelings however, had no place in battle, and in the meantime a 
Homeric struggle was developing in the woods to my front. 

The Typhoons came roaring in from all angles at zero feet, the 
barrage whistled overhead. In fact the din was appalling, tanks, 
trucks, planes, shells, rockets, machine-guns all raging and blazing. 
In the middle of it all, apparently enjoying themselves, were the 
famous Vandeleur cousins, Colonels Joe and Giles, who commanded 
the 3rd and 2nd Battalions of the Irish Guards respectively. Though 
continually shot at, they stood by their scout cars and issued their 
orders with far less tension than they might have displayed during a 
Trooping the Colour parade on the Horse Guards back in London. 

The tanks were held up, but the Irish Guards (3rd Battalion 
Infantry) who had been riding on the outside of the tanks driven by 
their fellow " Micks " of the 2nd Battalion, were getting tired of 
being shot at, and as so often happens with these great fighters, they 
suddenly lost their tempers. An eyewitness reported afterwards 
that he ". . , had never seen Guardsmen or officers so angry. The 
Krauts got rough treatment that day," 

The young R.A.R pilots were superb and the Typhoons literally 
shot the infantry on to their objectives, the rockets landing within 
200 yards of our leading: troops. Nothing could stand up to this 

212 



and after some bitter infantry fighting the enemy crust was pierced. 
By that evening the head of the Guards' Armoured Division had 
entered the first Dutch town, Valkenswaard. 

I regard this battle as a classic example of perfect co-operation 
between the R.A.F. and the Army. No corps has ever had better 
air support than was provided for me that day by No. 83 Group of 
the Tactical Air Force, commanded by Harry Broadhurst, who 
though young in years was a veteran in army/ air co-operation; he 
had taken an active part in the long advance from Alamein to Tunis, 
and understood the ways of the army better than most. 

That evening the Germans started counter-attacking the hinges 
of our break-through, but this had been foreseen and the 50th 
Division could be relied upon to deal effectively with these attacks. 
So the I yth ended happily. Our casualties had been fewer than might 
have been expected and we had punched a hole in the German 
defences. 

But to get a proper understanding of this battle we should now 
take a look over the hill and see what was happening behind the 
German lines; though I had no idea of this at the time. 

First of all, let me kill the myth which was so prevalent after the 
war that the Arnhern operation was given away to the Germans 
beforehand by a Dutch traitor. This is nonsense; it came as a 
complete surprise to them. Here is the story as I have been able to 
piece it together from several different sources which I have every 
reason to believe are accurate. 

About this time, some seventy miles to the north, General Model, 
the German C.4n-C., and his senior staff, were sitting down to 
lunch in the Hotel Tafclbcrg in the small Dutch town of Oosterbeek, 
six miles west of Arnhcm. Suddenly an officer jumped to his feet 
crying: " Look out! Bombers! " They ran to the window and 
saw, not bombers as they had expected, but a sky full of coloured 
parachutes^ for the dropping zone of the ist British Airborne 
Division was only a couple of miles away. It was an awkward 
moment, and if the commander and his headquarters were not to be 
overrun by British paratroopers, there was no time to lose. 

Model's car was sent for. As he ran out of the door his bag, 

213 



which had been hurriedly packed, burst open, and all his belongings 
were strewn over the ground. Staff officers rushed to their com- 
mander's assistance, and within a matter of minutes he was driving 
away at a furious speed to the headquarters of the 2nd S.S. Panzer 
Corps, commanded by General Willi Bittrich which, unfortunately 
for us, was quite close at Zutphen only twenty-eight miles north-east 
of Arnhem. I say unfortunately because it was this corps which 
turned the scales against us in the subsequent fighting. Quite un- 
known to me, and, as far as I can make out, also to our Intelligence 
service, a few days before, the 9th and loth S.S. Panzer Divisions 
had arrived in the Zutphen area to refit, after suffering heavy losses 
during the fighting in Normandy. They might have been sent 
almost anywhere else, but no! Fate or whatever you like to 
call it decreed that they should arrive just at this moment in 
an area from which they could intervene rapidly in the Arnhem 
battle. 

Though both these divisions had suffered heavy losses in France, 
they still retained sufficient tanks and self-propelled guns to be more 
than a match for our extremely gallant but lightly-equipped airborne 
troops. Moreover, when in Normandy they had been specially 
trained in an anti-parachute role; so the dice were loaded against us 
from the start. It was also particularly unfortunate that Model should 
have had a grandstand view of the ist Airborne drop, because he was 
thus able to take immediate steps to deal with this unexpected 
situation. He was used to plugging gaps as he had come from the 
eastern front, so, where a less experienced commander might have 
panicked, Model did nothing of the sort. He made a first-class 
appreciation of the situation and started active counter-measures at 
once. He realised from the outset that the real threat lay in the rapid 
advance of 2nd British Army headed by 30 Corps, If this could be 
held off, he then had sufficient troops to deal with the lightly- 
equipped ist British Airborne Division. 

Our main weakness lay in the long, slender and very exposed 
lines of communication which ran south from Nijmegen, so he 
concentrated his main strength against these. The 59th German 
Division was ordered to attack them from the west, while the ijth 

214 



and 4 ist Panzer Divisions were to move in from the east. He also 
dispatched the loth S.S. Division due south to stiffen up the defences 
in die low-lying piece of country between Nijmegen and Arnhem, 
which, because it was almost entirely encircled by the rivers, Lower 
Rhine and Waal, came to be known in the British Army as " The 
Island." This division was to operate against our head while the 
others moved in from both sides against our tail. 

One further piece of good luck came the German way. General 
Student, who was commanding the parachute army against which 
we were fighting, wrote in his book as follows: 

" Two hours after the air armada first appeared in the skies 
over Holland, the Allied operation order for Market Garden 
(the code name for the battle of Arnhem) was on my desk. 
It had been captured from a glider forced down near Vught 
which was my command post. It was the same as in 1940 during 
the ist German Airborne operation in Holland, when a German 
officer, despite the strictest injunctions, carried the operational 
order on his person. It fell into Allied hands, and enabled, the 
Allies to conduct a thorough study of German parachute tactics, 
which was the main reason for the heavy German parachute 
troop losses in Crete." 

The capture of this vital document was a great boon to the 
Germans, who knew exactly what we intended to do. Before leaving 
the German side of the battle, one last picture Hitler's head- 
quarters. How had the Fuehrer taken the news of this thrust into 
the under-beDy of his Reich? This is how an eyewitness described 
the scene. 

<4 On the previous day, i6th September, a very important 
conference had taken place at Wolfschanze, Hitler's head- 
quarters in East Prussia, when the Fuehrer had outlined his plan 
for the Ardennes offensive. All was calm. But the next day 
things were very different. As reports of the airborne landings 
came in, excitement mounted. The major part of the daily 
situation conference was taken up with discussions of the air 

215 



landing, constantly interrupted by telephone calls as fresli reports 
came in. Hitler himself was chiefly impressed with Model's 
narrow escape, and he became increasingly worried about the 
safety of his own headquarters. In his own words ' At any rate 
this business is so dangerous that you must understand clearly: 
if such a mess happened here here I sit with my whole Supreme 
Command: here sit the Reichsmarshal (Goering), the O.K.H., 
the Reichsfuehrer S.S. (Himmler); the Reich Foreign Minister 
(von Ribbentrop) ; well then, this is the most worth-while catch, 
that's obvious. I would not hesitate to risk two parachute 
divisions here if with one blow I could get my hands on the 
whole German Command.' He then screamed ' Holland over- 
shadows everything else.' 

" As reports of more air landings arrived the Fuehrer became 
violent and raged about the failure of the Luftwaffe. As a result 
of all the excitement Holland was given top priority and every 
available reserve formation in Germany, and even as far afield as 
Denmark, was alerted and ordered to move down to defeat the 
British/U.S. penetration/* 

It was the arrival of these formations which finally turned the 
tide against us as more and more pressure was exerted along 30 
Corps' line of communication which subsequently stretched from 
Nijmegen some sixty miles back to Belgium. 

The story of the magnificent fight of the ist Airborne Division 
against overwhelming odds is now well known, so I do not propose 
to go into any details here. The armoured reconnaissance regiment 
of the 9th S.S. Panzer Division seized Arnhcm Bridge just thirty 
minutes before the arrival of Colonel Frost's 2nd British Paratroop 
Battalion. Frost could not force bis way over the river, but by 
holding die houses north of the bridge for three precious days he 
prevented the Germans using the bridge themselves. Their loth S.S. 
Panzer Division was thus forced to cross the river by the ferry 
farther to the east, and this delayed their arrival at Nijmegen until 
after we had captured die town. The remainder of the ist Airborne 
Division was gradually driven back by sheer weight of numbers 

216 



until it was sealed off into a tight perimeter on the north bank of the 
lower Rhine in the neighbourhood of Oosterbeek. 

To return to my immediate battle. After some hard fighting on 
the 1 7th, the Guards broke through and reached Valkenswaard just 
inside Holland. On the next day, i8th September, after another 
sharp battle they made contact with the southern end of the aerial 
carpet in the shape of the loist U.S. Airborne Division, which had 
been given the task of seizing and keeping open our main road 
northwards between Eindhoven and Veghel, a distance of some 
twenty-five kilometres. Their landings behind the enemy lines on 
the i yth had been extremely successful. 

In the words of the divisional historian : 

" The entire regiment came down in full view of one com- 
mander. Men landed close to their friends and close to their 
equipment. Battalions were assembled and operating in less than 
an hour. Considered from any standpoint it was the most 
successful landing that the division had ever made in either 
training or combat. An entire parachute regiment, in bright sun- 
light, landing on a single field is a pretty sight and if the field 
happens to be behind enemy lines it is also a reassuring sight. 
Between 1300 and 1330 hours 6,769 men were jumped with 
casualties of less than two per cent for personnel and five per cent 
for equipment. 

" The glider landings an hour afterwards were not so for- 
tunate. Of the seventy gliders that were towed off from 
England, only fifty-three came in without accident." 

As the guardsmen rolled rapidly northwar.ds towards Nijmegen 
they were greeted at the canal bridges and cross-roads by cheerful 
groups of tough-looking paratroopers from the xoist U.S. Division, 
the men whose job it now was to protect our life-line to the rear. 

By 10 a.m. on iptli September the Grenadier Guards Group (ist 
Motor Battalion and 2nd Tank Battalion), now in the lead, made 
contact with the second strip of our aerial carpet the 82nd U.S. 
Airborne Division, who, to our great joy, had captured intact the 
road bridge over the Mcuse at Grave. Had the Germans succeeded 

217 



in destroying this bridge our advance might easily have been 
delayed for several days, for the broad river would have proved a 
formidable obstacle. 

In addition to this success the 82nd, having captured another 
important bridge over the Maas-Waal Canal at Heuman, were 
holding the high ground about Berg en Dal to the east of the main 
road, and had penetrated to within 400 yards of the road bridge over 
the Waal in Nijmegen itself. At this point they had encountered 
stubborn resistance from the loth S.S. German Division. 

The town of Nijmegen is completely dominated by these two 
immense bridges over the river Waal, by the road bridge on the east 
and by the railway bridge on the west. To capture one of these, 
or if possible, both, was vital to our plan, and the fighting which now 
developed in Nijmegen was bitter in the extreme. Indeed there was 
a desperate urgency about this battle which I rarely experienced 
before or after. 

To the north of us, on the far side of yet another water obstacle, 
the lower Rhine, were 10,000 British airborne troops. From them 
we had had no word, and airborne troops are lightly equipped. 
So, unless we could relieve them quickly, they must surely perish. 
This feeling was communicated to everyone from general right 
down to private soldier, to guardsman or U.S. paratrooper, and 
most gallantly they responded to the urgent need. 

The Grenadier Guards Group and a battalion of the 505th U.S. 
Parachute Regiment combined in an immediate attack on the road 
bridge, which to our astonishment, was still intact; but in spite of 
the utmost bravery little progress was made. The Germans had 
fortified the open squares and had constructed a tight perimeter of 
defences around the southern end of both the vital bridges. Huner 
Park, which dominated the southern edge of the road bridge was 
particularly strongly held. 

They also set fire to every fifth building until some 500 houses 
were blazing fiercely. Into this hell plunged tanks, Guards and U.S. 
paratroopers, but all to no avail. By midnight it was obvious that 
the bridges could not be captured by direct assault. 

During the afternoon I met General Browning, who had landed 

218 



with the airborne corps which he was commanding. From then on 
we co-operated closely and took all the major decisions together. 
We now decided to outflank the bridges from the west by carrying 
out an assault crossing over the broad River Waal near the power 
station, some 800 yards down-stream from the railway bridge. 
This was a most hazardous operation but here lay the only chance 
of capturing the bridges intact. It is to the credit of General Jim 
Gavin, the commander of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division, that 
this appallingly difficult task was accepted without the slightest 
hesitation. 

At first light on 20th September, the 504th U.S. Parachute 
Regiment and the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards (Tanks) started clearing 
the western suburbs of the town and by midday they arrived on 
the river bank. Now took place what many of us consider to have 
been one of the finest attacks ever carried out during the last war. 

It was a sunny afternoon with clear visibility, and the Germans 
were holding the far bank of the swiftly-rumiiiig river which at this 
point was quite 400 yards wide. Yet at 3 p.m. the leading U.S. 
paratroopers entered the river in British assault boats which they 
had never seen till that moment. Supported though they were by 
fire from the tanks of the Irish Guards, and approximately TOO guns, 
they nevertheless suffered heavily and only half the leading wave, 
some in, boats, some swimming, succeeded in reaching the far bank. 
Yet this mere handful of men charged up the steep embankment and 
secured a small bridgehead a couple of hundred yards deep. 
GraduaDy more and more troops were ferried across until by evening 
they had penetrated a mile inland to the village of Lent, where the 
railway crosses die main road. They had thus cut off both bridges 
from the rear, a truly amazing achievement. 

Meanwhile the Grenadier Guards and the 505th U.S. Parachute 
Regiment had been busy. In accordance with fresh orders issued 
the night before by Brigadier Gwatkin, commander of the 5th 
Guards Brigade, the Grenadiers had developed another attack on the 
southern end of the road bridge, this time approaching from the 
west. All day they fought their way forward literally yard by 
yard and house by house, until in the late afternoon they captured 

219 



Huner Park and die Valkhof, a large, wooded mound which domi- 
nates the southern end of the bridge. In the words of the Grenadier 
Guards regimental history: 

"Capturing a well-fortified mound like the Valkhof would be 
an operation fraught with incalculable dangers in any circum- 
stances. It was exceptionally difficult in this case because the 
Germans had had time to surround it with a network of barbed- 
wire entanglements, slit trenches and dug-outs, all of which 
were fully manned, but as one company commander later wrote 
* From the first few moments the fighting did not conform in 
any way to my original plan. But once we got our teeth into 
the enemy the men's spirit was so terrific even laughing and 
joking that nothing could have stopped us.' " 

Of the many battle honours which the Grenadier Guards can 
claim, none can have been more richly deserved than Nijmegen. 

At 7 p.m. it was decided to try and rush the bridgehead, and a 
troop of tanks commanded by Sergeant Robinson advanced rapidly 
with guns blazing to the bridge which is approximately 400 yards 
in width with an embankment of equal length on both sides. While 
travelling these 1200 yards the tanks were easy targets, not only to 
the enemy anti-tank guns, but also to those Germans who were 
firing bazookas from positions in the girders above the bridge. 
Two tanks were hit, but somehow the troop got over, skidded 
broadside through a road-block at the far end and knocked out two 
anti-tank guns on the road. The attack finally came to a halt a mile 
farther on where the guardsmen met the remnants of their gallant 
American allies who had crossed the river lower down. Perhaps the 
bravest of all these brave men was the young sapper officer, Lieu- 
tenant Jones, who ran on foot behind the tanks, cutting the wires 
and removing the demolition charges though we now know that 
in spite of Bittrich's protest General Model had refused to allow this 
bridge to be blown as he wanted to use it for subsequent counter- 
attacks by the Germans. 

Thus, by the evening of the 2ist, almost a miracle had been 
achieved. Thanks to some very hard fighting by British and 

220 



American troops, whose co-operation on this occasion should be an 
object lesson to all allies in the future, these two important bridges 
had fallen into our hands intact. Another hurdle had been overcome 
and I went to bed a happy man almost the last time, incidentally, 
that I was to do so in this battle. 

So far fortune had favoured us, but the sky was darkening. 
The Germans had been completely surprised by the initial airborne 
landings, but they had recovered quickly, and their counter- 
measures were now starting to take effect. 

My chief worry lay in the quality of the opposition which we 
were encountering. Admittedly some of the elderly gentlemen 
from the " stomach battalions " which had been positioned on the 
lines of communication were only too glad to surrender, but the 
bulk of the German troops against us were hard-bitten Nazis from 
the S.S. and parachute divisions. Young fanatics had even advanced 
into battle sitting on the outside of their tanks shouting, " I want to 
die for Hitler/* 

The loist U.S. Division guarding our life-line was being sub- 
jected daily to increasing pressure from both sides. Hardly a day 
passed without some fresh German formation making its appearance 
against us. No wonder, therefore, that on the next day, 2ist 
September, the Guards Armoured Division failed to advance more 
than two miles to the north. For once, air co-operation was working 
badly, and though the Typhoons were overhead, the contact-car 
could not get into touch with diem. This was particularly unfor- 
tunate because very little artillery support was available. 

I had realised, of course, that " The Island " with its dykes, high 
embankments carrying the roads, and deep ditches on either side 
was most unsuitable for armoured warfare. It was perfect defensive 
country in which the anti-tank gun hidden in the orchards was 
always master of the tank silhouetted against the sky-line. I pinned 
my hopes, however, on the 43 rd Infantry Division, which had been 
ordered up from the rear. Their move had been much delayed by 
congestion along our one and only road caused to a large extent by 
the increasing enemy pressure which was coming in from the flanks. 

A heavy enemy attack on the bridge at Son had been beaten 

221 



back by the loist, but on 20th September another German formation 
had penetrated into the village of St. Oedenrode and halted all 
traffic on the lines of communication for some hours. 

Still, there was no need to despair. Two-thirds of the Polish 
Parachute Brigade (for this operation under command of the 1st 
British Airborne Division), had at last been able to take off from 
England and had dropped that morning (the 2ist) just south of the 
lower Rhine, near the village of DrieL 

The 43rd Division were due to arrive that evening and to pass 
through the Guards the next morning. I hoped that this fresh 
infantry division would succeed in joining up with the Poles, and 
that together they would then be able to bring succour to the hard- 
pressed ist Airborne. 

Up to this time we had received no definite information about 
the situation north of the lower Rhine, but suddenly the voice of 
their head gunner was heard on the wireless frequency used by our 
64th Medium Regiment. This was our first direct contact with them, 
and thenceforward we were able to provide considerable artillery 
support for the airborne bridgehead on the north bank of the 
lower Rhine. 



222 



CHAPTER XVI 

ARNHEM 2 



NEXT DAY on the 22nd the Household Cavalry, taking advantage 
of the early morning fog, managed to slip some armoured cars right 
through the German lines. In fact they succeeded in joining up with 
the Poles, whom they found in position on the south bank of the 
river near the village of Driel. So from now on we were provided 
with a reliable source of information about what was happening in 
this vital area. 

Up to this point in the battle no troops could have done more or 
advanced more rapidly than had 30 Corps, but from now on our 
rate of progress slowed down and this has been the subject of 
criticism from several sources, notably by Chester Wilmot in his 
Struggle for Europe. He has suggested that 43rd Division was both 
slow and sticky. If the leading troops of the Guards Armoured 
Division were now only six to seven miles short of Arnhem Bridge, 
why then did a first-class infantry division take so long to get up to 
the lower Rliine? particularly as their casualties were compara- 
tively small. That is the general tone of the adverse comments. 

I have always strongly deprecated this criticism because I spent 
the morning of the 22nd with Brigadier Essame, the commander of 
the 2i4th Infantry Brigade, wliich was in the lead, and nobody could 
have done more. Fie had tried to launch an attack with his leading 
battalion on the previous afternoon, but the whole brigade had been 
delayed by the confusion in Nijmegen and some of his troops were 
misdirected towards the road bridge, while the remainder crossed 
to the north bank by the railway bridge. The Welsh Guards were 
attacking on the sector immediately north of the river, the bridges 
were being shelled, and movement was difficult along the narrow, 
twisty roads which ran on the banks with deep dykes on either side. 

223 



In my opinion only an experienced brigadier like Essame could have 
succeeded under these circumstances in concentrating his brigade at 
all on the night of the 2ist, and launching an attack with the leading 
battalion, the yth Somerset Light Infantry, early next day. 

His orders had been to advance with all speed but, and this is 
most important, he was told that artillery ammunition must be 
used with the utmost economy. Owing to enemy pressure on our 
lines of communication we were forced to economise as much as 
possible. 

The Germans had been thoroughly aroused by the passage of 
two troops of the Household Cavalry through their lines; in fact 
the fog lifted just too soon, and the last three armoured cars were 
knocked out by an enemy tank hidden in an orchard. 

The 7th. Somerset Light Infantry at once ran into a strong, 
natural defensive position round the village of Oosterhoot held by 
approximately a battalion of Germans supported by tanks, some 
self-propelled guns and mortars. 

As the guards had already found to their cost, it was quite 
impossible for the 43rd Division to deploy armoured vehicles in an 
attack across this difficult country intersected with high banks and 
dykes, in which the enemy enjoyed all the advantages of cover and 
the attacker none. So the Somersets advanced with practically no 
support at all either from tanks or guns. The first attack failed and 
the leading company commander, Major Sidney Young, was killed. 
The C.O., Lieut-Colonel Borradaile, one of die best C.O.s in 
the division, now launched another attack round the right flank 
which seemed to offer the best opportunity of success but this also 
was held up. The brigadier then decided on a third attack which, 
in spite of the embargo, he determined to launch with the whole of 
the divisional artillery in support. 

This third effort, which started at 3.20 p.m., was completely 
successful and by 5 p.m. a gap had been opened in the German 
position through which Essame slipped a mobile column which he 
had been holding in readiness. This consisted of one squadron of die 
4th/ yth Dragoon Guards (Tanks), 5th Duke of Cornwall's Light 
Infantry, one platoon of machine-guns of the 8th Middlesex and 

224 




Talking to a group of soldiers just after the capture of Bremen, April 1945 

A wonderful moment The author receives the surrender of the enemy forces in 
Northern Germany 





The red-letter day of Black Rod's existence, the Garter ceremony at Windsor 
[1957)- The author walks behind the Queen Mother's train-bearer 



some D.U.K.W.s. (amphibious lorries) filled with ammunition and 
much-needed stores for the beleaguered British paratroopers. 

George Taylor, the C.O. of the 5th D.C.L.L, divided his force 
into two; in front, an armoured column with two companies of 
infantry riding on the outside of the tanks, and behind, the remaining 
two companies of his battalion in charge of the soft-skinned transport 
vehicles. They set off from Oosterhoot just before last light and the 
head of the armoured column covered the ten miles to Driel in 
thirty minutes, where it joined up with the Poles, but the Germans 
managed to infiltrate five Tiger tanks and some infantry into a gap 
which had opened up between the two columns. 

Company Sergeant-Major Philp, travelling in a carrier at the 
tail of the armoured column, rammed the leading enemy tank and 
killed the German commander as he peered out of his turret before 
he himself and his driver baled out into the ditch beside the road. 
Learning that his force had been split into two, Taylor sent back two 
platoons under Major Parker with extra P.I. A.T.s (infantry anti-tank 
weapon) and some " 75 " anti-tank mines to clear up the mess. 
In a remarkably successful little operation this small force operating 
in the dark succeeded in stalking and destroying all the Tigers. 
Private Brown, a young soldier, spotted an enemy tank with its 
track damaged by some " 75 " mines, so he left the cover of the 
ditch where he was lying and, knowing full weU the risk he ran, 
walked to within a few yards before firing his P.I.A.T. The tank 
was completely destroyed but he himself was blinded by the blast. 
As he was carried away he was heard to say: " I don't care, I 

knocked the out." After an eventful night drive along narrow 

by-roads the whole force joined up with the Poles. 

I have described this operation in considerable detail in order to 
remove the slur on the reputation of this first-class west country 
division. I would suggest that anyone who considers the actions of 
Brigadier Essamc, Lieut-Colonels Borradaile and Taylor, C.S.M. 
Philp or Ptc. Brown to have been sticky cannot have had much 
experience of front-line fighting. No one who has not visited this 
island can, have any idea of just how difficult it was to attack over. 
It is also most unfair to say that because the casualties were low the 

225 



43rd Division was not fighting well. If the skill and determination 
with which an action is fought are to be judged on this basis, then 
the battle of the Somme during the 1914-18 war must be regarded 
as one of the greatest of all British victories. 

September 22nd was a worrying day for me. When I left the 
2i4th Brigade their second attack had just been halted and during the 
morning no advance had taken place anywhere on 30 Corps front. 
As I returned to my corps headquarters, I was met by my chief of 
staff who told me that reliable information was at last available from 
north of the lower Rhine. The ist Airborne had withdrawn west 
from Arnhem and were now occupying a small perimeter around 
Oosterbeek which was being attacked furiously from all sides. 
They were short of ammunition, and unless we could get to them 
within twenty-four hours they would probably be overrun. 

While I was pondering over this unhappy situation, the same 
staff officer arrived thirty minutes later with the news that a German 
armoured formation had succeeded in cutting our road to the rear. 
So in addition to making no progress in front, we were now cut off 
as well. This was no fault of the loist U.S. Airborne Division, who 
had been fighting a series of difficult battles to keep our lines of 
communication open. But it was no easy matter to defend some 
twenty-five miles of road with a resolute enemy pressing in on both 
sides. In fact, many stretches of the road were constantly uudcr shell 
fire, and at times the banks on either side became the actual front 
lines facing outwards. As might be expected, this slowed up the 
traffic moving along the road considerably. 

It had been hoped that the 8 and 12 Corps, who were advancing 
on our right and left respectively, would by now be sufficiently far 
north to have broadened these lines of communication, but they also 
were meeting stiff resistance and their progress had been slow. As it 
was vital to open communications with the rear, I was forced to 
turn the 3 2nd Guards Brigade back to start clearing the road from 
the north, while the joist U.S. and 50th British Divisions advanced 
from the south. Though this operation eventually succeeded, for 
twenty-five fateful hours the road was closed to all traffic. 

However, as I have already indicated, the " black 22nd " ended 

226 



5 

German Attacks 




THE BAXT1E OF ARNHEM 2 



better than might have been expected. Now that the Duke of 
Cornwall's Light Infantry column had joined up with the Poles 
there was every chance that the airborne division, replenished with 
stores and reinforced by Poles and British infantry, might well be 
able to hold out until we could establish a firm link with them, by 
driving the Germans off that part of the island. 

Our hopes were to be dashed again. Some of the D.U.K.W.s 
became bogged, while others were destroyed by enemy fire, and in 
the end only a few Poles succeeded in getting across. The trouble 
was that the Germans dominated the river by fire from high ground 
to the west of the airborne bridgehead, and their machine-guns, 
firing on fixed lines, were taking a heavy toll of our precious assault 
boats. Elsewhere on the front little progress had been made, and 
fresh German reinforcements, particularly of tanks, seemed to be 
arriving on the island almost daily. Well might the communiqu6 
that night report, " The situation is grave." 

Looking back I am certain that this was about the blackest 
moment of my life. I began to find it difficult to sleep. In fact I had 
to be very firm with myself in order to banish from my mind, 
during those midnight hours when everything seems at its worst, 
the picture of the airborne troops fighting their desperate battle on 
the other side of the river in front. I had had sufficient experience 
of war to know that any commander who finds it difficult to sleep 
will soon be unfit to be responsible for other men's lives. And here 
I was going that way myself an unpleasant thought. 

As this difficult battle progressed I became more and more 
impressed with the fighting qualities of the 82nd and loist U.S. 
Airborne Divisions. I learned afterwards that they were the pick of 
the whole American Army. What impressed me so much about 
them was their quickness into action; they were great individualists. 
They were also commanded by two outstanding men, the loist by 
General Maxwell Taylor, subsequently head of the U.S. Army, and 
the 82nd by General Jim Gavin, until recently in charge of military 
research and development in America. Both were as unlike the 
popular cartoon conception of the loud-voiced, boastful, cigar- 
chewing American as it would be possible to imagine. They were 

228 



quiet, sensitive-looking men of great charm, with an almost British 
passion for understatement. 

It was a quite normal occurrence for all hell to break out suddenly 
on the 82nd U.S. Airborne front shelling, mortaring, machine-gun 
fire, the lot. Whenever I rang up Jim Gavin to find out what was 
going on he gave me the same answer: " "We're just having a bit 
of a patrol." I usually discovered that his " bit of a patrol " had 
consisted of at least a hundred U.S. paratroopers carrying out a 
large-scale raid on the German positions. Like all first-class troops 
these two divisions were never content to sit quiet; they were 
always hitting back at the Germans. And under their deceptively 
gentle exterior both Maxwell Taylor and Gavin were very tough 
characters indeed. They had to be, because the men they com- 
manded were some of the toughest troops I have ever come across 
in my life. 

On 24th September I went forward to carry out a personal 
reconnaissance and met Major-General Sosabosky, the commander 
of the Polish Parachute Brigade and George Taylor of the 5th Duke 
of Cornwall's Light Infantry, both of whom luckily were ex- 
perienced, front-line soldiers, just the men for a difficult operation 
like this. 

I then climbed to the top of Driel church tower from where I 
was able to study the southern end of the airborne bridgehead on 
the far side of the river. As there seemed a danger that the airborne 
troops might be cut off from the river altogether, I told General 
Thomas, commanding 43 rd Division, that in order to relieve 
pressure on the bridgehead he was to carry out an assault crossing 
that night with a minimum of one battalion. He was then to pass 
over stores and finally Polish paratroopers if time permitted. 
I promised him the support of the complete corps artillery for the 
operation. I also asked him to carry out a reconnaissance farther to 
the west, because if tilings went well that night I hoped to side-slip 
the 43rd Division, cross the lower Rhine farther to the west and 
carry out a left hook against the German forces attacking the 
airborne perimeter. Having given these orders, I then drove back 
to meet the 2nd Army commander at St. Oedenrode, where we 

229 



discussed the whole situation thoroughly. This was very necessary 
because we were approaching a crisis, and 1 had not seen either 
Montgomery or Dempsey since the battle started. 

When I turned round to return to my headquarters, the Germans 
had cut the road again just to the north. This was a nasty blow, 
because not only was it vital that I should get back to my head- 
quarters as soon as possible in view of the critical stage of the battle, 
but more important still, much needed supplies of ammunition and 
above all, assault boats, were south of the cut. On this occasion the 
road was not open again for four days. I was lucky, however. 
With an escort of armoured carriers from the Durham Light 
Infantry I was able to get across country and rejoin the road north 
of the cut. 

On arrival at my headquarters at 10 a.m. next morning, the 
25th, I found a gloomy gathering awaiting me. The 4th Dorsets 
had crossed the night before, but all communication with them had 
now ceased; few assault boats were left, and ammunition was 
running short. In fact one artillery regiment was down to five 
rounds per gun. 

General Browning and I came to the conclusion that there was 
nothing for it but to withdraw the ist British Airborne Division 
over the river. That night, under a cover of a corps artillery 
programme, 2323 gallant airborne troops reached our Hues. It was 
a tragic scene. As the exhausted paratroopers swam or were ferried 
across the river in torrential rain, it seemed that even the gods were 
weeping at this grievous end to a gallant enterprise. 

And so ended the battle of Arnhem. Now for the post-mortem. 
General Urquhart, the commander of the ist Airborne Division, 
has complained that we were very slow in advancing to the relief 
of his division, and I can well understand his feelings. In fact his 
criticisms are perfectly reasonable when viewed from the airborne 
point of view. If I had been in his position, surrounded by the 
Germans, fighting desperately for eight days and always waiting 
for the 2nd Army which never arrived, I doubt whether I would 
have been half so reasonable. But if we were slow then the fault 
was mine because I was the commander. 

230 



I have thought over this batde many times since and wondered 
whether there was anything more that I could have done. The sense 
of desperate urgency was there all right. There could be no doubt 
about that, and it was not for want of trying that we failed to arrive 
in time. I don't believe that any other troops in the world could 
possibly have fought better than the Guards and the 82nd U.S. 
Airborne Division when they captured the bridges at Nijmegen. 
But, after all we were cut off three times, and it is difficult to fight 
with one hand tied behind you. 

It is always easy to be wise after the event but, knowing what I 
do now, I think it would have been better to have committed the 
43rd Division on a different axis. Instead of passing them through 
the Guards on the 22nd, I should have ordered General Thomas to 
carry out a left hook across the lower Rhine much farther to the 
west and so attack the Germans, who were engaged with the ist 
Airborne Division, from behind. This might well have been 
successful but even then I must emphasise that we should only have 
been able to establish a bridgehead position on the north bank of the 
lower Rhine. We could not have advanced any farther as envisaged 
in our original orders. The failure at Arnhem was primarily due to 
the astonishing recovery made by the German armed forces after 
their crippling defeat in Normandy. 

Even if the 2nd German S.S. Panzer Corps had not been in a 
position to intervene so rapidly, and if we had succeeded in getting 
right through to the Zuider Zee, could we have kept our long lines 
of communication open ? I very much doubt it. In which case 
instead of 30 Corps fighting to relieve the 1st British Airborne 
Division, it would then have been a case of the remainder of the 
2nd Army struggling desperately to relieve 30 Corps cut off by the 
Germans north of Arnhem. Maybe in the long run we were lucky. 

Now let me turn to die 64,000 dollar question about which 
military historians will no doubt argue for many years. Was Monty 
correct in, carrying out the Arnhem operation, which meant 
advancing sixty to seventy miles into Holland ? Would it not have 
been better if, after Brussels, 2ist Army Group had turned north- 
west and cleared both sides of the Scheldt estuary to open the port 

231 



of Antwerp which could then have been developed into a main base 
area, thus curing many administrative headaches. 

I can only give you the opinion of a corps commander who was 
on the spot and has since made a study of the problem. Had he 
adopted this course, as many critics think he should have done, the 
port of Antwerp would certainly have been open to Allied shipping 
earlier than it was. But how much earlier it is not easy to say, 
because the campaign to clear the Scheldt estuary would certainly 
have been difficult. 

The ground could be flooded at will by the Germans, while 
Walcheren could not be captured until it was flooded. Large 
German forces would have been cornered south of Breskens and 
could have put up a stubborn resistance in this difficult country where 
it was almost impossible to deploy large numbers of our troops. 
If we had devoted all our resources to clearing Antwerp in Septem- 
ber it would have been impossible later on to carry out the swift 
advance up to the lower Rhine at Arnhem, because by then the 
German defences would have been given time to solidify. We were 
able to make this deep penetration only because General Student's 
Parachute Army was still moving down from Germany. 

In my opinion Monty was right. We had advanced rapidly up 
the coastal plain while the Germans were still disorganised. His eyes 
were focused on the big prize to bounce a crossing over the Rhine 
and cut off the industrial heart of Germany, thus finishing the war 
in 1944. While there was still any chance of this succeeding he would 
have been wrong to deflect his resources to a subsidiary task. 

The clearance of the Scheldt estuary would certainly have eased 
the administrative situation, but would it have shortened the war by 
even one day? On the information available, Amheni was a 
justifiable gamble. Had the Germans not made one of the most 
remarkable military recoveries in history, it might well have 
succeeded. How could we know then that 4th September was the 
fateful day when victory in 1944 slipped through our fingers ? 



232 



CHAPTER XV 11 

BATTLE OF THE ARDENNES 



WHEN ON the night of 25th September, the remnants of the ist 
British Airborne Division were withdrawn south of the lower 
Rhine into our lines, all chance of finishing the war in 1944 was over 
and we were faced with the unpleasant prospect of fighting on 
throughout the winter. I seem to remember that Hannibal invariably 
adopted the admirable practice of going into winter quarters, but 
Eisenhower obviously had no intention of doing so. Quite rightly 
orders were issued that the Germans were to be given no respite. 
The first task was to close up to the Rhine, preparatory to forcing a 
crossing and penetrating deep into the heart of the Reich. 

30 Corps became involved in the battle of the Rhineland, as 
it was called, almost by chance. At the beginning of November 
we handed over the Nijmegen sector to the Canadians and moved 
down to the extreme right of the British front near Maastricht. 
Here we found ourselves next door to the 9th U.S. Army, which 
was preparing, in conjunction with the ist U.S. Army, to launch a 
large-scale offensive towards Cologne. The 9th had had little or no 
battle experience and felt very much a poor relation alongside the 
experienced ist U.S. Army. This made them all the more friendly 
towards their neighbours on the other flank, 30 Corps. 

I grew to like General Simpson, their army commander, very 
much indeed. He was a paternal figure of rather unusual appearance 
because he always kept a completely bald, shaven head. One day he 
asked me whether I could help in the forthcoming offensive by cap- 
turing the German town of Geilenkirchen. He pointed out that the 
inclusion of this town as one of his objectives would stretch his front 
too much. My orders were merely to hold the front and not attack, 
but I wanted to help if possible, and his request seemed very reason- 

233 



able. This, however, was an operation for which two divisions were 
required, and I had only the 43rd (Wessex) Division available. 
Neither 2ist Army Group nor 2nd Army were prepared to give me 
any additional troops. I was told that the barrel was bare and I was 
to stay quiet for a change. 

A couple of days later I was invited to dinner by Simpson to meet 
General Eisenhower, who was spending the night at his headquarters. 
I was delighted to meet Ike again. There was something about his 
warm, friendly personality which always did me good. 

" Well, Jorrocks," he said, " are you going to take on Geilen- 
kirchen for us ? ** I replied that the spirit was willing, but the flesh, 
in the shape of one extra division, was weak. Eisenhower then 
turned to Simpson and said, " Give him one of ours/* 

It was agreed that the new 84th Division, which had just arrived 
from the U.S.A., should be placed under my command. This was a 
great mark of confidence but I didn't altogether like it. I pointed 
out that the battle in front of us was not going to be an easy opera- 
tion, because it involved breaching the Siegfried Line, which con- 
sisted of concrete emplacements, barbed-wire obstacles and mines. 
Was it fair, I asked, to launch a U.S. division against all this in their 
first battle, under command of a Limey general ? I felt their morale 
might have been higher if they had gone in under an American. 

No one took the slightest notice of my protest, and by the time 
we started our meal I was committed to play a subsidiary role in the 
forthcoming U.S. offensive. 

Eisenhower was, I remember, very angry just then with the 
82nd and loist U.S. Airborne Divisions which had been under my 
command during the Amhem battle. After being pulled back into 
reserve they had apparently behaved badly and caused quite a lot of 
trouble in the rear areas. 

" They are a disgrace to the American Army/' he said. 

This was more than I could stand, because they were both 
magnificent divisions in battle. I leapt to their defence and suggested 
that it was a pity the whole American Army did not consist of 
similar " disgraces." Suddenly I heard a roar of laughter from 
Bedell Smith, Ike's chief of staff. 

234 



" Well, well," he said, " I never thought to hear a Britisher 
standing up for U.S. troops against an American general ! " 

The more I saw of the 84th the more impressed I became with 
the system of training which had been evolved during the war in the 
U.S.A. It worked on the sausage-machine principle. The different 
ingredients in the form of men, officers, and material were poured 
in at one end, and a complete division trained for war came out at the 
other. Their staff work was naturally rather cumbersome, and they 
lacked the know how which only battle experience can bring. 
But they were a good division nevertheless. 

I was determined that they should have every possible assistance, 
so for tank support I gave them my most experienced armoured 
regiment, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, commanded by 
Stanley Christopherson, some flails and flame tanks from the ypth 
Division, and above all die support of my superb corps artillery. 
The result, in the initial stages, was a complete success. On the first 
day, i8th November, both the 43rd Wessex and the 84th U.S. 
captured all their objectives, and by the evening of the ipth 
Geilenkirchen was in our hands. 

Now we began to encounter winter public enemy No. I rain. 
After continuous rain the ground became so sodden that even the 
tanks were bogged, and the Germans as usual began launching some 
vicious counter-attacks with their isth Panzer and loth S.S. Divi- 
sions. "We succeeded in holding on to most of our objectives, but all 
efforts to exploit our initial gains were unsuccessful. 

This was warfare at its most beastly, continuous cold driving rain 
turning the ground into a sea of mud, and constant counter-attacks 
from experienced German troops. The thing that worried me most 
was the initial failure of the Americans to get a hot meal through to 
their forward troops. This is where battle experience counts. It may 
be necessary to make the most elaborate plans many hours before- 
hand; but if troops are to go on fighting in winter, somehow or 
other they must get hot food. Every day my first question to the 
84th was, " How many units have had a hot meal during the 
night ? " 

The first day the answer was none. The second day fifty per 

235 



cent, and the third day 100 per cent. The great thing about the 
Americans was that they were very quick to learn. 

Now was the moment, after three days' hard and more-or-less 
victorious action, for this raw division to have been pulled out of 
the line. But in war this is not always possible. They just had 
to stay there, grin and bear it. On 23rd November the 84th 
reverted to U.S. control as the front had become static. I have 
deliberately mentioned this small battle in some detail because it 
was typical of what was going on throughout the winter all along 
the front. 

Early in December I was visited by Field-Marshal Montgomery 
who explained the next role my corps was to play in this battle of 
the Rhineland. A large-scale attack was to be launched in a 
southerly direction from the Nijmegen area, with our right on the 
Maas and our left on the Rhine, to be followed a few days later by 
an attack by General Simpson's pth Army across the Roer in a 
northerly direction. The German forces west of the Rhine would 
thus be caught between two prongs. 

This was subsequently called the battle of the Reichswald, and 
on 1 3th December, 30 Corps was pulled out of the line in great 
secrecy to prepare for this operation. While the different formations 
were moving back, I decided to avail myself of the standing invita- 
tion from Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians and snatch a brief leave 
at the Palace of Laeken. 

Then the incredible happened. I hadn't been there twenty-four 
hours when the telephone rang and the voice of a senior staff officer 
at General Dempsey's 2nd Army headquarters said: '* The Germans 
have smashed through the American front in the Ardennes and the 
situation is extremely confused. Field-Marshal Montgomery wants 
your corps, which is our only reserve readily available, to move 
down and occupy a lay-back position to protect Brussels. Can, you 
return immediately? " 

As luck would have it there was a thick pea-souper fog that 
night, and I couldn't have found my way even through Brussels, 
let alone get back to my headquarters some seventy-five miles away, 
So I replied that I would return first thing next morning, and I was 

236 



quite happy to leave the move of the corps in the hands of my very 
able chief of staff. 

I don't think I have ever been so surprised in my life. Here were 
the Germans, whom we imagined almost at the end of their tether, 
and whose air force had been practically shot out of the skies, 
pulling off the biggest surprise of the war and launching a large- 
scale counter-attack. It was so uncanny that, sitting there with the 
fog all round me, I felt very, very uneasy. But then I pulled myself 
together and began to study the map. 

I knew that the Ardennes sector of the American front was very 
lightly held, with something like four divisions on a frontage of 
ninety miles. Although it was reputed to be difficult country, 
wooded and hilly, with narrow roads twisting up the valleys, the 
Germans knew it well. It was through the Ardennes that they had 
launched their famour panzer thrust in 1940 which had cut the 
French armies in two. 

Neither the French in 1940 nor the Americans in 1944 had 
expected an attack in this particular sector, and they were both 
proved wrong. The Germans had chosen well on both occasions. 
A further anxiety was that because of Eisenhower's broad front 
policy almost every formation was in the line all the time, and there 
were very few reserves available. 

Then I began to realise what a fantastic gamble this was. The 
Germans could not possibly have amassed the resources in men, 
material and above all in the air to do us any serious damage. 
In fact they were playing into our hands. Instead of the Allies 
having to launch their attacks across flooded rivers like the Roer and 
then stand up to sharp enemy counter-attacks from armoured divi- 
sions, the Germans had come to us and stuck their armoured heads 
into our noose. With any luck we might destroy a large part of 
their last available armoured divisions. 

I heard afterwards that the reactions of that most colourful U.S. 
General George Patton, had been very similar. When told about 
the German attack he said: " Fine. We should open up and let 
them get all the way to Paris. Then we will saw 'em off at the base." 

I was feeling quite cheerful by the time I went into dinner, 

237 



which was just as well, because I found two very anxious women, 
Queen Elizabeth and la Baronne Carton de Wiart, awaiting me. 
Brussels had already been occupied twice in their lifetime. Was it to 
happen again ? I did my best to reassure them, and pointed out that 
as a result of this attack the war might be shortened by several 
months. Poor Brussels that cheerful leave centre where the Allied 
troops enjoyed a short spell out of the line was like a morgue during 
the next few days. 

I have no intention of going into details of this battle, which was 
largely an American affair. From the moment 30 Corps was in the 
long-stop position quite close to the battlefield of Waterloo there 
was no further danger of a German break-through. With three 
infantry divisions available and some 300 tanks ready to drive in 
from the flank, I hoped sincerely that the Germans would poke 
their noses over the Meuse. I had a momentary hope that it might 
fall to the lot of Horrocks to fight the second battle of Waterloo. 
In fact I went forward to see General Joe Collins, commanding the 
U.S. 7 Corps on the other side of the river in front of me and said: 
"Let them come, we will be delighted to deal with them/* He 
grinned and said, " I can't do that, General, but it is mighty comfort- 
ing to know you are there ! " 

The main British interest in the battle centred round the part 
played by Montgomery. When news of the German offensive was 
first received, some of the U.S. generals thought that it was only a 
spoiling attack. But not Monty. Like an old war horse he immedi- 
ately scented danger. And although to start with the enemy 
attack was not on his front at all, he immediately moved my corps 
into position to block any German attempt to break through to 
Brussels and Antwerp. This was a wise precaution. 

Then came General Eisenhower's much-discussed and criticised 
decision to split the command and place all the troops north of the 
bulge, including the ist U.S. Army, under Montgomery, leaving 
Bradley to command all those in the south. From every military 
point of view this was a correct decision, but it hurt the Americans 
badly. They felt that it was a slur on their efficiency. It was a 
situation which required immense tact but this is a quality for 

238 



which high-ranking soldiers are not noted, and Monty was no 
exception. 

One of the main difficulties in this battle was to find out what 
was happening. Rumours multiplied, particularly as regards the 
activities of the German commandos under Major Otto Skorzeny. 
These consisted of American-speaking Germans wearing U.S. uni- 
form and riding in captured jeeps. Not more than fifty jeep loads 
all told were actually employed but their numbers were multiplied 
at least twenty times. It was almost impossible to move about freely 
behind the American lines unless one had an intimate knowledge of 
America, because the U.S. sentries were not satisfied with passes and 
passwords. Everyone was grilled about America. " What is the 
second largest town in Texas? " I was once asked. I had no idea. 

This was a very confused battle and it was under these cir- 
cumstances that Monty's liaison officers, or gallopers, really came 
into their own. They consisted of hand-picked, intelligent, tough 
young staff officers who lived at his tactical headquarters. Every day 
they were dispatched to the different formations fighting the battle. 
In the evening after dinner each in turn would report to Monty on 
what he had seen and heard. As a result of their reports Monty was 
probably the only man who had a completely up-to-date picture of 
the whole battle front. 

The only way I could keep in touch with what was going on was 
to send my intelligence officer daily to study Monty's own opera- 
tional map. Many people, particularly some of the U.S. com- 
manders, resented the arrival of these liaison officers, whom they 
called Monty's spies. This was understandable, but at the same time 
rather silly. I found them very useful indeed. By taking them into 
my confidence I could be certain that Monty not only knew what 
was happening but also where the shoe pinched. 

I took very little part in this battle. On, the evening of the 2sth, 
when I got back to my headquarters after spending the day with the 
6th Airborne Division in the Dinant and Givet sector, I was told that 
the Field-Marshal wanted to speak to me. His first words were, 
'* Jorrocks, I want you to fly home to-morrow." I was somewhat 
shaken, but when I said: " May I ask why I am being sacked? " 

240 







In the J3J3.C. Television studios. Above: Showing how Otto Skorzeny rescued 
Mussolini from a mountain hotel in Italy. Below : Describing the battle of 
Normandy 








Historic pictures showing Black Rod's role at the Opening of Parliament, never photographed 
before and here reproduced, by permission of the B.B.C.jfrom the telerecording (1958). Above: 
Black Rod finds himself in a familiar position, advancing before Field-Marshal Montgomery, 
carrying the Sword of State. Below : At the bar of the House of Lords after summoning the Commons. 
Behind Black Rod can be seen the Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, the Chaplain and the 
Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hugh Gaitskell 



there was an explosion at the other end of the telephone. " Don't 
be stupid," he said. " You're not being sacked. I want you to go 
home and have a rest before a big battle I've got in store for you as 
soon as we've cleared up this mess here." 

I pointed out that the German spearhead was far from blunted 
and this was hardly the time for a commander to leave his corps 
when we were engaged in a battle which was unquestionably one 
of the turning points in the war. " This battle is finished," he said. 
" The Germans have shot their bolt. You fly home to-morrow." 
And that was that. 

I shall never forget the look of horrified astonishment on the 
face of the Vice-Chief of the General Staff, Archie Nye, when I 
popped my head round his door in the War Office next day. For a 
second he obviously thought some frightful disaster had occurred, 
and that I was the last survivor. His relief when I explained was 
almost funny. But he kept on muttering doubtfully, " Fancy Monty 
sending you on leave at a time like this." I could see that he also 
thought my time had come, and was probably pondering on a 
suitable decoration with which to grace my military demise. 

I mention this personal episode merely to emphasise once more 
that Monty was always fighting the next battle or the next but one, 
rather than the current one. 

He was quite right. Already on 29th December, Manteuffel, the 
German commander, was almost beseeching his Higher Command 
to call the battle off and let him get his troops back behind the Roer 
before the massive reserves being concentrated north and south of 
the bulge could strike his flanks. But as usual Hitler refused to give 
up an inch of ground, and it was not until 3rd January that he 
reluctantly gave permission for the withdrawal. 

By this time it was almost too late. Snow and biting winds 
added to the misery of the beaten German Armies as powerful thrusts 
by the ist and 3rd U.S. Armies struck into their flanks, while the 
air forces pounded them ceaselessly from above. On nth January 
the two armies joined hands at Houffalize, and by the end of the 
month the Germans were back once more behind their Siegfried 
Line. 

241 



They had failed primarily because they had under-estimated the 
fighting qualities of the American front-line troops. The American 
divisions had weathered this unexpected storm most creditably, but 
their losses had not been light. In five weeks there were 59,000 
casualties in the twenty-seven U.S. divisions which were engaged in 
the battle. The German losses in men and material were, however, 
much more serious because, unlike the American, they could not be 
replaced. In the words of Manteuffel himself: " The cost was so 
great that the offensive failed to show a profit. The last German 
reserves had suffered such losses that they were no longer capable of 
affecting the situation either on the western or eastern fronts." 

The effect on the morale of the German troops was disastrous. 
After the Ardennes all hope of winning the war had gone. Dis- 
illusionment and bitterness now began to creep in. 



242 



CHAPTER XVIII 

REICHSWALD BATTLE 



ON MY return from leave we resumed our interrupted preparations 
for the Reichswald battle. 30 Corps was lent to the 1st Canadian 
Army for this operation, designed to destroy all German forces 
between the Rhine and the Meuse. It was to be a two-pronged 
affair. We, the northern prong, were to attack in great strength on 
8th February. Then, when all the German reserves were on the 
move north to meet this' threat, the southern prong, General 
Simpson's pth U.S. Army, would cross the River Roer and advance 
towards us. 

The German forces would thus be caught in a vice. If they 
elected to fight west of the Rhine they would be destroyed and 
fewer German troops would be available to counter our thrust into 
the Reich itself. If they decided to withdraw back over the Rhine, 
2ist Arrny Group would be right down on the bank poised to make 
a crossing anywhere along its length, the primary object of the 
Rhineland battle. 

In theory a perfectly straightforward plan, but not quite so easy 
as it looked. All operations fought by armies are largely influenced 
by the shape of the ground and also by weather conditions. None 
more so than this one. 

The front line was held by two Canadian divisions and as I 
studied the country from one of their observation posts I saw in front 
a gentle valley with small farms rising up on the other side and 
merging into the sinister blackness of the Reichswald (German 
forest), intersected by rides but with only one metalled road running 
through it. North of the forest ran the main road from Nijmegen 
to Cleve that is from Holland into Germany. North of this again 
was the low-lying polder land which had been flooded by the 

243 



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THE BATTLE OF THE REICHSWAID 



Germans and looked like a large lake with the villages built on 
slightly higher ground standing out above the water. To the north 
flowed the broad expanse of the Rhine. The Germans were holding 
the far bank. South of the Reichswald was more low-lying ground 
which ran down to the River Meuse. This was completely dom- 
inated by the southern edge of the forest. The British 2nd Army 
held the other side of this river. We were therefore faced with a 
bottle-neck between the forest and the polder land and this had 
been heavily fortified in depth by the Germans. Moreover the 
whole area was lousy with mines. 

This was really the outpost position of the Siegfried Line which 
lay 3,500 yards to the east and consisted of an anti-tank ditch, some 
concrete emplacements, barbed-wire, mines and so on. Furthermore 
the small Rhineland towns such as Cleve and Goch had been made 
into hedgehogs, fortresses prepared for all-round defence. The 
cellars in the houses of all these German frontier towns had been 
specially constructed for battle concrete basements with loop- 
holes and so on, a further example of the careful German prepara- 
tions for war. Farther east still was one more lay-back position called 
the Hochwald. So the German defences were in considerable 
depth. 

We had to get through this bottle-neck before we could break 
out into the German plain beyond and the key to the bottle-neck 
was the high ground at Nutterden. This was the hinge of the door 
which led to the open country. The front was held by one German 
division, the 84th, supported by about 100 guns, but we estimated 
that there were approximately three infantry and two panzer 
divisions in reserve which could be brought into the battle pretty 
quickly. 

The first essential was to smash through the 84th as quickly as 
possible and get the high ground, the hinge, before the Germans 
could bring up their reserves. It was a race for Nutterden, but at 
the same time I had to clear the Reichswald itself, otherwise the 
Germans could have concentrated troops there and struck at my 
communications. Moreover, I wanted the road running through it 
because I knew how difficult it would be to supply a large modern 

245 



army with all its complicated needs along one road. To smash 
through quickly I determined to use the maximum force possible 
from the outset and support it with a large amount of artillery. 
So I decided to attack with five divisions in line, from right to left, 
5ist Highland, 53rd Welsh, isth Scottish, 2nd and 3rd Canadian. 
Behind were the 43 rd Wessex and Guards Armoured Divisions 
ready to pass through and sweep down the Rhineland* 

The success of this plan depended on two things. First, obtaining 
complete surprise, and secondly on the weather. If the Germans got 
wind of our attack they would move up their reserves before the 
battle started. But the weather exerted the biggest influence of all, 
because the ground was frozen hard, and if only the frost would 
hold until 9th February, our tanks and motor transport would be 
able to go everywhere across country without any difficulty. I had 
no doubt at all that under these conditions we should break out very 
quickly into the plain beyond and I hoped secretly to bounce one 
of the bridges over the Rhine. 

Surprise would not be easy. An enormous concourse of men, 
tanks, vehicles and guns had to be moved into the outskirts of 
Nijmegen and the woods nearby unknown to the Germans. This 
involved the most intricate staff work. By day the roads must 
remain empty, showing just an occasional vehicle the normal 
traffic, in fact. But as soon as it got dark, feverish activity began. 
Vehicles, almost nose to tail, came out of their hide-outs and started 
moving up. Thirty-five thousand vehicles were used to bring up the 
men and their supplies. One million, three hundred thousand gallons 
of petrol were required. Five special bridges had to be constructed 
over the Maas. One hundred miles of road must be made or 
improved. An intricate traffic control system had to be set up 
involving 1600 military police, and each unit was given the most 
exact timing. 

General Crerar, the Canadian army commander, under whom I 
was tiow serving, wisely decided that my assaulting troops should 
concentrate behind the existing Canadian screen so as not to arouse 
German suspicions by the sudden arrival of many fresh formations. 
A great many people had to reconnoitre this forward area, and I was 

246 



terrified that the presence of hundreds of officers and N.C.O.s 
walking about with field-glasses and maps might give the show 
away. So an office was established in the Dutch infantry barracks 
at Grave from where we controlled the movement of all recon- . 
naissance parties north of the River Meuse. We even made them 
wear Canadian battle-dress which was slightly different in colour 
and pattern from ours. 

This was the first time I had come into close contact with the 
Canadians during the war, and as I went round getting to know the 
2nd and 3rd Divisions which were to form part of my corps I was 
more and more impressed. Their long period of training in the U.K. 
had not been wasted. Moreover, while my corps had been romping 
gaily up to Brussels, the Canadians had been engaged in some very 
hard fighting in the coastal areas, so by now they were not only 
well trained but also seasoned troops. On the whole they seemed 
larger than our men, but occasionally I arrived suddenly in a unit 
composed of small alert French-speaking soldiers. 

To begin with all the plans went very smoothly. Then we got 
our first body blow. A sudden thaw set in and the bottom dropped 
out of some of our vital roads. By now, however, I had a superb 
staff, all young but very experienced, and somehow the vast con- 
centrations were completed without the Germans suspecting 
anything. 

One thing, during this preparatory stage, caused me almost more 
worry than any tiling else; the handling of the immense air resources 
which were to support us. General Crerar told me that in addition 
to the whole of the 2nd Tactical Air Force the heavies from Bomber 
Command were also available. And he put this question to me: 
" Do you want the town of Cleve taken out ? " By " taking out 3> 
he meant, of course, totally destroyed. 

This is the sort of problem with which a general in war is 
constantly faced, and from which there is no escape. Cleve was a 
lovely, historical, RJbdneland town. Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's 
fourth wife came from there. No doubtalot of civilians, particularly 
women and children, were still living there. I hated the thought of 
its being " taken out." All the same, if we were to break out of this 

247 



bottle-neck and sweep down into the German plain beyond it was 
going to be a race between the I5th Scottish Division and the 
German reserves for the hinge, and all the German reserves would 
have to pass through Cleve. If I could delay them by bombing, it 
might make all the difference to the battle. And after all the lives of 
my own troops must come first. So I said " Yes/' 

But I can assure you that I did not enjoy the sight of those 
bombers flying over my head on the night before we attacked. 
Generals, of course, should not have imagination. I reckon I had a 
bit too much. 

By the evening of yth February our concentration was complete, 
and the woods and outskirts of Nijmegen were thick with troops, 
guns, vehicles, workshops, tanks all the paraphernalia of modern 
war. It would have been almost impossible to drop a pea into the 
area without hitting something. This was probably the last of the 
old-type set piece attacks because, in face of the threat of tactical 
atomic missiles, no concentration like this can ever take place again. 

Though the difficult and complicated concentration had been 
achieved secretly, our prospects of a swift success had dwindled 
since the original plan had been made. The thaw had been a great 
blow, because in front of us in that low-lying valley the going was 
certain to be bad. Luckily for my peace of mind I did not realise 
then just how bad. The second handicap concerned the attack of the 
American 9th Army. The Germans had wisely blown the dams, 
and the Roer river had become so flooded that no passage over it 
would be possible until the flood waters had subsided. How long 
this would take was anybody's guess. The flood would enable the 
Germans to concentrate every available reserve against us. We were 
faced with a battle of extermination, slogging our way forward 
through the mud. Not a pleasing prospect at all. 

With these thoughts in mind I climbed into my command post 
for the battle in the early hours of 8th February, It was a cold, grey, 
miserable dawn with low clouds and rain, heralding several days of 
stormy weather. My command post was a small platform half-way 
up a tree, and from here I had a wonderful view over most of the 
battlefield. The noise was appalling, and the sight awe-inspiring, 

248 



All across tlie front shells were exploding. We had arranged for a 
barrage, a curtain of fire, to move forward at a rate of 300 yards 
every twelve minutes, or 100 yards every four minutes, in front of 
the troops. To mark the end of the four-minute period when the 
guns would increase their range by 300 yards they all fired a round 
of yellow smoke. 

So it was possible to follow roughly the progress of the attack, 
and down in the valley, behind this wall of shells, I could see small 
scattered groups of men and tanks all moving slowly forward. 
I was also able by wireless to keep in accurate touch with what was 
happening. 

This was the biggest operation I had ever handled in war. 
Thirty Corps was 200,000 strong that day, and we were attacking 
with five divisions in line supported by 1400 guns. It soon became 
clear that the enemy was completely bemused as a result of our 
colossal bombardment; their resistance was slight. The main 
trouble was mines and mud, particularly mud. I am certain that 
this must be the chief memory of everyone who fought in the 
Reichswald battle. Mud and still more mud. It was so bad that 
after the first hour every tank going across country was bogged 
down, and the infantry had to struggle forward on their own. 
The chief enemy resistance came from the cellars in the villages. 

It has been said that no two attacks are ever alike, and that was 
exemplified in this battle. Every night as soon as it was dusk, the 
3rd Canadian Division set out on what were almost maritime 
operations, each one designed to capture one or more of the villages 
which, owing to the flooding, looked like small islands jutting out 
of the sea. Artillery would fire on the village while the Canadians 
in their buffaloes (amphibious vehicles) sailed off across the interven- 
ing lake and carried out their assault. 

On their right was an entirely different type of operation carried 
out by the 44th Brigade of the 15th Scottish. Their task was to 
breach the northern extension of the Siegfried Line, consisting of 
anti-tank ditches, mine-fields, concrete emplacements and barbed- 
wire entanglements. Not one single man was on his feet. The 
officers controlling the artillery fire were in tanks. The leading wave 

249 



of the assault consisted of tanks with flails in front beating and 
exploding the mines to clear passages through the mine-fields. 
Then came tanks carrying bridges and fascines on their backs to 
form bridges over the anti-tank ditch. The next echelon was flame- 
throwing tanks to deal with the concrete pill-boxes, and finally 
infantry in cut-down tanks, ie., with the top taken, off, called 
kangaroos. 

These proved a great boon in the closing stages of the war. 
They were, I believe, a Canadian invention emanating from the 
brain of one of their most famous corps commanders, General 
Simonds. I once saw a whole brigade of the sist Highland 
Division in these vehicles being heavily shelled by the Germans. 
I thought their casualties were bound to be high, but they had only 
two men wounded. 

That night the Germans breached the banks of the Rhine up- 
stream, and the floods started to rise, spreading over our one road. 
Nevertheless the advance was going well, and I was delighted to 
hear that the I5th Scottish were moving into the outskirts of Clcve. 
Here was the news for which I had been waiting eagerly and I 
unleashed my first reserve, the 43rd Wessex Division, which was to 
pass through the ijth Scottish and burst out into the plain. 

This was one of the worst mistakes I made in the war. The isth 
Scottish had not got nearly so far as had been reported, and one of 
their brigades had not yet been employed at all. There was already 
too much traffic on this one road, and it was impossible to deploy 
across country owing to the boggy ground. The arrival of this extra 
division caused one of the worst traffic jams of the whole war, only 
equalled, I believe, by the scenes in the Liri valley in Italy after the 
battle of Cassino. The language heard that night has seldom if ever 
been equalled. 

In spite of me, shall we say, the isth Scottish and then the 43rd 
Wessex forced their way into the shattered ruins that had once been 
Cleve and some very hard fighting took place. Meanwhile the 
53rd Welsh had disappeared into the Reichswald itself, where they 
spent one of the most unpleasant weeks of the war, fighting their 
way steadily forward against increasing German opposition. The 

250 



5 ist Highland were also going well on the right flank, where 
opposition had been heavier than anywhere else. It was a satisfactory 
thought that this division which had started at Alamein was now at 
long last, and after much hard fighting all along North Africa, 
Sicily, Normandy, Belgium, Holland, in Germany itself. 

From now on the battle developed into a slogging match as we 
inched our way forward through the mud and rain. It became a 
soldier's battle fought most gallantly by the regimental officers and 
men under the most ghastly conditions imaginable. It was a slog in 
which only two things mattered, training and guts, with the key men 
as always the battalion commanders. The Germans rushed up more 
guns and more divisions. Eventually we were opposed by more 
than 1000 guns, 700 mortars and some ten divisions; they were 
certainly fighting desperately to prevent our getting to their famous 
Rhine. Slowly and bitterly we advanced through the mud 
supported by our superb artillery. 

Historians may well in the future pass over this battle as dull 
but it was far from dull for the front-line soldiers. As I went round 
day after day I marvelled at the stoicism of these youngsters. They 
were quite unmoved by the fact that they were the cutting edge of a 
vast military machine stretching right back through bulging lines of 
communication to war factories in the United Kingdom. 

The strain to which the soldier of to-day is subjected is far, far 
greater than anything experienced by his grandfather or his great- 
grandfather. This battle was a particularly good example. The 
53rd Welsh Division and, farther south, the 5ist Highland Division 
were fighting their way through that sinister black Reichswald 
Forest. Their forward troops would very often consist of two young 
men, crouching together in a fox-hole, both of whom had long 
since come to the conclusion that the glories of war had been much 
over-written. They were quite alone for they might not be able to 
see even the other members of their own section and all around 
them was the menace of hidden mines. 

It is this sinister emptiness that depresses them most no living 
thing in sight. During training, officers and N.C.O.s had been 
running round die whole time, but they cannot do it now to any- 

251 



thing like the same extent, or they won't live long. Our two young 
men are almost certainly cold, miserable and hungry, but they are 
at least reasonably safe as long as they remain in their fox-hole. 
But they know that soon they will have to emerge into the open to 
attack. Then the seemingly empty battlefield will erupt into sudden 
and violent life. When that moment arrives they must force them- 
selves forward with a sickening feeling in the pit of their stomachs, 
fighting an almost uncontrollable urge to fling themselves down as 
close to the earth as they can get. Even then they are still alone 
amidst all the fury; carrying their loneliness with them. 

Towards the end of the war I began to feel that in face of modern 
fire power it is not possible for the human body, unprotected by 
armour, to move across country at all. That is why we British 
generals, who had nearly all been through the First World War with 
its terrible casualties, were always seeking for more ways of helping 
the infantry forward, more tanks to go with them, clear the way 
through mine-fields, and give them close fire support in their 
attacks. More and still more artillery with which to blast the enemy 
and keep him down at the bottom of his trench, unable to retaliate. 

But now let me return to the young soldiers in their empty 
battlefield, and compare them with their great-great-grandfathers 
on the battlefield of Waterloo, where the British troops formed up 
shoulder-to-shoulder, with their officers and N.C.O.s all round 
them. Every now and then along the ridge in front of them rode 
their famous commander, Wellington, on his equally famous horse, 
Copenhagen. Three-quarters of a mile away on the hill of La Belle 
Alliance they could see their French opponents under Napoleon 
also forming up. There was shouting, clamour and excitement in 
the air. It took a brave men to be a coward under those cir- 
cumstances. 

How much worse for our youngsters in their loneliness. 

In those days, too, little happened at night. As soon as it got 
dark the armies of both sides slept round camp-fires, probably 
warmed with swigs of looted brandy. In the morning when they 
were all formed up, the generals said, " Let battle commence " and 
off they went again* 

252 



Now, owing to the power of modern fire, more and more 
happens at night. In Korea practically all the fighting took place 
under cover of darkness. And I reckon about the hardest thing you 
can ask of any man is to form part of a standing patrol in no-man's- 
land on a winter's night. 

Yet nothing in their previous life has prepared our young men 
for the supreme ordeal of this modern battlefield. The greater 
proportion of soldiers to-day live in the outskirts of some big town, 
where they are always surrounded by crowds. At the cinema, the 
football match, at work in the factory, or in a holiday camp, there 
are always plenty of people. Quite naturally they don't hke being 
alone. Nor do they like darkness because they are used to the 
lighted streets. They are also brought up, quite rightly, in an 
atmosphere of safety first. Going to school there is a man or woman 
in a white coat to see them safely across the road. I am not suggesting 
that this is not a good tiling. Of course it is, with the state of our 
modem roads. But what I do say is that it is hardly a suitable back- 
ground for the ordeal of modern war. All the more credit 10 them 
then that when properly led they do so well. 

The floods rose continuously, and at one stage our one road was 
covered to a depth of several feet. We attacked every day and every 
night for five long weeks, and our casualties began to mount. I kept 
on hearing the sad news that Major, Captain or Sergeant So-and-so 
who had been with his unit ever since Normandy had been killed. 

This was a Canadian battle, and every day I was visited by 
General Crcrar, the army commander. He was always very well- 
informed because, In spite of the bad weather, he made constant 
flights over die battlefield in a small observation aircraft. I am afraid 
he must have found me a rather tiresome subordinate, because this 
continuous battle in the mud began to take its toll, and I found 
myself getting very tired and irritable. But Crcrar bore with me 
patiently. 

The turning-point came on i6th February, when, the 43rd 
Wessex Division carried out a brilliant 8000 yards advance which 
brought them to the escarpment overlooking the fortified town of 
Goch, which was subsequently captured by die Jocks of the 5ist 



Highland and isth Scottish Divisions. At this time my right flank 
was very much a Scottish army. The 52nd (Lowland Division) were 
on the extreme right and one of the regiments supporting the 
attack on Goch was that magnificent medium artillery regiment 
The Scottish Horse. 

After the first week the front widened sufficiently for the 2nd 
Canadian Corps, commanded by General Simonds, to come in 
on my left, or northern flank. Simonds was a first-class com- 
mander with a most original brain and full of initiative. It was his 
corps which now bore the brunt of the assault on the strongly-held 
Hochwald position. 

They were faced by determined resistance from German para- 
troopers and it developed into a dour struggle. The Royal Winnipeg 
Rifles said it was " the heaviest shelling the battalion had ever 
experienced." The Regina Rifles reported "Just as bad as anything 
encountered in Normandy." It was during this fighting that two 
Canadians won the Victoria Cross. Sergeant Aubrey Cosens of the 
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada almost single-handed beat off 
numerous German counter-attacks, and then led his platoon, 
reduced to four men, in an attack against three strongly-defended 
enemy positions. In the moment of victory he himself was killed 
by a bullet from a German sniper. The second was won by an 
officer, Major F. A. Tilston of the Essex Scottish. Though wounded 
time after time he went on leading his company and eventually, 
though so seriously wounded that he was barely conscious, he 
refused to give up until he was satisfied that the position was secure. 
Only then would he permit himself to be taken back to the aid post. 

On the 23 rd came the welcome news that the 9th U.S. Army 
had been able to cross the swollen River Rocr. This meant that the 
southern prong would now start moving northwards, and the 
German fate was sealed. By loth March the battle was over and all 
organised German resistance west of the Rhine had ceased. 

During the course of this horrible battle nine British and 
Canadian divisions supported by a vast array of artillery had been 
under command of 30 Corps. We had smashed our way through 
carefully prepared enemy defensive positions under the most 

254 



unpleasant conditions imaginable. No one in his senses would wish 
to fight a winter campaign in the flood plains of north-western 
Europe, but there was no alternative. During the fighting, which had 
lasted for a month, we had encountered and defeated three panzer, 
four parachute and four German infantry divisions. We took 16,800 
German prisoners and it was estimated that the total enemy casualties 
was about 75,000 as against 15,634 suffered by us. Our losses seemed 
very high to me at the time, but this was unquestionably the 
grimmest battle in which I took part during the last war and I kept 
on reminding myself that during the battle of the Somme in the 
1914-1918 war there were 50,000 casualties during the first morning. 

General Eisenhower summed it up in a letter to Crerar in which 
he wrote, " Probably no assault in this war has been conducted 
in more appalling conditions of terrain than was that one." 

I was very glad to have it behind me. The battle of the Rhine- 
land was over; the western bank was securely in our hands, and the 
heart of Germany was almost uncovered. 



CHAPTER XIX 

ACROSS THE RHINE 



WHEN THE battle of the Rhineland was over I received a message to 
say that 30 Corps was to revert to the command of the 2nd British 
Army. Next day General Dempsey arrived to give me his plan for 
the crossing of the Rhine and the final advance into Germany. 
We were to attack on a two-corps front between the small towns of 
Wesel and Emmerich with 12 Corps on the right and my corps, 30, 
on the left. As the main effort what the Germans called the 
Schwerpunkt was to be on the right, the two airborne divisions, 
6th British and iyth U.S. were to be employed on 12 Corps front. 
It was an exciting proposition. The idea of breaching the Rhine of 
all rivers appealed to me enormously. It wasn't, however, going to 
be so simple as some people seemed to think, because, whatever 
might be happening elsewhere on the front, the troops opposed to 
us were still fighting toughly. According to my intelligence staff, 
whose information was always astonishingly accurate, we were 
opposed by the 8th Parachute Division round the small town of 
Rees with part of the 6th and yth Parachute Divisions on its flanks. 
Behind in immediate reserve were our old friends, or enemies, 
I5th Panzer Grenadier Division and n6th Panzer Division. 

A vast concentration of troops, assault boats, buffaloes, bridging 
material, guns, etc., had to be got into position, and unfortunately 
the far bank of the broad, swift-running Rhine was slightly higher 
than ours so that German observers could sec all that was going on 
in the flat ground on our side. To deceive the enemy about our 
crossing place was* a difficult problem involving some intricate staff 
work under the direction of my B.G.S., Brigadier Jones (subse- 
quently Major-General C. B. Jones, Vice-Adjutant General at the 
War Office). Once again I had been extremely lucky in my chief 

256 



staff officer. No one could have wished for a better right-hand man 
than " Splosh " Jones, and- he took the whole thing in his stride. 
One of lois first problems was to control reconnaissance. Before an 
attack of this sort a large number of people must go forward and 
reconnoitre the positions they are to occupy. This applies particu- 
larly to the gunners who have many mysterious rites of their own to 
perform before they can bring down accurate concentrations of fire. 

We hit on what I thought was rather a bright idea. Nobody was 
allowed forward on to the flat polder land stretching back from the 
banks of the Rhine without reporting to a special branch of 30 Corps 
headquarters where a very large-scale map of the forward area was 
maintained. This was known as " The Pig Hotel " 30 Corps sign 
was a wild boar and we were known throughout the army as the 
old pig. After examining the accommodation which they had been 
allotted in " the hotel," reconnaissance parties were allowed to go 
forward a few at a time to see their " rooms." I was particularly 
angry one day to hear that a certain Major-General who was much 
too brave to take the normal precautions had walked along the near 
bank of the Rhine wearing his red hat. 

The final move forward on to the flat ground was made under 
cover of darkness, and from the first night I arranged for a con- 
tinuous smoke-screen to be put down right along the river bank. 
This proved most effective, though when the wind blew towards us 
the smoke was inclined to make everyone feel sick. A river crossing 
of this nature is a most intricate operation but thanks to " Splosh " 
and his excellent team of staff officers, by the 23rd March all was 
ready and at 5 p.m. our artillery opened fire. 

This preliminary bombardment was designed to destroy the 
150 enemy guns which had been located on our front, or at least to 
cut their communications and so prevent them firing on our troops 
forming up for the assault, The sist Highland Division had been 
earmarked to carry out the first crossings and just before 9 p.m. I 
climbed into an observation post on some high ground overlooking 
die Rhine. All around me were the usual noises of battle, and 
though I could see very little except the flicker of the guns I had a 
mental picture of what was going on in front of me in the hazy 

257 



darkness of tliat warm spring evening. I could imagine the leading 
buffaloes carrying infantry of I53rd and I54th Infantry Brigades 
lumbering along their routes, which had been taped out and lit 
beforehand, and then lurching down into the dark waters of the 
Rhine. 

Upstream at Wesel I could hear the aircraft of Bomber Command 
preparing the way for 12 Corps which was to assault later that night. 
Then at four minutes past nine precisely I received the message for 
which I had been waiting in its way a historical message because 
it was from the first British troops to cross the Rhine " The Black 
Watch has landed safely on the far bank." The initial crossings went 
very smoothly, opposition was not as heavy as might have been 
expected and our casualties were comparatively light. 

But the enemy was quick to recover and very soon reports came 
in that Rees was proving troublesome. As the night wore on enemy 
resistance stiffened and some very bitter fighting took place. Within 
twenty-four hours of the assault the isth Panzer Grenadier Division 
hit back at us with a vicious counter-attack. I will give just one 
example of what was going on. Soon after the village of Speldrop 
had been captured by " C " Company of the 1st Black Watch it was 
violently counter-attacked by German infantry supported by self- 
propelled guns. The situation became very confused and, as one 
platoon could not be located, nincteen-years-old Lieutenant J. R. 
Henderson volunteered to take out a patrol to try and find how far 
the Germans had penetrated. 

After going a few hundred yards he came under intense fire, 
so ordering the rest of the men to take cover he went forward 
accompanied by only one man carrying a brcn gun. Almost 
immediately an enemy machine-gun opened fire at very close 
range. The bren gunner was killed and Henderson's revolver was 
knocked out of his hand. Undaunted he charged the machine-gun 
position alone and killed the gunner with his shovel. 

He then went back to the patrol, and although the only building 
at hand was in flames he decided to occupy it. By this time he and 
his patrol were cut off from the rest of the battalion. Realising that 
it would be difficult to hold out without a machine-gun, Henderson 

258 



crawled back several hundred yards under very heavy fire to the 
place where the bren gunner had been killed, collected the gun and 
with great difficulty made his way back to his men. 

By now the house was blazing so he led his men across the open 
into another one where they established themselves in a defensive 
position. During the next twelve hours enemy attacks against the 
house never relaxed and it was not until the following evening that 
the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, attacking with considerable 
artillery support, cleared the village after stiff fighting and so 
relieved Henderson and his men who were still holding out most 
gallantly. 

Reports were coming in of Germans surrendering in large 
numbers to the British and American forces on our flanks but there 
was no sign of any collapse on our front. In fact the 5ist Highland 
Division reported that the enemy was fighting harder than at any 
time since Normandy. It says a lot for the morale of those German 
parachute and panzer troops that with chaos, disorganisation and 
disillusionment all round them they should still be resisting so 
stubbornly. Their casualties during the last nine months had been 
very heavy, and the reinforcements arriving from Germany had not 
been of the old calibre at all, yet somehow the tough, experienced 
officers and N.C.CXs who were such a feature of these parachute and 
panzer formations managed to turn the callow youths into good 
soldiers. 

It was a slow business widening the bridgehead and Rees proved 
a particularly hard nut to crack. It took the ist Battalion The 
Gordons forty-eight hours, dour fighting before the whole place was 
in their hands. During the morning of the 24th as I was driving 
round in my jeep 1 received a wireless message which caused me 
great grief, to the effect that Thomas Rennie, the commander of the 
5 ist Highland Division, had been killed by a mortar bomb when 
visiting one of his brigades on the far side of the river. 

I have always felt that Rennie had some foreboding about this 
battle. He and I had fought many times together but I had never 
seen him so worried as he was over this Rhine project. He hated 
every tiling about it and I couldn't understand why, because the 



actual crossing was fairly plain sailing compared with other opera- 
tions which he had undertaken quite cheerfully. Like so many 
Highlanders I beHeve he was " fey." 

Something had to be done quickly as all the three brigades of 
this division were involved in heavy fighting, so I crossed the 
Rhine in a buffalo and summoned the three brigadiers to a con- 
ference. They were very upset by the death of their popular 
commander, and no wonder, because Remiie was a great leader and 
it was thanks largely to him that the division had recovered after a 
somewhat inauspicious start in Normandy. After discussing the 
situation and co-ordinating their future movements I appointed 
James Oliver, commander of the I54th Brigade, to take over the 
division temporarily until a new commander arrived. Rennie's 
successor was Macmillan of the Argylls, a most able and popular 
officer, known throughout the army as " Babe/' It was a fortunate 
choice because as commander of I52nd Brigade in Sicily he was 
a familiar figure to all the Jocks. 

With the Rhine behind us the drive into the heart of Germany 
began pth U.S. Army, 8, 12 and 30 British, and 2 Canadian Corps 
from right to left. Due to the stubborn resistance of the German 
parachute troops we found ourselves echeloned back behind 8 and 
12 Corps, a somewhat unusual experience for the old pig because 
up to now we had usually led the hunt through north-west Europe. 
Not only were these German rearguards well handled but their 
demolitions delayed us a lot. All bridges were blown and many 
cross-roads cratered, usually by large aerial bombs. A considerable 
delay on the River Ems was avoided thanks to a particularly gallant 
action carried out by the Guards. This was such a brilliant little 
operation that I propose to describe it in some detail. 

On 3rd April the armoured cars of the Household Cavalry 
reported that one bridge over the River Ems was still intact; but it 
was prepared for demolition and strongly defended. The Cold- 
stream Guards infantry and tanks (ist and 5th Battalions) working 
together were ordered to capture this bridge intact. From a wooded 
hill some 400 yards from the river Lieutenant-Colonel Gooch was 
able to study the German defences. The road leading up to the 

260 



bridge was OB an embankment and the actual approach was barred 
by a solid timber road-block. Six 50o4b. aerial bombs were wired 
together on the bridge ready to blow it up; on the far side were 
numerous trenches and at least three 88 mm. guns could be seen. 

If the bridge was to be captured before it was destroyed split- 
second timing was required. The attack opened with a sudden, 
intense, artillery concentration on the German positions while the 
tanks moved up into firing positions on the wooded frill- When the 
artillery fire lifted the tanks opened up on the German positions with 
every weapon they possessed. Under cover of this No. 3 (Infantry) 
Company led by the company commander, Captain Liddell, moved 
forward on either side of the embankment. As Liddell didn't want 
to risk his company being blown up on the bridge, he halted them 
just short of it and going forward by himself climbed over the 
road-block. He then ran on to the bridge in full view of the enemy, 
all of whom were firing at him, and cut the wires leading to the 
bombs. He climbed back on to the top of the road-block, waved his 
company on and charged over the bridge at their head followed by a 
troop of tanks which smashed the road-block. 

The German positions were overrun, forty were killed, ten 
wounded and forty-two taken prisoner, and the bridge was captured 
intact. Thanks to the speed and courage displayed, only one 
guardsman was killed and four wounded* The slightest hesitation 
or mistiming and the bridge would unquestionably have been 
destroyed, A captured German sapper said afterwards that he was 
the man responsible for blowing the bridge but when he pressed 
the plunger nothing happened. 

I was delighted at this success and next day visited the site where 
Liddell took me round and explained how the battle developed. 
He was killed eighteen days later by a stray bullet before he knew 
that he had won the Victoria Cross for his very gallant action on the 
River Ems. It was a great tragedy but it is always the best who die 
in war* How much we have missed the Liddclls of this world in the 
post-war years, 

Slowly too slowly for my liking we penetrated deeper into 
Germany. The Guards Armoured, 3rd Division, 43rd (Wessex) and 

261 



5 ist (Highland) Divisions all took a hand. We heard rumours of 
underground resistance movements being organised behind our 
lines but this was never taken very seriously because even though the 
German Army might be still fighting the civilian population had 
had more than enough of the war. As soon as our advanced guards 
entered a village, white sheets fluttered from all the windows. 

Not for the first time I marvelled at the curious mentality of the 
German people who one moment are fighting hard and the next 
are surrendering by the thousand. Somehow or other I couldn't see 
the British housewives in Kent, Sussex and Surrey welcoming 
German invaders with white sheets more likely with coal hammers 
and picks. 

Towards the middle of April it became clear that I should be 
forced to capture Bremen. I had been doing my best to sell this task 
to Neil Ritchie, commanding 12 Corps. No commander likes 
having to take on a large city which eats up troops in the most 
exasperating way. But by now his corps was on the Elbe so there 
was nothing for it. The more I studied the problem the less I liked 
it. We were not properly balanced for the task. While I was trying 
to find the best way out the telephone rang and a staff officer 
informed me that Field-Marshal Montgomery was on his way down 
to see me. 

A few minutes later he arrived and entering the map lorry which 
served as my mobile office he said, " Jorrocks, I am not happy about 
Bremen." " Nor am I, sir," I replied. " Tell me about it," he said, 
sitting down in front of a large-scale map. He listened carefully 
without saying a word while I explained my difficulties. There was 
a short pause while he pondered on what he had heard. Then, 
stabbing the map with his finger he said, " We will do A, B, C and 
D." The four decisions which he then took cleared up the situation 
completely, and as far as I was concerned Bremen was finished. 

To my mind this was a very good example of higher command 
in war. At his headquarters many miles away Monty was in 
sufficient touch with the feel of the battle to appreciate beforehand 
where difficulties were likely to occur. He then went forward to see 
the man on the spot, in this case me, and having listened to my tale 

262 



he made up his mind instantly about what should be done. From his 
point of view, also, Bremen was finished and, as I knew very well, 
he would now relegate it to the back of his mind, while he went on 
to consider the next problem. 

The main assault started on the 24th April with 52nd (Lowland) 
Division north of the Weser and the 3rd Division converging from 
the south. At this stage of the war the 52nd was one of the best 
divisions in the 2nd British Army because it still retained a number 
of the original personnel. It had been specially trained for a long 
period as a mountain division but its first important battle had taken 
place below sea4evel at Walcheren such is fate. 

While roaming round the Bremen battlefield, I. stopped my jeep 
and went up into an attic where I had a wonderful view of the 
first objective which the 3rd Division was then attacking across a 
flooded airfield. The attic was already occupied by two young 
gunner-observation officers who were busily engaged in bringing the 
fire of their regiment on to some German anti-tank guns which were 
holding up our tanks. They had no idea I was the corps commander; 
in fact they hardly glanced at irfe at all, so for a few minutes I was 
able to forget the problems of a corps battle and lose myself in this 
front-line duel which was unfolding before my eyes. Our artillery 
concentrations got nearer and nearer to the German position. 
Suddenly it was all over. The guns were pointing drunkenly in the 
air, and the young gunners were dancing round the loft crying out, 
" Got them, direct hit," and sure enough our tanks could now be 
seen advancing once again. It was in Bremen that I realised for the 
first time just what the Germans must have suffered as the result of 
our bombing. It was a shambles; there didn't seem to be a single 
house intact in this huge seaport. 

Up to now I had been fighting this war without any particular 
hatred for the enemy but just short of Bremen we uncovered one of 
those horror camps which are now common knowledge, but which 
at that time came as a great shock. I saw a ghastly picture when I 
entered with General Allan Adair, the commander of the Guards 
Armoured Division. The floor of the first large hut was strewn with 
emaciated figures clad in most horrible striped pyjamas. Many of 

264 



them were too weak to walk but they managed to heave themselves 
up and gave us a pathetic cheer. Most of them had some form of 
chronic dysentery and the stench was so frightful that I disgraced 
myself by being sick in a corner. It was difficult to believe that most 
of these hardly human creatures had once been educated, civilised 
people. 

I was so angry that I ordered the burgomasters of all the surround- 
ing towns and villages each to supply a quota of German women to 
clean up the camp and look after these unfortunate prisoners, who 
were dying daily at an alarming rate. When the women arrived we 
expected some indication of horror or remorse when they saw what 
their fellow-countrymen had been doing. Not a bit of it. I never 
saw a tear or heard one expression of pity from any of them. 
I also brought one of our own hospitals into the camp and when I 
found some of our sisters looking very distressed I apologised for 
having given them such an unpleasant task. " Goodness me/' they 
said, "it's not that. We are only worried because we can do so 
little for the poor things many of them have gone too far." 
A somewhat different approach to the problem by the women of 
two countries. 

But to turn to a more pleasant subject. We discovered a collec- 
tion of sailing yachts of all sizes tucked away in odd creeks and on. 
hards along the River Weser near Bremen. As the war was nearly 
over I thought these would come in handy for our troops in the 
army of occupation so I ordered a couple of soldiers to be placed on 
each, just to make certain they didn't disappear* A few weeks later 
1 received a signal from the senior British Admiral in the area asking 
for these boats to be handed over forthwith to the Royal Navy. 
I flatly refused, and added in my message, ** Who captured Bremen, 
the army or the navy? " Back came a terse message, " Every tiling 
that floats belongs to the navy,'* to which I replied " Rather than 
hand them over I'll sink the lot." The quarrel ended peacefully 
when we shared the spoils between us. And when the war was over 
many soldiers spent profitable hours learning to sail. Bremen. 
produced 6000 prisoners including two generals and one admiral. 

Our final task now was to clear the Cuxhaven peninsula which 

265 



lies between the estuaries of the Rivers Elbe and Weser. On 3rd May 
I was told confidentially the Germans were negotiating for surrender, 
but that this was not to be communicated to anyone else. I was 
particularly anxious to avoid even a single casualty with die war 
practically over, so instead of urging on the divisional commanders 
I went round inventing excuses to slow them down. I could see 
them looking at me with astonishment and they were no doubt 
saying to themselves, " The old man has lost his nerve at last." 

I had often wondered how the war would end. When it came 
it could hardly have been more of an anti-climax. I happened to be 
sitting in the military equivalent of the smallest room when I heard 
a voice on the wireless saying " All hostilities will cease at 0800 hours 
tomorrow morning 5th May." 

It was a wonderful moment the sense of relief was extra- 
ordinary; for the first time for five years I would no longer be 
responsible for other men's lives. The surrender on our front took 
place at 1430 hours on 5th May when the German general command- 
ing the Corps Ems and his chief of staff arrived at our headquarters. 
Elaborate arrangements had been made for their reception. Our 
military police, looking very smart escorted them to a table in the 
centre of the room; all round the outside was a rmg of interested 
staff officers and other ranks of 30 Corps. 

When all was ready I came in and seated myself all alone 
opposite the two Germans. After issuing my orders for the surrender 
I finished with these words, " These orders must be obeyed scru- 
pulously. I warn you we shall have no mercy if they are not. 
Having seen one of your horror camps my whole attitude towards 
Germany has changed. " 

The chief of staff jumped up and said, " The army had nothing 
to do with those camps." u Sit down," I replied, ** there were 
German soldiers on sentry duty outside and you cannot escape 
responsibility. The world will never forgive Germany for those 
camps," 

The German forces who were concentrated iu the north-west 
corner of the Cuxhavcn peninsula were ordered to stack all their 
weapons at certain points. A couple of days later I drove round the 

266 



area to see how the disarmament was proceeding and found the 
remnants of the parachute army concentrated on an aerodrome. 
When I saw the miserable equipment just a few, old, patched up 
self-propelled guns and tanks with which they had managed to 
delay our advance for so long I turned to their divisional com- 
mander and said, " I must congratulate you on the fighting qualities 
of your division," but then I added, " Your officers and N.C.O.s 
will be placed in a concentration camp for the time being under our 
guards. This is really a compliment. They look much too tough 
and dangerous to have them knocking about just at the present 
moment." 

We celebrated the final victory by holding a parade in Bremen 
where I took the salute and all the formations in 30 Corps marched 
past. As I saw these smart men, well-polished tanks, guns and 
vehicles passing by, it was incredible to think that only a week 
before they had been covered with the grime of battle. So ended the 
active war of 30 Corps. It had been a long journey through many 
lands; starting in the Western Desert some three years before, it had 
now ended deep in the heart of Germany. 

I was very anxious to visit Heligoland but as our navy had not 
yet taken over Cuxhavcn it was arranged that I should go with a 
British naval sub-licutcnant in a German E-boat, and as no one could 
raise even one White Ensign we flew the German flag. So, escorted 
by four other E-boats we set off. Half-way across I told the British 
sub-lieutenant to complain to the German captain that the escorts 
were keeping very bad station. I thought the latter would die of 
apoplexy; that a general, and a British general at that, should 
complain about the seamanship of the German Navy was almost 
more than he could bear. 

Heligoland was well worth a visit. Although everything above 
ground had been destroyed by our fearsome bombing, the under- 
ground galleries were more or less intact. On die return journey 
the E-boats kept station meticulously. 



267 



CHAPTER XX 

POST WAR GERMANY 



DURING THOSE first few days after the German capitulation we all 
felt as though an immense weight had been lifted from our shoulders ; 
but this wonderful, carefree atmosphere did not last for long. 
We were faced by the many intricate problems involved in the 
resuscitation of a stricken Germany. Having spent the last six years 
doing our best to destroy the German Reich, almost overnight, we 
had to go into reverse gear and start building her up again. This 
required a considerable mental switch. 

The British zone of occupation, containing some twenty 
million Germans, was divided up among the corps for administra- 
tive purposes, and I found myself responsible for the Hanover Corps 
District. There is something terribly depressing about a country 
defeated in war, even though that country has been your enemy, 
and the utter destruction of Germany was almost awesome. It didn't 
seem possible that towns like Hanover and Bremen could ever rise 
again from the shambles in which the bulk of the hollow-eyed and 
shabby population eked out a troglodyte existence underneath the 
ruins of their houses. 

Things were better in the country districts, but what struck me 
most was the complete absence of able-bodied men or even of 
youths there were just a few old men, some cripples, and that was 
all. The farms were almost entirely run by women. How appalling 
were die casualties suffered by the Germans was brought home to me 
forcibly when I first attended morning service in the small village 
church of Eystrop where I lived. The Germans commemorate 
their war dead by means of evergreen wreaths; and the whole wall 
was covered with wreaths dozens and dozens of them. In a 
similar church in the United Kingdom I would not expect to see 

268 



more than eight to ten names on the local war memorial. The 
Germans certainly started the last war, but only those who saw the 
conditions during the first few months immediately after the war 
ended can know how much they suffered. 

Monty laid down the priorities as (i) food and (2) housing; he 
then, as always, gave us a free hand to look after our own districts 
until such time as proper military government could take over 
from us. It was a fascinating task. I found myself to all intents and 
purposes the benevolent (I hope) dictator of an area about the size 
of Wales. At niy morning conference, instead of considering fire 
plans and laying down military objectives, we discussed such 
problems as food, coal, communications, press and so on. I soon 
discovered the merits of a dictatorship. I could really get tilings 
done quickly. One day in the late autumn a staff officer reported 
that the output of coal was dropping every week in our corps 
district. This was very serious with winter approaching. The 
reason, I was informed, was that the miners lacked clothes. I immed- 
iately ordered a levy to be carried out in certain nearby towns to 
provide adequate clothing for the miners, axid sure enough a few 
weeks later the graph showing coal production began to rise. I 
smiled when I thought of what would happen in dear old demo- 
cratic Britain if the Cabinet ordered clothes to be removed compul- 
sorily from Cardiff, shall we say, to clothe the miners in the 
Welsh valleys. 

Luckily I had some extremely able young men on my staff. 
30 Corps had been one of the original corps to be formed and 
had therefore many years of operational experience behind it. 
In time of war it is a case of the survival of the fittest; officers don't 
last for long on a corps staff unless they are highly efficient. I doubt 
if ever there has been collected together in one place a more able 
group of young men than those serving in 30 Corps headquarters 
at the cud of the war. The resuscitation of Germany was just up 
their street. The vital thing was to open up communications, so that 
food and goods could be moved freely from one area to another. 
The bridges and railways had been widely destroyed and even cross- 
roads had been cratcred by the retreating Germany Army. 

269 



To start with a great deal of this work had to be carried out by 
British troops and quite naturally this caused resentment. I remem- 
ber being asked by an intelligent sapper corporal, " Why should I 
now have to work hard and repair bridges for the so-and-so 
Germans who have caused so much misery to the world? " As he 
was obviously voicing the doubts of many others, I collected the 
company together and explained to the best of my ability that the 
war was now over, so Germany must take her place again as a 
European state. Many of the people were on the verge of starvation 
and if food couldn't be moved freely into the towns they would die 
that winter. And this would cause great bitterness. Furthermore, 
it was essential for our own British economy to start trading again 
with Germany and we would never be able to do this until com- 
munications had been repaired. Whether I convinced them or not 
I have no idea, but they went back to work at once without any 
further questions. I mention this small incident because it is typical 
of the modern soldier. He always wants to know why. And he will 
only give of his best if he understands the reason for what he is 
doing. 

The British soldier has often been described as our best ambass- 
ador and this is particularly so if he forms part of an army of 
occupation because one of the most difficult things in the world is 
to occupy a foreign country and yet remain friendly with its 
people. If left to himself the British soldier will soon be on the best 
of terms with the local population. Unfortunately this time he was 
not left to himself and all sorts of regulations about non-fraternisa- 
tion with the German population were issued. No doubt there were 
good reasons for this policy but it caused endless trouble at our level. 
What happened was that our troops were prevented from getting 
to know the ordinary, decent families in an open and normal way, 
and were driven to consorting on the sly with the lowest types of 
German women. 

In spite of the non-fraternisation rule 1 was determined somehow 
or other to make our occupation as palatable as possible for the local 
inhabitants. This may sound sloppy, but I had experienced the 
difficulties of occupying Germany after the First World War. I 

270 



knew very well that nobody will ever keep the Germans down for 
long because they belong to a very rare species which actually likes 
work. I also understood the menace of Communism better than 
most thanks to my time in Russia. So, without claiming any 
particularly brilliant foresight, it seemed to me that the Germans 
were the sort of people whom it would be better to have on our side 
than against us. I therefore ordered all units in my corps to do 
everything they could to help the German children. Nobody could 
blame them for the last war, and they had obviously had a bad time. 
Soxne of the children had never even seen chocolates in their lives. 
Units were told to open special youth clubs, and camps in the 
summer, and organise sports, etc. 

The British soldier loves children and he entered into all this 
with great zest. It became common in the villages to see a khaki- 
clad figure hand in hand with a small flaxen-haired child on either 
side. Parents began to come up to the men and thank them for 
being so kind to their children. Then I gave a tea-party at my 
tactical headquarters which was attended by some 150 German 
children. The cooks had done marvels with the ordinary rations, 
and we were all looking forward to a pleasant afternoon, but 
unfortunately the party was also attended by some reporters from 
the British Press. Not the famous war correspondents whom we 
knew so well and who would unquestionably have understood the 
wider implications of what we were trying to do. The war was now 
over in Europe, and Germany had ceased to be front-line news, so 
the first eleven had left, and their places had been taken by in- 
experienced, callow, young men who were concerned mainly with 
getting an angle to their stories. 

It soon became obvious that they were hostile. They went round 
saying to the soldiers who were helping as waiters, " What about 
the British children? Arc they having a party like this?" Their 
attitude from the short-term point of view was perfectly under- 
standable and next day headlines appeared in the British Press, 
" British General Gives Tea Party for German Children." The fat 
was now in the fire. I received an enormous number of letters in 
which the kindest comment was 4I that I had obviously gone niad." 

271 



These were of little consequence, but unfortunately owing to all the 
adverse criticism I was ordered to cease my activities with the 
German children at once. Orders had to be obeyed but I still feel 
that this was a serious mistake. Instead of mixing with the civilian 
population on a friendly basis we were driven back into ourselves 
and when I returned to Germany some three years later to take over 
the appointment of commander-in-chief, I found that the B.A.O.R.. 
was an army of occupation in the true sense of the word, living 
quite apart from the German people. 

Although the resuscitation of Germany loomed large on our 
horizon I still felt that my first responsibility lay towards the 
British troops in 30 Corps district, consisting of three divisions and 
one armoured brigade. It was difficult to know how to keep them 
occupied, and idle hands could get into a lot of trouble in the 
Germany of those days. With the exception of certain guard duties 
on stores, vulnerable points, and internment camps, there were no 
military duties with which to occupy the men. It is astonishing, 
however, how even when engaged on that most dreary of past- 
times, sentry duty, the British* soldier is sustained by his greatest 
asset, his sense of humour. 

One of our sentries was posted on a bridge spanning a river 
which, for security reasons, was closed to all civilians from 9 p.m. 
to dawn. One evening at 9.30 p.m. the sentry was faced by a party 
of German girls who wished to cross. After some discussion he 
allowed them to do so, " But only on this occasion," he emphasised. 
" If you are kte to-morrow night you will have to stay where you 
are." Next night the girls appeared again at exactly the same time. 
This time, however, the sentry remained unmoved by their story 
that they had been kept late at work, they lived on the other side of 
the river, and so on. Eventually they were reduced to tears but the 
sentry remained adamant. Then one of them said, " If we undress 
and swim across, will you bring our clothes over to the other side 
for us?" This was a brilliant solution. The girls would not be 
crossing the forbidden bridge, honour was satisfied, atid the sentry 
agreed at once. When telling me this story, the sentry's command- 

272 



ing officer remarked, " Private obviously has an eye to the 

main chance." 

Demobilisation had started promptly and was working smoothly, 
but even so, some time must elapse before the bulk of the men could 
get home. It was ridiculous to carry out military training with men 
who had fought through the war and would shortly be returning to 
civilian life. So it seemed to me there were only two ways in which 
to keep them occupied. First, to prepare them for their return to 
civilian life and, secondly to provide first-class recreational facilities. 
Both these measures were completely successful. We formed 
training centres, using captured German machinery, where men 
could undergo courses to regain their old skill, and be brought up- 
to-date or their civilian trades, before returning home. There was 
no difficulty about finding instructors. It was most inspiring to visit 
these centres and see the enthusiasm shown by the trainees. The men 
were so happy to handle the tools of their particular trade again that 
in many cases they would not even stop for meals, let alone for the, 
by now, almost sacrosanct tea intervals. Such enthusiasm, it seemed 
to me, augured well for British industry in the post-war years. 

The scope of the welfare arrangements organised by my staff 
became almost frightening. Bad Harzburg, a holiday resort in the 
Harz mountains was taken over completely as a leave centre, and 
this proved very popular with all ranks. We were told by the local 
authorities that this lovely part of Germany had been earmarked by 
the Nazis as an S.S. stud form, where physically perfect S.S. types 
were to be mated with specially selected German women of pure 
descent. How much truth there was in this, I have no idea, but it 
was widely believed throughout the Harz mountains. 

In addition clubs, canteens and special gift shops stocked with 
toys which came from all over Europe, specially for 30 Corps, sprang 
up everywhere. I realised that I was the head of a vast chain of 
holiday and recreational centres, all of which, in spite of mininium 
charges, were coining money. I therefore set up a board of five 
chartered accountants to examine the whole concern. After some 
five weeks of hard work they reported that everything was in order: 
in fact that it was brilliantly organised, but they added a rider to the 



effect that when the existing welfare staff was demobilised it might 
be difficult to find replacements sufficiently capable to handle what 
amounted to a huge business concern. 

There was a third problem which took up much of our time 
the Russians. Immediately after the war we occupied an area which 
stretched as far east as Magdeburg on the Elbe, but in accordance 
with Allied agreements about the partitioning of Germany we were 
due to withdraw back to the Harz mountains and hand over the 
territory in the east to the Russians. This involved countless 
conferences, which were less wearisome for me than for the others 
because I had once been a Russian interpreter, and although my 
knowledge of the language was rusty I could still understand enough 
to follow what was going on. This gave me a big advantage 
because I was able to think out my answer while the interpreter 
was translating what the Russian general had said. The main 
difficulty was that while I, in accordance with normal British 
practice, was allowed to decide all minor details myself, the Russians 
could give no decision on anything at all without reference to 
Zhukov in Berlin. 

This was understandable because the majority of their corps and 
divisional commanders were uneducated by western standards. 
They were very brave men who led their formations personally into 
battle and most of them had been wounded two or three times. 
I had always liked the Russians whom I had met in their country in 
1919-20. These men were quite different. They were so suspicious 
that they hardly dared open their mouths. They were particularly 
suspicious of me when they found that I spoke Russian. The young 
men were the most frightening, because as a result of the intensive 
indoctrination to which they had been subjected almost from birth 
their brains worked quite differently from any with which I had 
previously come in contact. They talked in cliches, and it was 
impossible to discuss anything with them at all. 

When I inquired whether my old friends the Tzigane (gipsies) 
were still flourishing in Russia I was told, ** No, they do not exist 
any more; they were bad for the morale of the Russian people." 
Poor Tzigane, they were so gay with their camp-fires and haunting 

274 



gipsy music. The most I ever got out of the Russians was at a 
luncheon party when one general actually dared to discuss the 
Russian High Command. " Zhukov was the Iron Man," he said, 
" but Rokossovsky ! ah he was the clever one." The only time I 
ever saw the former was during the victory parade in Berlin. I was 
standing on the platform beside that famous character, the United 
States General George Patton, waiting for the great man to arrive. 
Suddenly Patton started growling like an angry bear, " Look at the 
bastard," he said, and out of an immense car there emerged a small, 
squat figure whose chest and stomach were almost entirely covered 
with decorations. He looked like a well-fed, mobile advertisement 
for an ironmonger's shop. 

At our meetings the generals did not count at all. There were 
usually one or two sinister-looking individuals at whom the others 
kept glancing surreptitiously. These conferences were most exas- 
perating. We made such very, very slow progress, and here, if I 
had only realised it, was the pattern of all the conferences that have 
taken place between east and west ever since. The only pleasant 
Russian I met was the young general who was attached to my 
headquarters as liaison officer. I can see him now, dining in my mess 
and, together with the Bishop of Dover, who was paying us a visit, 
singing " Lilli Marlene " lustily to the accompaniment of a small 
German orchestra. He was too friendly. One day he disappeared 
behind the Iron Curtain and we never saw him again. 

The discipline of these Russian troops was very strict indeed and 
they always saluted their officers. They had conic a long way from 
the Red Army 1 first saw at Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, in 1919 when 
every thing was run on the ** friend tovarish " principle and no 
order could be issued unless it was passed by the political commissar. 

The Russian Army of May, 1945, may have been young, may 
have been uneducated, may have been uncouth, but it was a truly 
formidable fighting machine. 

Somehow or other we reached agreement about the method of 
handing over die eastern strip of Germany to the Russians and the 
day came for our withdrawal back to the Harz mountains* As I had 
never seen their army in bulk I positioned myself on a small hill to 

275 



watch them enter the zone which we had evacuated. It was an 
astonishing sight rivers and rivers of men, most of them very 
young, for even Prussia with her almost inexhaustible supply of man- 
power had had to scrape the barrel in order to replace her enormous 
casualties. They looked very menacing, those hordes of dirty, 
tough Slavs, each with an automatic weapon and a sack over his 
shoulder. But the thing that interested me most of all was the almost 
complete absence of motor transport, just an occasional car, that was 
all. I felt how simple war must have been for my Russian opposite 
number, relieved of that perennial problem transport, and still 
more transport. 

One of my staff who happened to be standing beside a wounded 
German officer pointed to the Russians and said, " How was the 
great German Army beaten by those half-savage peasants ? " 

" I can tell you/' the German replied, " because I was on the 
eastern front most of the war. They are the toughest soldiers I have 
ever met; they have an almost Asiatic disregard of death. In those 
sacks are a few raw vegetables, perhaps crusts of bread, and they can 
live on those for weeks; very often each infantryman carries as well 
a couple of shells to help out the gunners. In. mid-winter, with 
temperatures many degrees below zero, I have seen them lying 
motionless in the snow all day when their attack has been halted, 
and then in the evening suddenly leaping to their feet and charging 
with great spirit. We shot and we shot; we killed and we killed; 
but still they came on until we ran out of ammunition and were 
overrun. We were beaten by solid masses of tough, extremely 
brave troops." 

I doubt if there is a word in the Russian language for welfare. 
1 reflected on the contrast with the armies of the western world with 
their mobile laundries, mobile dental centres, bakeries, N.A.A.llLs, 
gift shops, and so on. It is not surprising that in the United States 
Army out of every 100,000 men only 23,000 went into battle while 
in the Soviet Army 80,000 out of every 100,000 were front-line 
troops. An army is, in many ways, a mirror of die standard of 
civilisation which exists in its country, and in the west the bulk of 
the population leads soft lives compared with the spartan existence 

276 



of the Russian peasants who form a high proportion of the armies 
behind the Iron Curtain. They live in small villages of wooden huts 
surrounded by miles and miles of bleak steppes, forests and swamps. 
Many of them are hunters who can melt into the ground, and 
move across country silently by day or by night, and their climate 
is so hard that only the fittest survive. To these men army life is 
almost a luxury. 

Our problem is much more difficult. During the last war, in 
order to maintain morale, the western Allies did their utmost to bring 
as many of the amenities of civil life as possible right up to the soldier 
on the battlefield. Hence the masses of transport. I do not believe, 
however, that this is the correct approach to the problem. From the 
moment a man is enlisted he must be taught toughness how to 
look after himself under all sorts of conditions of cHmate and terrain 
without endless comforts. It is a fact that troops prefer this sort of 
training to constant square bashing. 

In the late autumn my time in Germany came to an end and I 
returned home to take over the Western Command with head- 
quarters at Chester. A few days before my departure I went to dine 
with my old friend the 5ist Highland Division. We had come a 
long way together since our first meeting on the ridge at Alam 
Haifa in the Western Desert, and I was very moved when they 
drank my health with Highland honours. My final departure was 
not without incident. On the last night I was sitting down to a 
farewell dinner with my staff when an orderly rushed in to say that 
the house was on fire. Fire engines arrived from all over the place 
but owing to lack of water they fought a losing battle with the 
flames, and we had to evacuate the house. My last night with 30 
Corps was therefore spent in my caravan and when I flew off next 
day the house was still burning merrily. The fire was started in my 
study by a smouldering beam under the floor, but no one has ever 
believed this. I shall go down to history as the commander who 
burned down his house during some fantastic orgy on the night 
before he left 



277 



CHAPTER XXI 

G.O.C. WESTERN COMMAND 



AT THE beginning of 1946 I found myself responsible for one of the 
four commands into which the British Isles, exclusive of Northern 
Ireland, was divided. 

My home was just outside that attractive old town of Chester 
with its cathedral, city walls and, above all the famous rows, but my 
headquarters bore little resemblance to those which I had just left in 
Germany. Here I found the real peace-time set-up, when every 
decision was hedged round by regulations and finance. It soon 
became obvious that the real commander was not me at all but the 
command secretary, the direct representative of the civilian and 
therefore financial branch of the War Office. Luckily, he was a very 
understanding man because I must have proved a great trial to him. 
I have always been bad at regulations and am too impetuous to be a 
success in peace-time soldiering where every decision has to be 
approached by a circuitous route. The successful peace-time com- 
mander can only achieve his objective by the principle of" Softly, 
softly, catchee monkey." I am afraid that during my two years in 
J|^estern Command I caught very few monkeys. 

Before the war Western Command had always been regarded as 
a backwater: very much a poor relation of Aldershot, which 
contained the spearhead of the British Expeditionary Force, and of 
Southern with its better training facilities including Salisbury Plain; 
in fact the sort of place where an ancient general browsed sleepily 
before being finally put out to grass. But that had been in the pre- 
war days ; now national service had altered everything. We were 
responsible for a vast area stretching from the Scottish border in the 
north to the south coast of Wales, and including Warwick, Birming- 
ham and Manchester in the east, with the Isle of Man thrown in for 

278 



good measure in the west. It was a fascinating command because it 
contained a little bit of everything the beautiful Lake District 
industrial Lancashire the vast port of Liverpool north and south 
Wales as different from each other as chalk from cheese Worcester 
with its orchards Birmingham where they claim to have constructed 
some part of every single item of equipment which was used in the 
last war and finally Manchester where the lord mayor holds a 
position second only to his elder brother in the mansion house. 

From the military point of view the primary importance of this 
command lay in the fact that it contained many centres to which the 
young national serviceman reported on first call-up. In France 
conscription is part of the ** tradition militaire" and every regulai 
officer has grown up surrounded by conscripts. But for us the 
problem of training national servicemen in peace-time was some- 
thing quite fresh. An added complication was the fact that I was 
far from clear about what we should train them for. My mind was 
still full of the last war and I had not had time to shake myself clear 
of it, as I obviously must. It is all too easy to fall a victim to the 
virus of complacency which always attacks victorious nations in the 
immediate post-war period. From the military point of view nothing 
is more dangerous than winning a great war. But even in 1946 it 
was obvious that we had reached a cross-roads in military develop- 
ment, for the atomic bomb on Hiroshima had blown most of the 
accepted military doctrines sky-high. The difficulty was to know 
down which road we should now go. One tiling was quite clear. 
The battlefield of the future was bound to be a very empty place. In , 
face of the atomic threat, concentration of troops would be too 
dangerous; dispersion and still more dispersion would certainly be 
called for. This meant small bodies of men prepared to live hard 
on their own for long periods at a time; the days of mass transport 
bringing up amenities and working from bulging lines of communi- 
cation had gone for ever. 

So there was the problem. How to turn these young national 
servicemen, most of whom had been thoroughly spoilt by Mum, 
into tough, self-reliant soldiers with a gleam of battle in their eye 
and plenty of initiative. 1 couldn't help thinking of that old Arabic 

279 



proverb which should be carved in large letters over the entrance to 
every school in the country, " In the eyes of its mother every black 
beetle is a gazelle." 

The first thing to do was to go down and have a look at the 
gazelles arriving straight from the arms of their mothers to undergo 
their period of national service. 

It was a sobering sight, for in army parlance most of them were 
thoroughly " browned off." They looked sulky, disgruntled and 
fed-up with having their civilian lives interrupted by military 
service. The war was over, so why should they be messed about by 
the army ? No doubt their elder brothers had also painted a gloomy 
picture of sergeant-majors spitting fire and brimstone, of red-faced 
Colonel Blimps but, above all, of the deadly monotony of the 
barrack square. Whenever I asked a young soldier what he hated 
most of all in the army I always got the same answer, " Square 
bashing." It seemed to me that shock tactics were required right 
from the start. So I insisted that on the first day after their arrival 
all these boys should be taken out into the mountains for a twenty- 
four-hour exercise where they could fire all their different weapons. 
They had no idea, of course, how the weapons worked, but there is 
something exciting about the feel of an automatic. In training I am 
a great believer in running before you can walk, because by finding 
out how difficult it is to run, men take greater interest in the problem 
of learning to walk. All training must be done through the brain; 
the bored man absorbs nothing. 

When it got dark the recruits were assembled and told that some 
prisoners had escaped into the mountains and it was their job to 
round them up during the night. They were also told to choose 
their own leaders it was interesting to see whom they selected in 
those early days. All night they would be on the go. Next morning 
they were issued with food which they had to cook for themselves 
or go hungry. At the end of this gruelling twenty-four hours in the 
mountains they were then marched eight to ten miles back to 
barracks, tired, wet, footsore but- and this is the point- with their 
heads up. The army was tough, not just messing about on the 
barrack square. From that moment there was a different look in their 

280 



eyes and the whole atmosphere changed. What the planners will 
not realise is that there is nothing wrong with the young people o 
to-day, they take to toughness as a duck takes to water; what they 
cannot abide is boredom and all too much army training is dull 
beyond measure. 

I soon found myself with another battle on my hands the battle 
of accommodation. I was horrified at the conditions under which 
the troops and, above all, the married families were required to live. 
I got into trouble for supporting Monty to the hilt (he was C.LG.S. 
at the time) in his plan for more comfortable barrack-rooms, 
including bedside lamps " What did we think we were doing; 
mollycoddling the soldier like this ? " and so on and so on. Our 
critics did not seem to appreciate the effect of bright, comfortable 
living quarters on the mentality of the modern soldier; there is 
nothing more deadening and stultifying than the normal, grim, 
barrack block. The toughest possible training allied to comfortable 
living conditions has always been my object. The married quarters 
made me shudder every time I even passed them. So I decided on a 
somewhat grandiose programme of modernisation, new construc- 
tion and the conversion of existing huts into comfortable bungalow 
accommodation. 

Not unnaturally I at once ran into trouble. Everything was 
scarce, including labour, and the War Office forbade me to do any- 
thing until their experts had produced plans for the future quarters. 
But as month after month went by without any plans, I decided to 
launch my own offensive. My right-hand man in all this was my 
major-gcticral in charge of adniinistration, Joe Holland, a man with 
a brilliant and unorthodox brain. Somehow or other, out of nothing 
at all, lie conjured up baths, bricks, in fact everything. Like so many 
people with original minds he paid no attention at all to dress. 
It always amused me to see the horror on the face of some dis- 
tinguished army councillor when Joe appeared with all the buttons 
of liis tunic undone, liis tic flowing, glasses on the point of Ms nose 
and his uniform cap well on one side. He was a perfect joy to work 
with and I have never known him to be defeated, even on the 
question of labour. 

281 



As no British labour was available, I suggested employing 
German prisoners among whom were men skilled in every trade. 
This was greeted with a howl of anguish from the War Office. 
" The British trade unions would never allow it under any cir- 
cumstances/' I didn't believe this for a moment as I have always 
found the trade unions to be very reasonable people, so I invited 
our local representatives to lunch, and then took them round some 
of our existing quarters. Their reaction was what I expected. 
" Go ahead," they said, " but for goodness* sake don't let our 
bosses in London know what you are doing." So we went ahead 
and achieved quite a lot but protests got stronger and stronger from 
the quartermaster-general's branch of the War Office until eventually 
the great man himself, Monty, was brought into the struggle and I 
received a letter in his own hand, " You must remember, Jorrocks, 
that this is peace-time and you cannot go on as though we were 
still at war. The quartermaster-general never stops complaining 
about your nefarious activities." I replied that it was quite like old 
times to get a letter in this strain written by the field-marshal him- 
self. Anyhow, rightly or wrongly, quite a number of married 
families obtained better accommodation and that was what really 
mattered. 

Almost my first official engagement after taking over Western 
Command was to attend a parade of the British Legion in Black- 
pool, so I set off with my wife in our large, black, official saloon car 
with an army commander's pennant flying on the front of the 
bonnet. As we entered the town the car stopped at a traffic crossing 
and a face peered in. I then heard a voice saying, in an unmistakable 
Lancashire accent, " We don't want no bloody generals up J ere." 
This was positively my first introduction to the realities of the 
civilian world, and my wife sat up looking rather startled. As usual 
it was raining steadily and as we stopped once more at a crossing I 
heard another disgusted onlooker say, " Frightened to get his bloody 
feet wet, he is/* I explained hurriedly to my wife that the Lancashire 
people really had hearts of gold. She replied that they certainly had 
an odd way of showing it. As I am half-Lancashire myself 1 wasn't 
unduly disturbed. 

282 



The warmth of our welcome when we arrived on the parade 
more than made up for our somewhat rough passage in transit. 
Blackpool is one of the most remarkable towns I have ever seen in 
my life; it fascinated me wet or fine there is always somewhere to 
go and some form of entertainment awaiting the visitors. And the 
local authorities could give all of us a lesson in the astonishing way 
they handle their vast, week-end traffic problem. 

As petrol rationing was still in force I felt it behoved me to set a 
good example by not applying for extra vouchers so I decided to 
ride a bicycle instead. I borrowed one from my batman a good 
old army model built more for strength than for speed. When the 
moment came for our first outing my wife was coming too the 
bicycle, looking very spick-and-span, was positioned at the mount- 
ing block in the drive. Our official residence, which was in 
Eccleston Park, had in the years gone by been inhabited by one of 
the Duke of Westminster's agents. How he would have shuddered 
if he could have seen the lowly use to which his mounting block 
was now being put. We set off in fine style and all went well for 
the first few miles, then there was an ominous noise in the rear 
wheel which indicated that the worst had happened, I had a 
puncture. To repair the damage was quite beyond my capabilities, 
so I pushed the bike into the nearest farm and telephoned to my 
A.D.C. Within a few minutes he arrived in my large, official, 
Humber car followed by a truck for the bike. And I returned home 
igiiominiously, feeling that my first effort at saving petrol could 
hardly be called a complete success. My wife returned on her 
bicycle alone. 

We naturally had a stream of visitors, mainly from the War 
Office, The first was Emanucl Shinwcll, who had become the 
Secretary of State for War a few days before. I had not previously 
met many ministers, and as he had only just taken office I was 
somewhat apprehensive about what would happen. I needn't have 
worried. We took to him at once, and I soon realised that here was 
a man who, once lie was convinced of the justice of a cause, was 
prepared to stand up for the army through thick and thin. He was 
a shrewd politician and a great fighter. 

283 



The highlight was a visit from Monty. I had not realised until 
then how popular he was with all and sundry. It was almost like a 
Royal tour, with people lining the route and he loved every 
minute of it. Just before his departure for Liverpool, where he was 
to catch his train back to London, the mayor of Birkenhead rang 
me up to say that over 1000 people were waiting for him on the 
near side of the Mersey tunnel. A small platform had been erected 
and he hoped that the field-marshal would be prepared to say a 
few words to the crowd. This was quite unexpected so, as we 
drove along, I did my best to brief him on the role which Birken- 
head had played during the war. I spoke most of the time to his 
back as he was continuously leaning out of the window and waving 
to the crowds while he murmured " Yes, yes, Jorrocks three 
battleships constructed I have got that. Yes, go on." We arrived, 
and he then made a sparkling speech which delighted everybody 
without mentioning one single word of what I had told him during 
the journey. 

At the time of this visit we were about to go away for a short 
period of leave and the house was in the usual state of hectic packing 
which is always an inevitable prelude to any move of the Horrocks 
family. Monty was most scornful. " I always do my own," he said. 
He then gave us a short lecture on packing, in which he described 
how he took everything out of the drawers and laid it on the bed 
so that nothing was ever overlooked. An hour after his departure 
an A.D.C. arrived to say that the field-marshal had unfortunately 
left all his shirts behind. 

It was during this visit that Monty told me I was to become 
Commander-in-chief of the British Army of the Rhine. I was 
delighted because this was almost the only active command, with 
troops available, in the post-war army. 

Unfortunately my time at Chester, which should have been the 
pleasantcst period of my whole career, was marred by illness, 1 kept 
on getting attacks of fever accompanied by paid and. sickness. 
Eventually my senior medical officer insisted on my going into 
Manchester Infirmary where 1 was operated on by that fine surgeon 
and very charming man, Professor Morley. When I came round 

284 



from the anaesthetic he was standing by my bedside holding up a 
curious looking object which he assured me was a piece of my shirt 
which had been lurking in my bile duct ever since I was wounded 
at Bizerta. As this was my seventh operation, my stomach was 
beginning to resemble an abstract picture, with scars running in 
every direction. 

Very unwisely I went out to Germany before I had completely 
recovered and then followed the most unhappy period of my life. 
I arrived to command B.A.O.R. just when things were getting 
more and more difficult with the Russians. It was a time when 
vigorous action was required to prepare our extremely modest 
resources in men and material in case trouble should break out. 
It would have been a worrying period even if I had been fit, but in 
my state of health it soon became impossible. Somehow or other 
my brain would not work, and I found that when my able chief of 
staff, Bill Stratton, tried to brief me about the current situation I 
couldn't take it in. The final straw came when I addressed all the 
senior officers who had been collected from all over Germany for 
the purpose. I managed to get through my speech just in time before 
being violently sick, and I then retired to bed with yet another 
temperature. 

It was a difficult decision to take, because, after a long career in 
the army, I hated having to give up at this final hurdle. But I knew 
instinctively that I was not fit enough to give die troops the leader- 
ship which the precarious situation demanded. I was beginning to 
worry unnecessarily, and I knew only too well that a commander 
who worries is no good in moments of crisis. So I sent for my head 
doctor and asked him for his opinion. He shook his head sadly and 
said, ** I have been expecting this ever since you arrived. I didn't 
think you could possibly make it" Fortunately for me he was an 
old friend with whom, I had served before. It is nicer to be given 
your military death sentence by someone whom you like. Within 
two days I was flown back to Millbank Hospital, and my active 
career in the army was over. * 



285 



CHAPTER XXII 

GENTLEMAN USHER OF 
THE BLACK ROD 



THE AUTHORITIES treated me with great consideration but, even 
after a year of sick leave, a medical board would not pass me fit for 
service, so I was invalided out. This produced a remarkable contrast 
in my way of life. In Germany we had been forced to live in 
considerable state. Government House was large and ugly but filled 
with a number of servants mostly Germans. We had horses, 
several cars, an aeroplane, a large motor launch and the use of a 
private train. From this we went straight to our lovely, little, old 
thatched cottage at Compton, near Winchester, staffed by a daily 
who came in at odd intervals during the week, and our only means 
of transport were a small, rather old, Hillman Minx and two 
bicycles. Yet we were much happier. I was very sorry, of course, 
to leave the army in which I had spent thirty-five eventful, happy 
years, but my main reaction was one of intense relief. I was now 
out of it all and there was no longer any need to put on an act. 
If I felt ill, I could be ill, and no harm would be done to anyone. 
I would not be letting anybody down and no elaborate programme 
would have to be altered. Furthermore, I knew instinctively that I 
was far too impatient to be a success in the higher ranks of the army 
during peace-time. In the war we had lived a simple life at a small 
headquarters and had been able to get on with the job. In peace it 
all became rather pompous and complicated visitors, entertaining, 
large staff and so on* It would be a relief, I felt, to settle down and 
pass the rest of my days in this pleasant backwater. 

My quiet life in an English village lasted for exactly fourteen days. 

One morning the postman delivered a large, imposing-looking 
envelope. As we were just setting off in our car I put it in the small 

286 



locker under the dashboard and forgot all about it. Later that clay 
my wife suddenly said, " By the way, what was in that official- 
looking letter which came for you this morning ? " I ferreted it out 
and saw it was from the Lord Chamberlain at St. James's Palace. 
Still quite unsuspecting, 1 opened it, and then, to my amazement, 
read: " You are offered the appointment of Gentleman Usher of 
the Black Rod in the House of Lords/' 1 had no idea what this 
meant because I had never been in either of the Houses of Parliament 
and had not even heard of Black Rod. But it sounded rather excit- 
ing. In my heart of hearts I was delighted, because, to be honest, 
the rustic retreat idea was already, after only a fortnight, beginning 
to pall. Fortunately, my predecessor, Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake, 
who was giving up owing to deafnesss, had done a considerable 
amount of research into the history of this ancient and honourable 
office, and the more I read the more it appealed to me. 

The appointment goes back to 1348 when Edward III founded 
the Order of the Garter. The first holder of this office was a certain 
William Whitchorsc who received the not inconsiderable salary of 
twelve pence per day for life. He walked in front of the Sovereign 
carrying on his shoulder the Black Rod. It is made of ebony, 
three-and-a-half feet long with a golden sovereign fixed in the 
bottom. If anyone offended against the Order of the Garter it was 
the duty of the Gentleman Usher to tap him on the shoulder with 
the Black Rod, whereupon the offender was expelled and William 
White horse received ^5. Unfortunately there is no such monetary 
reward to-day. 

The original charter laid it down that the holder of this office had 
to be " a gentleman of Blood and Amis born within the Sovereign's 
Dominions " and that is why nowadays it is held in turn by a 
sailor, a soldier and an airman. I took over from an admiral and 
will presumably hand over to an air-marshal The final selection 
is made by the reigning Sovereign from a list of names submitted 
by the service ministry concerned. I have never ceased to thank 
my lucky stars that King George "VTs choice fell on me. 

Such is the continuity of things in this country that the Gentleman 
Usher of the Black Rod still walks in front of the Sovereign during 

287 



the Garter ceremonies which are held annually at Windsor. This is 
unquestionably the red-letter day for Black Rod. In the morning 
the Sovereign invests any new knights who may have been appointed 
during the year with the insignia of the Order. Then follows lunch 
and in the afternoon we move in procession down to St. George's 
Chapel where the new knights are led to their stalls by Garter King 
of Arms, the Hon. Sir George BeUew, the senior officer of the 
Order and myself. 

This procession is one of the most colourful pieces of pageantry 
in the country as it winds its way slowly down the hill from the 
castle along the route lined by the Household Cavalry and the 
Brigade of Guards, against the background of the old castle walls. 
It is led by the Knights of Windsor, then come the heralds in their 
gold tabards followed by the knights in their Garter blue robes, 
walking two by two, all of them men who have distinguished them- 
selves iii the service of this country; we officers of the Order in our 
scarlet cloaks come next, then the Sovereign followed by pages, 
and finally the Gentlemen at Arms. 

After the service we all return to the castle by car. I usually go 
with Field-Marshal Montgomery in his Rolls-Royce driven, by the 
famous Sergeant Parker. One year we suddenly came face to face 
with the Guards marching back, and Parker was forced to reverse 
rapidly down the hill, much to the delight of the crowd, one of 
whom called out " Look, there's Monty retreating at last/' 

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod ceased to be an active 
member of the Court when Henry VIII moved from Westminster 
to the Palace of Whitehall. The peers of the clay declared that they 
didn't require anyone to be in charge of their debates; they were 
perfectly capable of running them themselves. They were prepared, 
however, as far as discipline in the House was concerned to submit 
to the King's representative. Henry VIII nominated the Gentleman 
Usher of the Black Rod for this task and he was then excused from 
all his other duties at Court (except attendance at the Garter 
ceremonies) in order to undertake these additional Parliamentary 
responsibilities. 

In those early days Black Rod had wide responsibilities in the 

288 




With my wife and Maxie outside our cottage atEmsmrth 



Palace of Westminster, where he lived in considerable state and 
received a large salary. He travelled to and fro mainly by barge and 
Black Rod's steps leading down to the Thames still exist, but their 
only link with their past glories is when Black Rod and his staff 
embark in a river-steamer for their annual outing. The office was, 
however, held by one man for many, many years and towards the 
end of his long reign certain malpractices crept in. It was therefore 
decided to hand over the responsibilities for the whole Palace of 
"Westminster, except when the House was actually sitting, to the 
Lord Great Chamberlain. And that is the position to-day. 

Therefore, during the time that their Lordships are in session I 
am responsible to Her Majesty for everything, except the actual 
business of the House, which takes place on the floor of the House 
of Lords. 

I, and my nineteen doorkeepers, all of whom are retired petty 
officers or warrant officers from the services, admit all visitors, 
control the heating, lighting, etc., and handle the actual mechanics 
of a division the ringing of the division bell, the locking of the 
doors and so on, though the responsibility for checking the peers 
through the division lobbies rests with the Clerks of Parliament. 
Our main duty, however, is to maintain order both in the strangers' 
galleries and on the floor of the House itself. So far in the course of 
nine years the only serious interruption has come from Miss Vivien 
Leigh, who suddenly jumped up from her seat beside me and 
protested against the destruction of St. James's Theatre. She is 
reputed to have said afterwards that it was the worst audience to 
which she had ever played, as no one took the slightest notice. 

Somewhat surprised, and to be honest a little hurt, as I had taken 
considerable trouble to find a good seat for this most distinguished 
lady, I took her by the arm and led her out of the chamber saying, 
" Now you will have to go.*' A few days afterwards I received a 
cutting from an American paper. Under the headline 4t Chief 
Usher throws out Famous Actress " I read, " When the last Lord sat 
down Sir Brian turned to Miss Leigh and said, * Now you have a 
go/ " Surprising what a difference die omission of two words can 
make. 

289 



In the unlikely event of a peer causing a disturbance, it would be 
my duty to escort him from the chamber. But before this could 
happen the Leader of the House would move " That the Noble Lord 
be no longer heard," on which the House would be required to 
express an opinion. If the answer was " Content " and the peer still 
persisted, only then would I be called upon to enter the House with 
a couple of doorkeepers and remove the offender. 

On every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when Parliament 
is in session I am to be found clad in court dress, which means 
knee-breeches and silk stockings, seated in Black Rod's box, on the 
west side of the House, just below the bar therefore, outside the 
actual House itself. Although I naturally regard myself as a servant 
of the House and always comply with the requirements of the 
House of Lords offices* committee, strictly speaking, as the 
Sovereign's representative, I come directly under the Lord 
Chamberlain at St. James's Palace. 

From the number of peers, M.P.s, and doorkeepers who approach 
my box during the course of the afternoon, visitors might well 
think that I wield some sort of hidden influence on the affairs of 
their Lordships' House. But things are not always what they seem. 
Most of them merely require scats for their guests, and there arc 
other reasons quite unconnected with the business of the House. 
When " Plum " Warner was sitting beside me the latest Test match 
scores were brought to us every fifteen minutes. The principal door- 
keeper during my first few years as Black Rod was a keen student 
of horse racing and as many of their lordships are owners he used to 
approach me with that particularly knowing look which only the 
racing fraternity adopt and say, ** His lordship thinks, sir, that so- 
and-so is a certainty in the 3 p.mu race." Not realising, as 1 do now, 
that the worst possible tips always come from owners 1 used to risk 
a modest sum each way. At 3.10 p.m. precisely a stately figure in 
tail-coat and white tie would approach my box, bow, and murmur 
mournfully " Not in the first tbu^e, sir." He never, as far as 1 can 
remember, said anything else. 

What bring me most into prominence, however, are certain 
quaint, ceremonial duties which have their roots deep in British 

290 



history, and the most famous of these, I suppose, is in connection 
with the Royal Commission which is summoned by the Sovereign 
to signify her Royal Assent in Acts passed by Parliament. Before 
an Act can become law three things must happen; it must be passed 
by the House of Commons; passed by the House of Lords 
though in case of disagreement the Upper Chamber can only delay 
a bill for one year; and thirdly it must receive the Royal Assent. 
Obviously the reigning Sovereigns would not have time to attend 
in person to give their Assent, so this power is delegated to a 
commission which usually consists of the Lord Chancellor and two 
peers who must be privy councillors. The three, clad in their 
robes, enter the chamber and scat themselves on a bench just behind 
the woolsack. Meanwhile I am standing below bar, wearing my 
chain of office and holding the Black Rod on my shoulder. 1 use 
black gloves. As soon as the commission is ready I advance into the 
chamber until I am a few feet from the woolsack. The Lord 
Chancellor then tells me to summon the Commons to hear the 
Royal Commission read. After bowing I withdraw and make my 
way down to the House of Commons. In front of me walks the 
inspector of police and the principal doorkeeper in the House of 
Lords, who call out at intervals as they have done no doubt for 
many years, " Hats off, strangers/' In the members' lobby I pass 
through the House of Commons doorkeepers lined up on either 
side. 

The door to the actual chamber is ajar and peering through a 
small grill I can sec the face of the Scrjeant~at-Arms. As I approach, 
he slams the door in my face. This dates back to 1642 when Charles 1 
tried to arrest five members of Parliament Hampden, Pym, 
1 lollcs, Hasilrig and Strode. Since then no reigning Sovereign has 
ever been permitted to enter the House of Commons. On this 
occasion I am the Sovereign's representative. I therefore knock 
three times with the end of the Black Rod and the door is flung 
open. The senior doorkeeper of tj|c House of Commons announces, 
** Black Rod/* and 1 walk up to the table bowing three times. 
1 then most politely summon " This honourable House to attend 
the House of Peers to hear the Royal Commission read." 

291 



The Speaker descends from his chair and led by the Scrjeant-at- 
Arins carrying the mace we walk in procession, with the members 
following two by two behind, up to the bar of the House of Lords. 
The Royal Assent is still given in Norman French. After the titles 
of the Bills have been read the Clerk of the Parliaments turns towards 
the Commons and says " La Reine le veult " or, if it is a money bill 
"La Reine remerde ses bon sujets, accepte leur benevolance, et ainsi 
le veult!' Until these words have been pronounced it is not a 
lawful Act. The ceremony of knocking on the door is therefore the 
outward and visible sign that the House of Commons has the right 
of freedom of speech and uninterrupted debate. 

I have now been carrying out these summons for something like 
ten years but they are still an ordeal There is a build up in, tension 
as I walk through the Palace of Westminster until I enter the 
Chamber of the House of Commons where whoever happens to be 
speaking at the time sits down. Normally a hush descends. But I 
never know quite what to expect. On one occasion when I arrived 
in the middle of a particularly lively debate I was told, " Go away 
and come back to-morrow/' of which, of course, I took no notice. 
Another time one of the Bills which was about to receive the 
Royal Assent happened to be extremely unpopular with die 
Opposition and my summons was greeted with vociferous cries of, 
" No, no, no/' 

The most interesting occasion of all, particularly from a historical 
point of view, comes at the beginning of a new Parliament when the 
Speaker standing at the bar of the House of Lords makes the historic 
claim for die " undoubted rights and privileges " of the House of 
Commons, " freedom of speech in debate, freedom from arrest and 
free access to Her Majesty whenever occasion shall require/* 

This petition dates back to at least 1400 though the form of 
words has varied; in fact some Speakers have spoken for upwards 
of two hours at the bar* In the reign of James I the Commons made 
it quite clear that this application was a gesture 4< only of manners " 
in fact that the Sovereign was powerless to withhold their 
rights. 

Two or three days later the new session is opened by the 

292 



Sovereign in person. As this was so admirably described by Richard 
Dimbleby when the ceremony was televised for the first time in 
November, 1958, there is little point in going into any details here. 
From my point of view the chief interest lies in the wording of the 
summons. Once more I am dispatched to fetch the Commons but 
this time by the Lord Great Chamberlain who has been instructed 
to do so by the Sovereign seated on the Throne, so the summons is 
rather more abrupt. It is, in fact, a Royal Command: 

" Mr. Speaker, the Queen commands this honourable House 
to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers. 5 * 

There is one other interesting bit of ceremonial with which I am 
concerned, namely the introduction of a new peer into the House of 
Lords. The master of ceremonies on this occasion is Garter King of 
Arms acting in the name of the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, 
and the new peer is led into the House in die following order; 
Black Rod, the Earl Marshal, the Lord Great Chamberlain, 
Garter King of Arms, the peer himself with a fellow peer as 
supporter in front and behind. The peers are robed and Garter 
wears his gold tabard; so it is a colourful little procession. The 
ceremony itself is quite complicated because the new peer has to 
kneel to die Lord Chancellor, bow a number of times, take the oath, 
sign the roll, and finally with his two supporters he must take off 
his hat and bow three times running to the Lord Chancellor. 
Nobody knows why it is three bows. Various explanations have 
been offered: " the Trinity " or " die union of England, Scotland 
and Wales." These are two suggestions, but the real origin is 
hidden somewhere in the dim past. This introduction ceremony is 
always rehearsed beforehand and when life peers were first intro- 
duced, seven peers and peeresses went through die ceremony in 
two days- Garter King of Arms and I worked out afterwards that 
in die course of the proceedings we had bowed no fewer than 
395 times. 

I am often asked whether the introduction of Ufe peeresses has 
altered the Upper House, once regarded as the last male stronghold 
in the kingdom. The answer is not at all* The only difference is that 

293 



during the introduction ceremony peeresses do not remove their 
very becoming tricorne hats. 

Sitting in my box in the House of Lords I often feel rather like a 
referee at a boxing match, though fortunately the contest here is 
waged by words and not by blows. I once heard a newly-created 
peer who had previously been a member of the House of Commons 
complaining about the undue politeness of our debates: " This place 
needs pepping up," he said. Whereupon an elderly baron looked at 
him quizzically and replied: "You must remember that you 
come from a place where they use the bludgeon. Up here we prefer 
to use the rapier, but it kills just the same." And in the hands of the 
really skilled debater it most certainly does kill. There is one very 
distinguished member of the House of whom it is said that you have 
no idea at all how devastatingly rude he has been until you read what 
he said in Hansard next day, 

In 1949, when I first took up my appointment, the situation in 
the Upper House was particularly interesting. The Labour Govern- 
ment was busy introducing a programme consisting mainly of 
nationalisation bills. Yet the House of Lords contained a large 
Conservative majority to whom all these bills were anathema. 
Each could in turn have been thrown out without any difficulty at 
all, thus imposing at least a year's delay on the Government legisla- 
tion* But to do this would have been fatal. It is precisely because of 
this overwhelming Conservative majority that very naturally the 
Labour party has always viewed the Upper House with grave 
suspicion, and it would obviously have been quite wrong for a 
chamber composed mainly of hereditary peers to try and impose its 
will on the Government elected by the people. Luckily there were 
very wise and experienced politicians in charge, Lord Addisou, 
Labour, on the Government side, Lord Salisbury, the leader of the 
Opposition, and Lord Samuel, the head of the small Liberal party. 
Salisbury and Addison were bitter opponents across the floor of the 
House, yet behind the scenes they had a great respect for each other's 
point of view. And this I found was the atmosphere which per- 
meated the whole place. 1 was once lunching with some Labour 
peers before the introduction into the Lords of a distinguished 

294 



member of their party from the Commons. His daughter opened 
the proceedings by saying brightly, " Of course I don't approve of 
the House of Lords at all/* The two Labour peers turned and smote 
her liip and thigh. They ended by saying : " When you know a little 
more about it, young lady, you will realise how small a part party 
politics plays up here. We are concerned entirely with doing the 
best we can for the country/* 



295 



CHAPTER XXIII 

I STRAY FROM THE STRAIGHT 
AND NARROW PATH 



THROUGHOUT HIS life my father had been fond of games and the 
open air as his chief relaxation from unremitting work, and he 
looked forward to his retired life, continuing as editor of the 
R.A.M.C. Journal, writing, reading and working with his micro- 
scope. In 1923 he became seriously ill and was taken into Millbank 
Hospital for a major operation from which he never really recovered, 
being left with an internal infection which caused him a lot of 
trouble. During the last eighteen years of his life the things he loved 
were taken from turn, one by one. His outdoor activities were 
reduced gradually to a minimum; even bending over his microscope 
gave him a good deal of pain and had to be given up. But he never 
uttered one word of complaint. When something had to go, he 
looked for something else to take its place. He was an immense 
reader, and edited the R.A.M.C. Journal to the day of his death. 
In fact he never allowed his physical condition to beat him. Un- 
fortunately my father died during the war when I was a brigadier. 
If only he could have lived a little longer until I was a corps com- 
mander he would have realised that all his self-sacrifices and unstint- 
ing devotion to his most unsatisfactory son had not been in vain. 

This example was his final gesture to me. Almost precisely the 
same thing has happened in my Hfe. Owing to the after effects of 
the wound which 1 sustained in North Africa I have also been forced 
to give up practically all those outdoor activities which had filled so 
much of my life. I can no longer ricle, play golf or even go for 
long walks, but like him I have been fortunate to find an outlet for 
my surplus energy in other and more sedentary occupations. 

I was extremely fortunate to be appointed Black Rod and for the 

296 



first year or two I was completely absorbed by this new strange 
world of politics which I could now observe from a ring-side seat, 
but gradually my innate restlessness began to reassert itself. The 
truth of the matter was that I had, and still have, too good a staff 
to help me. They are men of great experience, who do not require 
constant supervision from their boss. Their task is not so easy as it 
might sound because they must know when and how to break the 
rules. A too rigid adherence to the myriad regulations which 
control the activities of the Upper House could be very irritating 
for the peers and their guests. With such an expert team to help me, 
once I had learned the ropes my day to day duties became less and 
less arduous. 

My first tentative steps away from the straight and narrow path 
trod by my many distinguished predecessors came as a result of a 
vdsit made to the battlefields of N.W. Europe in 1950 with the rather 
vague idea of one day writing a book. By the kindness of the 
British Embassy in The Hague my wife and I were able to hire 
cheaply a motor launch in which to explore the waterways of 
Holland. The boat was in the care of a very nice and extremely 
expert young Dutchman. We set off from Rotterdam and each 
night we moored to the bank in the vicinity of some village. The 
Red Ensign seemed to be immensely popular in those days and we 
were always being invited on board some barge or other for a glass 
of schnaps or bols. I had never before seen one of those large 
continental barges, which form the permanent home of the bargee, 
his wife and numerous family, and I was staggered at the comfort 
in which they live. Staircases with carpets, electric Hght, running 
water, push and pull lavatories, large, comfortable beds and so on. 
I have been in many a house which wasn't nearly so roomy and well 
furnished* Nor so clean; they were always spotless and gaily 
painted. 

As I wanted to revisit Rces, which had caused us so much trouble 
during the Rhine crossing, we tried to penetrate a few miles over 
the Dutch frontier into Germany. Although my wife and I both 
had passports with the correct visa our Dutch skipper only had his 
identity card. I explained patiently to a young and insufferably 

297 



conceited British official of the Control Commission that we should 
certainly not spend more than three hours inside Germany and on 
no account would the Dutchman land anywhere, but it was all 
useless. I was once more up against officialdom at its most dense. 
" My deah General," he said, " you must remember that the war 
has now been over for some time/' I was so angry that we almost 
capsized as I swung round at full speed in too tight a circle and set off 
back into Holland again. 

On approaching Nijmegen we saw crowds manning the river 
banks. Then into view steamed majestically a large, white yacht. 
On the bridge was standing a small figure reminiscent of the 
pictures of Napoleon. At a respectful distance in rear stood a group 
of senior and much be-ribboned staff officers from the three services. 
Suddenly I realised that it was Monty, and the crowd were there to 
welcome the man who had been responsible for liberating their town. 
What a curious coincidence ! The last time that 1 had seen Monty 
in Nijmegen was just after the unhappy battle of Arnheni. 

When the yacht tied up I saw the burgomaster and councillors 
going aboard. As I was wearing a dark-blue sweater, a pair of dirty 
grey flannel trousers, no socks and an old pair of rubber-soled shoes, 
I was improperly clad for this high level party. So I waited until the 
introductions were over and then pushing my way past an under- 
standably suspicious Dutch sentry 1 confronted my late commander 
on the bridge. His astonishment at this unexpected appearance of his 
erstwhile corps commander, looking like a scruffy tramp, was not 
unnatural! It appeared that he had been carrying out a personal 
reconnaissance of our frontier with the Russians, It was as a result 
of this incident that I wrote my first newspaper article which was 
published by the Daily Dispatch, Manchester; and so started a long, 
and from my point of view, very happy association with Kemsiey 
now Thomson Newspapers. But the Daily Dispatch is no more, 
neither is another paper for which I wrote several articles, Picture 
Post. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed my amateurish attempts at journalism, 
though writing is probably more difficult for me than it is for most 
people owing to my extremely inadequate education. It is an 

298 



exciting world and though all journalists are prone to duodenal 
ulcers and die young, I have never met one who would be anything 
else. They have always been very helpful and kind to me, an elderly 
general whose intrusion into their highly specialised world they 
might easily have resented. I was lucky of course to be guided by 
that remarkable young man, C. D. Hamilton, the Editorial Director 
of Kemsley,now Thomson, Newspapers, who on one occasion, when 
I was tearing my hair over some article for the Sunday Times which 
simply would not come right, looked at me sadly and said: " What- 
ever you do, General, don't try and write English." I have never had 
the slightest difficulty in following this excellent advice. Thanks to 
this connection with the Press I have managed to keep much more 
up-to-date than would have been possible as a retired general-cum- 
Black Rod. I have spent several weeks with the French and Spanish 
Armies, visited the Canal Zone of Egypt at the height of the 
troubles, seen the Israel Army at work and paid many visits to 
the British Army of the Rhine and S.H.A.P.E. 

The most interesting trip of all, however, was a visit to Cyprus 
where I stayed with Field-Marshal Sir John Harding at the time 
when he was holding a scries of discussions with Archbishop 
Makarios. This, however, very nearly proved my undoing. I found 
it quite impossible to write about Cyprus without also commenting 
on the political background. The article which I cabled to London 
included two-thirds military material and one-third political, but 
owing to the inevitable shortage of space it had to be drastically cut. 
The final result which appeared on the front page of the Sunday 
Times u front our special correspondent " in Cyprus, Lieut.-General 
Sir Brian Horrocks was two-thirds political and onertliird military. 
When 1 first saw it at the airport near Rome, on my way home, I 
realised that I was in for trouble, because at all costs Black Rod must 
avoid becoming involved in political controversy. My worst fears 
were realised and quite naturally certain peers took grave exception 
to what I had written. Since then I have tried hard to avoid any- 
thing which faintly borders on politics. 

1 never imagined that at one time I would become a fairly regu- 
lar contributor to that pillar of British journalism the Sunday Times. 

299 



How astounded my teachers would have been if they could have 
seen London plastered with posters bearing my face and adjuring the 
British public to read a series of articles which I was then writing 
for that paper. Their astonishment, however, would not have been 
greater than my own. I had no idea that an advertising campaign 
of this magnitude had been launched so it came as a shock on my 
return to London from our holiday to be faced suddenly in Victoria 
Street by a huge poster of myself. I have never felt so embarrassed 
in my life. 

One day a young woman arrived in my office. Her name was 
Therese Denny and she worked for the Australian Broadcasting 
Corporation. Almost before I realised what was happening I found 
myself sitting in the cellar of a B.B.C. building in Oxford Street 
prepared to broadcast to Australia on the historical background of 
the office of Black Rod. This was my first introduction to that 
peculiar instrument of torture, the microphone, which was to play 
such an important part in my life from then on. When we had 
finished our fifteen minute broadcast, Miss Denny, apparently 
deeply moved, said: " That is the best broadcast we have ever 
recorded/* I was delighted; but my feeling of complacency was 
quickly dispelled when I compared notes with some of her other 
victims who had also broadcast to Australia. We had all succumbed 
to precisely the same treatment. As far as I can remember Miss 
Denny had no appointment yet she arrived in my office. I had no 
intention of broadcasting yet I was very soon confronted with a 
live mike. And what is more I thoroughly enjoyed the whole 
proceeding. 

Since those early days when I was her victim I have benefited 
considerably from her astonishing ability to get things done, as with 
Huw Wheldon she now produces my ** Men of Action '* scries on 
television. 

B.B.C. sound studios arc always divided into two. In one half 
sits the victim who is to make the broadcast, gazing uneasily at a 
microphone perched in the middle of the table in front of him, 
and trying to watch out of the corner of his eye a series of green 
and red light signals which indicate the timings, when to start, 

300 



if he is going too slowly, when he is approaching the end and so on 
which is all very frightening. These are controlled by the producer 
who is in the other half of the room separated from his victim by a 
sound-proof glass panel. With the producer are usually several 
other people; an engineer who controls the volume, secretaries 
with stop-watches to check the timings with the script, and any 
other members of the B.B.C. staff who happen to be interested in 
the programme. 

During my first broadcast inside this country on Home Service 
I found myself to start with in the second compartment watching 
and listening to Wynford Vaughan Thomas interviewing a dis- 
tinguished member of the Farmers' Union on the thorny subject of 
the military acquiring too much land for training purposes in Wales. 
I was to put the army point of view during the next interview. 
The farmer had prepared a long script which he had obviously tried 
out on his wife and had every intention of delivering in toto. Not by 
the flicker of an. eyelid did Vaughan Thomas show that he was 
bored stiff, but the producer in our compartment was showing signs 
of approaching apoplexy. " My god! Cut, cut, cut/' he kept on 
saying. Listening to the unsuspecting farmer I thus learned two 
important lessons of broadcasting: 

1. The subject matter must be tailored to the time available, and 
the more it is tightened the better it will sound over the air. 

2. Broadcasting, and lecturing to an audience, require entirely 
different techniques. It's no good attempting to deliver an oration 
into a mike in Broadcasting House because the recipient is one 
person sitting in a chair in his or her room. Wynford treated the 
mike as chough it were his wife with whom he was having a quiet, 
pleasant discussion. The farmer was rallying an immense audience 
to do battle with the hated military. There was no doubt who 
carried the most conviction on the air. 

Thanks to the B.B.C. I have been privileged to broadcast the un~ 
veiling of war memorials in many countries, and have thus had the 
opportunity to appreciate the remarkable work which has been 
carried out since the war by the Imperial War Graves Commission. 
No future generation will ever be able to point a finger at us and 

301 



say that we neglected to care for the dead of the last two world wars. 
The cemeteries where they lie are not grim burial grounds but 
places of beauty, bright with flowers and carefully tended green 
lawns with trees very often around them. The atmosphere of 
peace and tranquillity which pervades all the war cemeteries must 
surely have brought comfort to the thousands and thousands of 
parents and relations who have visited them all over the world. 

I have been to many. Each lias its special niche in history. 
Cassino in Italy with the famous monastery towering above it. 
Bayeux, the first French town to be liberated. Groesbeck in 
Holland, gazing across the valley to Germany and the sinister 
Reichswald, where so much bitter fighting took place. Dunkirk, 
which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, when 
afterwards, from the deck of a destroyer, she laid a wreath on the 
sea in memory of the little ships which evacuated our army from 
Dunkirk and its neighbouring beaches. And finally Brookwood in 
the heart of the United Kingdom where the whole Royal Family 
were present for the unveiling. The British Commonwealth may 
now rest content in the knowledge that these men, and women too, 
who died in our defence lie in honoured graves. 

Though sound broadcasting is intensely interesting, television 
EOW began to fascinate me more and more. So greatly daring, I 
penetrated the inner keep of that immense television, centre which is 
rising slowly and majestically in Wood Lane, and had a talk to Cecil 
McGivern and Leonard MialL The former is the presiding genius of 
all B.B.C. television, the corps commander who fights the tactical 
battle on the TV front, and Leonard Mial is one of his subordinate 
commanders, the controller of TV talks. I used to think that the 
last war was a pretty merciless affair but I soon found that it was 
child's play compared to the ferocious conflict waged day in and 
day out between the B.B.C. and the independent television com- 
panies. I have deliberately used military terms in connection with 
TV because the whole business with its split-second timings, 
accuracy, team work and discipline, is the nearest approach to battle 
which I have met since retiring from the army. The only major 

302. 



difference is that appearing on the TV screen is much more frighten- 
ing than commanding a corps in any battle. 

All this, however, is going much too fast. I came down to the 
television centre to try and persuade the presiding genius that many 
ex-servicemen and their wives would be interested in an account 
on TV of some of the more important battles which were fought 
during the last war. I did not realise then that, at the age of sixty, 
I was venturing into something which would have a major effect on 
my whole life. After a most hilarious interview I cannot under- 
stand why we laughed so much, but we did they decided to take a 
chance, and I was booked to do a series of fifteen-minute programmes 
called " Men in Battle." Initially these were put on at 10.45 p.m.. 
when most sensible people are on their way to bed, the object being 
perhaps to hurry them up. Though nobody said so I was left in no 
doubt that unless I convinced my expert critics that these pro- 
grammes were really worthwhile their duration would be short. 
I shall always be indebted to these two men for having the courage 
to allow an ancient general to try and sell the craft of war on the 
screen, 

I very soon found that this TV business which I had entered into 
so light-heartedly was a far more difficult medium thaa sound. 
The people who handle it, producers, cameramen, artists, studio 
managers, make-up girls, are all very different too. They are younger 
and very enthusiastic. It is impossible to eater that funny old rabbit 
warren, Lime Grove, without becoming aware that the whole place 
is full of atmosphere and teeming with energy. My first shock was 
to find that it takes forty people full-time to put one person on the 
air, 

What makes TV so difficult is the sinister influence of the 
camera, and that awful feeling of being absolutely alone in a huge, 
bare studio filled with nothing but machinery. I find it difficult to 
get used to the brilliance of the arc lamps directed on me alone 
while all round are cameras and microphones mounted on things 
called dollys which enable them to move about in every direction, 
During a performance they are rarely still. I have already likened 
TV to a battle, but 1 soon found that I was no longer the general but 

303 



the front-line soldier who had to go over the top. The commander 
was the producer originally Huw Wheldon and now Therese 
Denny sitting somewhere out of my sight, in a room full of 
monitor television sets and surrounded by the chief staff officers 
concerned with sound, light, and cameras, to mention the three most 
important. All the men who are operating the dollys on the floor of 
the studio are wearing ear-phones and from her box Therese controls 
their movements like a commander on a battlefield. This must be a 
nerve-racking job because the producer can make or mar the 
programme; no theatrical producer exerts such a personal minute 
to minute control of the performance as does his confrere in the 
TV studio. 

The camera is the lynchpin of the whole performance because 
ultimately success or failure depends on what appears on the screens 
in millions of homes all over the country. It is all too easy to become 
mesmerised by the camera. Some people lecture it, some are 
frightened of it, others hate it, but the wise man treats it as a friend 
just a friendly old camera and talks to it accordingly. There arc 
many pitfalls for the unwary, as I found to my cost, and the unfor- 
givable sin is to talk to the wrong camera. When sitting at the table 
I must talk to camera A; if I go to the map, to camera B, or if I am 
explaining something on the model, camera C will take over, and 
woe betide me if I don't always move my hands the same way from 
left to right, or vice versa, so that the camera can follow them. 
One added difficulty is the use of film. Very often I use pieces of 
film to illustrate some part of the talk and these have to be " cued ** 
into the programme at exactly the right moment, 

Because of all these complications it might be thought that 
there are many hours of rehearsal but this is not so. Studios arc 
always scarce and when in use they cost a lot of money, so rehearsals 
are cut to the minimum. If I am due to appear at 9,30 p.m. I 
probably arrive at Lime Grove at 7 p.m., by which time the cameras 
have been lined up and the lighting, maps, model, etc., adjusted hi 
accordance with the producer's instructions. I shall be lucky if I 
get more than two runs through before zero hour* 1 have heard 
that while on the stage an opera singer must surrender herself 

304 




Rape. With my wife in 'IW (named after our granddaughter) 




The end of the hne. Emsworth h&rbour at low tide 



entirely to the conductor. The performer on TV does the same but 
in this case the camera is the master; no performer is a free agent. 
I realised very soon that, the whole business being so complicated, 
if I wished to give a smooth, relaxed performance I must be clear 
in my mind about what I was going to say and do. Otherwise it is 
only too easy to be thrown out of your stride by the myriad dis- 
tractions of the studio. I also felt that, if from the remoteness of the 
studio, I was to establish personal contact with the unseen audience 
in their homes I must be able to talk to them the whole time, which 
ruled out the use of a script. Every time a performer looks down 
from the camera, even for a split second, he breaks that personal 
contact with the viewers which is so difficult to establish. Their 
automatic reaction is " Oh, he's looking at his notes," which 
distracts their minds from the story which he is trying to tell. So I 
have always made it a rule to do without notes though I keep a 
few headings by me just in case I get a blackout. 

The preparation of a programme involves much hard work. 
After hours and hours of research I start by writing out everything I 
want to say, and then time myself. As a rule the first script lasts 
for anything up to an hottr or more; then starts the process of ruth- 
less cutting in order to reduce it to approximately twenty-five 
minutes. I used to hate doing this; now I know that the tighter the 
script the better it will be. Then comes the conference with Me Watt 
who is an expert at maps; followed by numerous visits with the 
producer to small cinema theatres in order to view the existing film, 
and select the bits which we wish to use. These are then cut and 
tailored by the film editor who works in the Baling studios. 

When this has been completed I try the programme out on the 
most non-military minds I can find, to ensure that, in the extremely 
unlikely event of Mum wanting to watch the programme, she will 
understand what I am talking about. Some unsuspecting B.B.C. 
secretaries arc usually selected as guinea pigs, and if there is some 
military detail which they do not understand I alter it until they do. 
The next problem is to rehearse the wretched ding in my mind. 
Most of this is done while walking round the parks with my boxer 
dog Maxic, He is the only person in the world who has heard every 

305 



word of every programme. I regard it as highly significant if at any 
stage in my recital he lies down and goes to sleep. 

By now the two producers Huw and Therese will have approved 
the general pattern and we all meet at Baling or at some small studio 
in Soho. Everyone who has anything to do with the production is 
present and I try a complete run through. I always enjoy these trial 
trips because after a time the others manage to forget that I am an 
old general and accept me as one of themselves. In the middle of the 
day we have a break and if at Ealing we all lunch together in the 
canteen, surrounded as like as not by a large number of people in 
period costume from some play which is being shot in a neighbour- 
ing studio. Ultimately the great day approaches and the first jerk 
to my self-confidence is the arrival of the Radio Times. My pro- 
gramme looks so professional in black-and-white surrounded by all 
tliose well-known television personalities who are also appearing 
that night. I become acutely aware of my amateur status. The worst 
time of all was when I appeared on the cover of the Radio Times. 
Nobody had told me that this was going to happen and the first I 
knew of it was when I looked down on a bookstall and to my horror 
found I was looking at myself. I returned home a chastened man. 

On the previous day I carefully avoid watching TV in case I 
should run into my own trailer. On the actual day 1 always wake 
up with a pleasant feeling of excitement. It's all rather fun, but 
this soon disappears and from breakfast onwards my spirits sink 
rapidly until by the evening I could wish that the bottom would 
drop out of the floor. I am acutely nervous, far more so than before 
any battle, I arrive at Lime Grove to be met with an atmosphere of 
forced heartiness. Everyone looks at me as though I am about to 
undergo a surgical operation, which indeed I am. How 1 envy all 
those sensible, old, retired generals who are slowly digging them- 
selves to death all over the country. I find no consolation in the fact 
that it is entirely my own fault. 

I am introduced to the studio manager who controls all the 
operations on the floor of the studio; from now on he is my only 
contact with the outside world and I look anxiously to see if he 
has a kind face. Like everyone else he wears earphones through 

306 



which he receives the producer's instructions, often, I suspect, 
highly explosive. As I sit in my brightly illuminated corner all the 
rest of the studio seems relatively dark and the cameras become more 
and more like Quatermass' fearful insects. 

" General, Therese would like a complete rehearsal, please " 
and off we go. At the end I gaze rather anxiously at the shapes 
behind the cameras arid wonder whether they liked it or not, because 
by now having been through the script so often, the whole thing 
seems complete nonsense to me. I hear a clatter above and see the 
chief consultant Huw descending from his box to have a few 
words with the victim on the operating table. The hospital 
atmosphere is heightened still further by the fact that he has now 
assumed his best bedside manner. " General, it won't hurt nearly as 
much as you think." He is accompanied by a young woman who 
looks suspiciously like a nursing sister, but who turns out to be the 
make-up queen on duty for my programme, faced with the 
impossible task of making me look like a successful general. The 
more she can make me resemble the Iron Duke the better the 
audience will be pleased, at least that is the theory. I have only once 
been really coated with make-up and that was when I was suffering 
from 7 flu and looked ghastly. After the programme I received 
many letters from friends saying how glad they were to see me 
looking so well. 

One more rehearsal and zero hour approaches. By now I 
cannot remember a single word of my script, except for the opening 
sentences which, from experience, I know must come out absolutely 
automatically. There arc murmurs from the outside world. The 
previous programme is early, late, or on time. I hear the studio 
manager's voice saying " Silence in studio." Curious light signals 
appear on the walls. " Sound on," " Vision on," an unseen band 
strikes up the signature tune, a camera is shooting the title on 
my right, but 1 am watclxing the studio manager like a hypnotised 
rabbit. He drops his arm and I am on the air. Nobody can help 
me now, it has become a personal matter between me and several 
million viewers. 1 have been told that my peak figure was eight 
anil a half million viewers, but I fipd it difficult to visualise what 

307 



even one million people look like and anyhow what are a few 
million more or less? After the first few sentences I forget the 
viewers altogether; my world is limited to one camera. 

And then almost before I know it all is over. The tension in 
the studio drops. Huw and Therese have returned to normal. 
" Bang on, General/' means a reasonable performance, A brief 
word of thanks to the studio manager, camera men and technicians 
on the floor, without whom the programme could not have been 
produced at all, and then a much needed whisky and soda, I feel 
exactly like a deflated balloon witli no sense of achievement at all, 
On the night after the programme I find it difficult to sleep and it 
takes twenty-four hours to unwind. 

I have already said that television was altering my life. This is 
not because of the programmes themselves but because of the 
aftermath. First of all there are the letters. I never cease to be 
astonished by the number of people who take the trouble to write, 
and I try to answer them all myself because the great majority come 
from men who served with me in the war, or their wives, and I 
enjoy their letters very much. The tone, of course, varies con* 
siderably. The most complimentary I have ever had came in a short 
newspaper article from Canada where my " Epic Battle " pro- 
grammes had been recently appearing. It was quite brief. ** Let us 
hope the commercials (Canadian equivalent) do not get hold of this 
old boy. I reckon lie could sell a collar to a giraffe/* 

At the other end of the scale I must quote two, both from 
women. The first said, " You annoy me so much that every time 
you appear I throw an orange at the television set/* I thought this 
was a healthy reaction, much better than switching off. The second 
writer was more personal. ** Dear General, you arc a thug, waiting 
for the next war in order to increase the sakd bowl (medals) on your 
chest. I suppose you spend your time licking the shoes of old 
Granny Churchill* Wait till we get in and you will both be out on 
your necks/' I regarded it as highly complimentary even to be 
considered alongside that old warrior-statesman, 

The sad thing about these letters is that a few come from people 
who arc obviously mentally ill- Sonic arc so filthy that even after 

308 



years of barrack-room language I feel sick when I read them. 
Others consist of pages and pages with 110 logical meaning at all. 

The second and most disturbing effect of television is the 
personal approach. I appear on TV only from time to time, say 
every month or six weeks. I have a theory that it is fatal to be seen 
on the screen too often, particularly in specialised programmes 
like mine. But even so, after a time many people recognise me in 
the street, in buses, in the tube and, above all, in shops. This is 
extremely flattering, and I don't pretend I don't enjoy it, but it can 
also be embarrassing. Presumably because I have, so to speak, 
appeared inside people's homes they all feel they know me personally 
and do not hesitate to come up and talk about the programme. 
Everyone likes or dislikes something different. At one time I 
could not travel in the tube between Sloane Square and Westminster 
without at least two people speaking to me. I cannot imagine what 
life must be like for the popular television personalities, like 
Eamonn Andrews and Gilbert Harding, who appear regularly. 
I have heard it said that it is almost impossible for them to travel by 
public transport at all and I can well believe it. 

So now I have really gone astray from the straight and narrow 
Black Rod path, amateur journalist, sound broadcaster and TV 
performer. It says much for the broadmindcdness of their lordships 
that they bear with me at all. 



To-day, any man who leads a well-filled life should have a 
private lane down which he can escape to his other world 
preferably as far removed as possible in feeling and tempo from his 

everyday existence. 

For some the lane leads to a garden, or shelves of books, or a 
workshop in which absorbed hours can be spent with wood, tools, 
glue, nails and screws. The essential thing, I think, is that the lane 
should lead away from ever-ringing telephones, radio, TV, pave- 
ments filled with hurrying, elbowing crowds, and roads congested 
with impatient, hastening drivers. 

For a year or two now my lane has led down to a quiet water's 

309 



edge where a small boat lies at her moorings. At the age of sixty- 
one, I attended with my wife a course in small boat sailing, first of 
all at Bosham and then at Emsworth sailing schools. Now we have 
found something which occupies all our spare time most happily. 
I only wish that I had taken it up many years ago. 

During this lovely summer of 1959, day after day I have sat 
at the window of our cottage in Emsworth writing this book while 
the sun shines down outside and in front of me lies a wide expanse 
of Chichester Harbour, stretching away to Hayling Island, covered 
with white, blue and yellow sails. I can see my own boat, a sixteen- 
foot Emsworth One Design bobbing about at her moorings. Eventu- 
ally I can stand it no more. I step on board, cock an eye at the 
weather, feel the wind and cast off. 

My little craft turns and heads out into the wider waters of the 
harbour. The irritations and frustrations slip away. The only 
things that matter are the pulse of the restless sea coming to me 
through the tiller, and the chuckle and talk of the water against the 
sides of the boat. 

The enchantment lasts until the westering sun sends me reluc- 
tantly, in golden twilight or stormy sunset, back to the shore and 
die seaward end of the lane which leads to every day. 



INDEX 



Aachen, 23 

Adair, Maj.-Gen. Sir Allan, 264 

Adam, Gen. Sir Ronald, 84 

Addison, Lord, 294 

Afrika Korps, 108, no, 116, 119, 123, 

125, 141, 171 
Airborne troops, 157, 207, 210-11, 213, 

215-18, 228-30 
Aisnc battle, 16 
Akarit,Wadi, 158, 159 
Alam Haifa ridge and battle, 108, 116, 

121-6, 128-9, 130, 147, 277 
Alarnein, El: line, 107, 113-14; first 

battle, no-xi; second battle, 108, 

125, 127, 129, 132-3, 136-40, 142; 

mentioned, 101, 147, 152* 155, 158, 

213, 251 

Alanbrooke, Field-Marshal Lord (for- 
merly Lt.-Gen. A. F. Brooke), 80-1, 

83-5, in, 144 
Albert Canal, 204-5 
Aldershot, 65, 66, 7*, 7^, 73, 99, *77> 

278 
Alexander of Tunis, Field-Marshal 

Lord, XOQ", lio f 1x3, 130, 132, 166, 

170 

Alexandria, 106, 107, xxo, in, 112, 125 
Algiers, 159, 173, 17 
Alifrey, Lt.~Gcn. Sir Charles, 169 
Amiens, 197, 198 
Anderson, Gen. Sir Kenneth, 85, 86 f 

92, i6B t 172 

Antwerp, 203-4, 232, 238 
Ardennes, the, 79, 84, 202; battle, 193, 

215, 23<5~7, 242 
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 

260 



Armoured divisions, see British Army 

Divisions 

Army, British, see British Army 
Army Group: i8th, 162; 

2ist, 77, 182, 231, 234, 

243 
Arnhem battle, 157, 207-16, 223, 226, 

230-2, 234, 298 
Artillery, Horse, 16; Royal Regt. o 

190-1 
Aucbinleck, Field-Marshal Sir Claude, 

109, 111-14, 127 
Australian Division, 9th, no, 136, 140 

Bad Harzburg, 273 

Barker, Gen, Sir Evelyn f * Bubbles "), 

76-7 

Bedell Smith, see Smith, Bedell 
Belgian Army, surrender of, 80, 83, 

84; renaissance of, 201 
Belgium, 77, 81, 84, 200-1, 216, 251 
Bellew, Hon. Sir George (Garter King- 

of^Arms), 288, 293 
Ben Gardane, 147 
Benghazi, 142, 143-4 
Berkshire Kcgt., 69 
Berlin, 274, 275 
Birkenhead, 284 
Birmingham, 278, 279 
Biaserta, I75~<> 28 5 

Black Rod, 287-94, 296, 299, 300, 309 
BlackWatch, 258 
Blake, Adm. Sir Geoffrey, 287 
Bobhevik Revolution, 37-9, 44t 5 

51, 55; see aho Red Army 
Borradaile, Lt.-CoL, 224, 225 
Bradley, Gen. Omar, 159, I77 238 



311 



Bremen, 262-7, 268 

Brighton, 93, 94 

British Army: B.E.F. (1914), 15; 

B.A.O.R. (1920), 64; B.E.F. (1939- 

40), 70, 77-8, 80, 84-5, 89-91, 278; 

British Liberation Army, 180, 182; 

B.A.O.R. (1945-9), 272, 284, 285, 

299 

Armies 

First, 85, 145, 161-2, 163, 164, 166-8 

Second, 69, 186, 202, 207, 214, 229- 
31, 234, 236, 245, 256, 264 

Eighth : ordered to stand at Alamein, 
107-14; short of tanks, 116; 
standard dress, 118, 166-7; re- 
organised, 125, 127, 132; mood 
during Alamein, 136; advancing, 
142; battle-winning technique, 
144-6; Medenine, 147; Mareth, 
150; privations, 156; at the end 
in Africa, 162, 164, 168, 171; 
preparing for Sicily, 173-4; men- 
tioned, 106, 115, 122, 126, 139, 
*54> *S5 158, *59> 182, 184 

Fourteenth, 145 

Commands 
Eastern, 97 
Iraq/Persia, 113 
Mddle East, no, ill 
South-Eastern, 98, 99 
Southern, xi6, 177, 278 
Western, 185, 277, 278, 282 

Corps 

2 Corps, 85 

5 Corps, 169 

8 Corps, 76, 1 86, 207-8, 226, 260 

9 Corps, 166, 168, 169 

jo Corps: corps fflitt, 1301; Ala- 
ein, 137, 142; taken over by 



B.H., 143; in reserve, 147, 148; 
Gabes Gap, 158, 160; at the end 
in Africa, 162, 164, 173-4; taken 
over by McCreery, 176 

12 Corps, 194, 207-8, 226, 256, 258, 
260, 262 

13 Corps: taken over by B.H., 108, 
115; prepares for defensive battle, 
116, 118-19, 121 ; Alam Haifa, 
122; acts as decoy, 131; clears 
Alamein battlefield, 142; taken 
over by Dempsey, 186 

30 Corps, 108, 123, 137, 142, 148, 
155; prepares for Alamein, 131; 
taken over by Lcese, 132; addressed 
by Churchill, 144; fails at Mareth, 
150; smashes through Gabcs Gap, 
159; taken over by B.H., 180; 
assaults Mont Pingon, 186, 189; 
runs mobile farm, 188-9; thrusts 
into Belgium, 193, 194, 196; enters 
Brussels, 201-4; attempts advance 
to Amhcm, 207, 214, 216, 223, 
226, 229-31; captures Geilen- 
kirchen, 233, 235; moved to 
protect Brussels, 236-8, 241; 
IXeichswald battle, 243, 247, 249, 
254; crosses the Rhine, 256-7; 
thrusts into Germany, 260, 264; 
receives surrender, 266; victory 
parade, 267; efficient staff, 269; 
occupying Germany, 272-3 ; B.H,'s 
farewell, 277 

ist Airborne Corps, 207, 219 

Divisions 

ist Airborne, 157, 207, 213, 214, 
7, 222, 226, zztt* 230-1, 



ist Armd., 139* 141, 148, 150, 

152-5 
2nd Infantry, 71 



312 



British Army 

3rd Infantry, 47, 77, 79~8o, 83-5, 92, 

93, 96, 98, 261, 264 
4th Infantry, 85, 87-8, 168 
5th Infantry, 83 
6th Airborne, 256 
6th Arrnd., 161, 169, 171-2, 197 
7th Armd. ("Desert Rats"), 116, 

121, 122, 136, 139, 141, 148, 166, 
169, 173, 187-8 

8th Armd., 141 

9th Armd., 100-3 

loth Armd., 118, 141 

nth Armd., 115, *95 197-8, 202, 

203 

1 5th Scottish, 246, 248, 249-50, 254 
43rd (Wcssex) 189, 191, 194, 207, 

221-2, 223-4, 226, 229, 231, 234, 

235, 246, 250, 253, 261 
44th (H.C.), 97, 100, 107, 108, 112, 

136 

46th Infantry, 175 
50th Infantry, 83, 86, 148-50, 182, 

1,95, 202, 203, 207, 213, 226 

5ist Highland, 134, 136, 159, 182, 

187-8, 246, 250-1, 254, *S7i ^59- 

60* 262, 277 
52ncl Lowland, 254, 264 
53rd Welsh, 346, 250, 251 
78th Infantry, 168 
79th Armd*, 235 
Guards Armd,, 132, 195, 198, 201, 

203, 206, 207, 213, 317, 221-2, 223, 

224 23 t t 246, 261, 264 



1st Guards, 65 

5 tli Guards, 202, 219 

5th Infantry, 71 

8th Armd,, 148, IS>*3 
9th Amid., TjH, 139 

9th Infantry, 93-7 



^02, 207 



22nd Armd., 116, 120, 124, 136 

23rd Armd., 123, 124, 148 

32nd Guards, 226 

44th Scottish, 249 

1 3 ist (Queens), 97 

1 3 2nd, 97, 124 

1 3 3rd (Sussex), 97 

I5ist and I52nd, 139, 260 

I53rd and I54th, 258, 260 

20ist Guards, 166 

2 1 4th Infantry, 223-4, 226 

Sec also under Commonwealth 

countries and names of Regiments 

British Broadcasting Corporation, 300- 

2, 305 
Broadhurst, Air Chief Marshal Sir 

Harry, 152, 213 

Brooke, Lt.-Gcn. A. F. see Alanbrooke 
Brown, Pte., of the 5th D.CX.L, 225 
Browning, Lt.-Gen. Sir Frederick, 207, 

218-19, 230 

Brownjohn, Lt.-Gen. Sir Nevil, 69 
Brussels, 77, 198-205, 209, 231, 236, 

238, 247 
Buffs, The, 97 
Burma, 73, 106 

Burrows, Lt.-Gen. M. Brocas, 101 
Butts, Maj. F. de, 116, 123, 139 

Cairo, 103, 105, 106, 109, m, 112, 

113-14, n8, 119, 163, 164 
Camberley (Staff College), 66-7, 69-70, 

72, 73-6, 77, 9i 93, 103, 104, 158, 

161, 169 
Canadian troops, 184, 191, 194, 233, 

243 24^-7, M9, 250, 253, 254, 259, 

260 

Cap Bon, 171, 182, 197 
Carter, Col, of Dallas, 175-6, 177 
Charpcntier, Mmc., 60 
Cherbourg peninsula, 184 
Chester, 277, 278, 284 



China, 67 

Churchill, Lady Clementine, 95 

Churchill, Sir Winston, 106, 112, 113, 
177, 308; Britain's confidence in, 
94; disapproves of defensive battle, 
118-19, 126; addresses 30 Corps, 144 

Churchill tanks, 168 

Cirencester, 96 

Clark, Gen. Mark, 174 

Clausthal P.CXW. Camp, 28-9, 34 

Cleve, 243, 245, 247-8, 250 

Coldstream Guards, 260-1 

Collins, Gen. J. Lawton, 238 

Cologne, 64, 233 

Combined operations, 93, 97, 1 80, 
181-2 

Commandos, German, 240 

Commons, House of, 291-5 

Concentration carnps, 264-5, 266, 267 

Coningham, Air Marshal Sir 
Arthur (" Mary **), 122, 139, 169 

Copenhagen, 61, 62 

Corbett, Lt.-Gen. T, W., 112 

Cosens, Sgt. Aubrey, 254 

Cossacks, 38,42-3, 59 

Co2cyde, 87 

Crerar, Gen. H. D. G. 246, 247, 253, 

W 

Crocker, Lt.-Gen. John T., 166 
Custrin P.Q.W. Camp, 21-3, 26, 28 
Cuxhaven, 265-6, 267 
Cyprus, 65, 299 
Czechs in White Russian armies, 38, 

45, 50, 52, 54 

Daba, 141 

D-Day (Normandy), 73, 115, 180, 184 

Dempsey, Gen. Sir Miles, 69, 71, i86 f 

230, 236, 256 
Denmark, 61, 62, 216 
Denny, Capt., 189-90 
Denny, Therese, 300, 304-3 



Derbyshire Yeomanry, 171 

Desert Rats see British Army Divisions, 

7th Armd. 

Desert Victory (film), 148 
Desert warfare, 103-4, 109, 115, 118, 

120, 124, 156, 167-8 
Dieppe, 204 

Dill, Field-Marshal Sir John, 70 
Dorset Regt., 230 
Douai, 198 
Dover, 97 

Dover, Bishop of, 275 
Dover Brigade, 100 
Dragoon Guards, 100, 224 
Driel, 222, 223, 225, 229 
Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 

224-5, 228, 229 
Dunkerley, Lt.-Col, 189-90 
Dunkirk, 80-92, 96, 98, 103, 106, nS, 

119, 130, 200, 302 
Durham, 13, 102 
Durham Light Infantry, a 30 
Dyle, River, 77 
Dynamo, Operation, 84 

East Riding Yeomanry, xoo 

East Surrey Regt-, 86 

Ebcrbach, Gen., 198 

Egypt, 7, 103, 106-113, 143, 299 

** Egypt's Last Hope ", 1 16 

Eindhoven, 207, 217 

Eisenhower, Gen, D wight D., 173-4, 
177, 180, 183, 233, 237; contrasted 
with Montgomery, 158-9; turns 
down Mongomery's narrow front 
plan, 192-3 ; criticises U.S. Airborne 
Divisions, 234; splits command 
during Ardennes offensive, 2,38; 
comments on Reiehswald battle, 255 

Ekaterinburg see Sverdlovsk 

El Alamciu set Alaxncin 

El Hamma, 148, 150, 154-5 



314 



Elbe, River, 262, 266, 274 
Elizabeth, Queen Mother, 302 
Elizabeth, Queen Mother of the 

Belgians, 202, 236, 238 
Emmerich, 256 
Ems, River, 260-1 
Emsworth, 310 
Enfidaville, 162, 166 
Erskine, Gen. Sir George, 116 
Escaut Canal, 81, 206, 209 
Essame, Brig., 223-4, 225 
Essex Scottish Regt., 254 
Eystrop, 268 

Falaise, 191 

Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, 100 

Finland, 6r 

Foum Tatahouine, 151 

France, 15, 70-7, 89. 93, 9<$ 180, 193, 

214 

Franklyn, Gen- Sir Harold, 83 
Free French Army, 148 
Frcyberg, Gen. Lord, 122, 151, 152, 

162, 163-4 
Frost, Col., 216 
Fumes, 85 
Furnes-Nicuport Canal, 84 

Gabcs Gap, 148, 158, 160 
Gaida, Gen., 38, 45 
Galal, 141 

Garter, Order of the, 287-8 
Garter Kin g-of- Arms, 288, 293 
Gatehouse, Maj.-Gen. A, H., n8 
Gavin, Gen. Jim, 219, 228-9 
Geilenkirchen, 233-4, 235 
Germany; during World War 1, 18-36; 

in early 'twenties, 64-5; Allied 

advance into, 255, 256, 260-1; 

surrender of, 266-7; occupation of, 

268-77, 285, 286, 297-8 
Gibbons, Capt., 



Gibraltar, 13, 71, 103, 104, in 

Goch, 245, 253-4 

Gooch, Col. Sir Robert, 260 

Gordons, The, 259 

Gort, Field-Marshal Lord, 80 

Gott, Gen.W. H. E. (" StrafFer"), 69, 

118 

Graham, Maj.-Gen. D. A. H., 182 
Graham, Maj.-Gen. Sir Miles, 114 
Grave (Holland), 207, 217, 247 
Grenadier Guards, 200, 217, 218, 219- 

20 

Greys, The, 124 
Gruenther, Gen. Alfred, 174 
Guingand, Maj.-Gen. Sir Francis de, 

113-14, I20-I, 131, 139, 150-1 
Gwatkin, Brig. Sir Norman, 202, 219 

Hamilton, C. D., 299 
Harnmam Lif, 171 
Hammamet, 171, 172 
Hampshire Regt., 38, 45, 168 
Harding, Field-Marshal Sir John, 137, 

299 

Harz Mts., 28, 273, 274, 275 
Haydon, Brig. W., 76, 85-6 
Hayes, George, 47, 50, 54, 55, 5^ 
Heathcote, Lt. Keith, 211-12 
Heligoland, 267 
Helsinki, 61 

Henderson, Lt. J. R., 258-9 
Hcrvey, officer in R.F.C., 28, 30, 31-2, 

34-5 

Highland Light Infantry of Canada, 259 
Highlanders, 17, 18, 134, 260 
Hitler, Adolf, 74, 76, 89, 90, 93, 185, 

215-16, 241 

Hobart, Maj.-Gen. and " Pat", 115 
Hochwald, the, 245, 254 
Holland; invaded by Hitler, 76; entered 

by Allies, 213, 215-17, 231; its 

waterways, 297-8 



3*5 



Holland, Maj.-Gen. John C. F., 281 

Holzminden P.O.W. Camp, 26, 28 

Home Guard, 96, 195 

Hong Kong, 37 

Horrocks, Nancy (nh KitcHn) (wife), 

<58, 76, 91, 181, 282, 283, 287, 297, 

3io 
Horrocks, Col. Sir William (father), 

13, 14, 35-6, 62, 66-7, 68, 296 
Horse Artillery, 16 
Household Cavalry, 200, 223, 224, 260, 

288 

Howard, Brig. Sir Charles, 100 
Hughes, Maj.-Gcn, Ivor (Serjeant-at 

Arms), IDC 

Imperial War Graves Commission, 301 

India, 13, iio-n 

Indian Brigade, no 

Indian Division, 4th 159, 163, 166, 168 

Iraq, no, 113 

Ireland, 65 

Irish Guards, 206, 211, 212, 219 

Irkutsk, 59 

Italy, in, 126, 173, 182, 250, 302 

Jardine, Maj.-Gen, Sir Colin, 104 
Johnson, Maj.-Gen, D. G., 87-8 
Jones, Lt., R.E., 220, 
Jones, Maj.-Gen, C B. f Splosh "), 
256-7 

Kairouan, 161 

Kasscrine Pass battle, 145, 147 

Keightley, Gen. Sir Charles, 161, 171* 

172, 197 

KMrghiz tribes, 38, 48-9 
King's Own Scottish Borderers, 93 

King's Koyai Rifle Corps, 69 
Kirkman, Gen, Sir Sidney, 69 
Knox, Maj.-Gcn. Sir Alfred, 38, 47, 48 
Knox, Lt-CoL, of the R.U.R., 78-9 



Koltchak, Adm., 38, 45, 47 
Korea, 253 
Krasnoyarsk, 53-9, 275 

La Panne, 86-7, 88 
Lancashire Fusiliers, 86 
Lancers, The, 130, 142, i<5i 

Leclerc, Maj.-Gen. P. R, 148 

Leese, Lt.-Gen. Sir Oliver, 132, 142, 150 

Leigh, Vivien, 289 

Leningrad see Petrograd 

Libya, 148 

Liddcll, Capt., of Coldstream Guards, 

261 

Lille, 17 

Lincolnshire Rcgt., 93 
Liverpool, 36, 279, 284 
Lloyd, Capt, Seiwyn, 75 
Lord Chamberlain, 287, 290 
Lord Chancellor, 291, 293 
Lord Great Chamberlain, 289, 293 
Lords, House of, 287, 289-95, 297 
Louvaiu, 77, 78 
Luce, Lt.-CoL, 190 
Lumsden, Lt.-Gen. Herbert, 130, 138, 

142, 143 

Lutieburg Heath, IQI 
Lyuxc Regis, 92 

Maastricht, 333 
Maas-Waal Canal, 218 
McCreery, Gen. Sir Richard, 176 
McGivcrn, Cecil, 302-3 
MeGlmchy, Miss, of Camkcrley, 74 
Macintosh, Sir Robert, a 8 
MacMHlan, of MacMillan, Gen. Sir 

C Gordon, 71, 2.60 
Malta, 73, 1 10, 143 
Mauahi, Sgt,, 161*3 
Manchester, 278, 279, 284 
Man clnili, 4 1*3 
Manchuria, 41 



316 



ManteufFel, Gen., 241, 242 
Maquis, the, 196, 198 
Mareth line and battle, 148-55 
Market Garden, Operation, 207, 209, 

215 

Marrakesh, 177 

Marshall, Gen. George, 70, 133 
Massicault, 169 
Matmata Hills, 148 
" Maxie ", 305-6 
Medcnlne battle, 147 
Medjerda, Raver, 169 
Mcdjez el Bab, 169, 182 
Mcrsa Matruh, 141 
Mcrteba,Wadi, 148 
Meuse (Maas), River, 210, 217, 236, 

238, 243, 245, 246, 247 
Meusc-Escaut Canal, 206, 209 
Miall, Leonard, 302-3 
Middle East, 73, 102, 103, 104, 106, 

XXO-XX, II5 XX8, 122, 126, 133, 182, 

186 
Middlesex Rcgt., 15, 24, 36, 38, 64, 

66-8, 76, XQ3, 224 

Miteiriya Ridge, 138 

Model, Gen., 2 13-1 4, 216, 220 

Mons, 1 6 

Mont Pinion, x86, 189-90 

Montgomery of Alamein, Field-Mar- 
shal Lord: first impressions of, 78 ; at 
Dunkirk, 83-6; defending Britain, 
94; training methods, 97-100, 144; 
conference technique, 99; in Kgypt, 
xo6-p, 1x3-14, 115; dislikes fancy 
expressions, n<$; encourages B.H., 
119, 121-2; his popularity, 120, 145- 
6, 284; air-minded, 122; Alam 
Haifa, 124-7; builds up 8th Army, 
130-2; Alamein, 134-40; Tripoli, 
144-4; Metlcnine, 147; Mareth, 
148-50, 152., 155; relations with 
Eisenhower^ xs&"9 ? 192-3 ; Le 



Lilerateur at Sousse, 160; the end 
in Africa, 163-6; attitude towards 
dress, 167; Normandy landings, 
179, 1 80, 183-4; plan for victory, 
192-3, 209; Arnlaem, 231-2; the 
Ardennes, 236, 238-41; his ** spies ", 
240; Bremen, 262-4; in occupied 
Germany, 269; C.I.G.S., 281, 282; 
retreating at "Windsor, 288; being 
welcomed at Nijmegen, 298; esti- 
mate of, 127-9, 146; mentioned, 73, 
77, 81, 92, 93, 103, 118, 123, 168, 174, 
186, 230 

Moore, Capt. (" Uncle Charles *'), 37, 
41 

Morley, Professor John, 284-5 

Morshead, Lt.-Gen. Sir Leslie, 140 

Moscow, 38, 57, 59-61, 156 

Mountbatten of Burma, Lord, 73 

Muir, Edward, 177, 178 

Mulberry harbour, 181 

Mussolini, Benito, 126 

Nevill, The Lord Rupert, 143 

New Zealand Division, 2nd, 116, 122, 

123, 124, 130, 136, 141, 148, 150, 

152-5, 162-3, 173 
Newmarket, 101, 102 
Nicholson, Lt.-Gen, Sir Cameron, 69 
Niemeycr, Commandant, 26-7, 28 
Nijmegen, 207, 214-20, 223, 231, 233, 

236, 243, 246, 248, 298 
Nile Delta and River, 107-11 passim, 

147 
Normandy landings and campaign, 97, 

II5 *77 179, 180-92, *95 198, 209, 

214, ^3*. ^5*, 353, 254, 259, 260 
North Africa, 85, 104-5, m, I45> 161. 

166, 168, 173, 176, 183, 197, 251, 

296 

Northamptonshire Regt, 86 
Novosibirsk, 52 



317 



Nunspeet, 209 

Nurses: in Russia, 58-9; in Tripoli, 

173 ; at Royal Cambridge Hospital, 

177-9 

Nutterden, 245 
Nye, Lt.-Gen. Sir Archibald, 241 

Oliver, Brig. James, 260 
Olympic Games, 65-6 
Omsk, 38, 40, 44 4&, 50-2, 54 
Oosterbeek, 213, 217, 226 
Oosterhoot, 224, 225 

Paget, Gen. Sir Bernard, 74 

Paris, 66, 237 

Parker, Maj., of the 5th D.CX.L, 225 

Parliament, 287, 289-95 

Patton, Gen. George, 144* *59t *<5* 

237, 2 75 
Pentathlon, 65 
Persia, no, 113 
Petrograd, 38, 61 

Philp, C.S.M., of the 5th D.CX.L, 225 
Piron, Brig., 201 
Poland, 65 
Poles in White Russian Armies, 38, 50, 

52, 54 
Polish Parachute Brigade, 207, 222, 223, 

225, 228, 229 
Pont & Marcq, 200 
Poston, John (Montgomery's A.D.C.), 

160-1 
Prison camps: ia Germany, 20-1, 35; 

in Russia, 57, 60-1, 62 
Pyman, Lt.-Gen. HL E., 188, 189 

Qaret el Himeimat, ixo", 125, 129 

Qattara Depression, 107 

Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, 254 



Ragil Depression, m, 124 

Ramsay, Adrnu Sir Bertram, 84, 97, 166 



Ramsden, Maj. -Gen. W. H., 114, 132 
Red Army, 38, 52-3, 56, 275; see also 

Bolshevik Revolution, Russian 

Army 

Rees, 256, 258, 259, 297 
Refugees, 37-8, 54, 82 
Regina Rifles, 254 
Reichswald battle, 186, 236, 243-55, 

302 

Rennie, Gen. Thomas, 259-60 
Rhine, Paver : airborne bridgehead on, 

217, 218, 222, 226, 228, 229, 230-3; 

battle for, 192, 204, 205, 243, 245, 

246, 250, 251, 254; crossing of, 256- 

<5o, 297 
Rluneland battle, 233, 236, 243, 246, 

2-55, 256 

Ritchie, Gen. Sir Neil, 109, in, 262 
Roberts, Maj.-Gen. G. P. B. (" Pip "), 

1 16, 124, 197, *9^ 203-4 
Robinson, Sgt., of Grenadier Guards, 

220 
Roer, River, 236, 237, 241, 243, 248, 

254 

Rommel, Field-Marshal Erwin, 103- 
126 pas$im> 140, 141, 143, 147, 184; 
the Rommel myth, 120; estimate of, 

127-9 
Rotterdam, 297 

Royal Air Force; at Dunkirk, 89, 96; 
in Egypt, 122, 139, 144; at Marcth, 
150, 152; in Normandy, 180, 181, 
184; at Arnhem, 212-13; a t Clcvc, 
247-8 

Royal Army Medical Corps, 13, 296 
Royal Army Service Corps, 1 5 x 
Royal Military College (Sandhurst), 

13-14 

Royal Tank Corps, 115, 139, 188 
Koyal Ulster Rifles, 78, 93, 94 

Royal Winnipeg Rifles, 254 
Ruhr* 192, 207 



318 



Rundstedt, Field-Marshal Gerd von, 

89-90, 184-6 
Russia, 25, 3<5, 37-62, 69, 155, 271, 274, 

276 
Russian Army, 56, 155-7, 275-7 

St. Cyprian, 169 

St. Oedenrode, 222, 229 

Salerno, 174, 175, 176 

Salisbury, Lord, 294 

Sandhurst (Royal Military College), 

13-14 

Scheldt, River, 204, 231-2 
Scottish Horse, The, 254 
Seine, River, 80, 184, 191, 194, 195, 

201 

Selby-Lowndes, Lt-CoJ M. W. W., 94 
S.H.A.P.E. (Supreme H.Q., Allied 

Powers Europe), 174, 299 
Sherman tanks, 132-3, 138 
Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 100-1, 

XS^> ^35 

Shinwell, Bmanuel, 283 
Siberia, 36, 38, 4<>59 155, 275 
Sicily landings, 97, 159, 163, 164, 168, 

172, 173* I74 183, 251, 260 
Sidi Hanesh, 141 
Siegfried Line, 234, 241, 245, 249 
Silesia, 65 

Simonds, Lt.-Gcn. G. G., 250, 254 
Simpson, Gen,, of the U.S.. Army, 

^33-4 ^3$ *43 

Simpson, Lt.-Gcn. Sir Frank, 69 
Slim, Field-Marshal Sir William, 73, 

145-3 
Smidi, Gen. Walter Bedell, 159, 177, 

i So, 234-5 

Smith, Maj*-Gcn,. Dorman, HZ 
Sollum, 141, 142 
Somerset Light Infantry, 224 
Sommc battle, 226, 255 
Sommc, River, 194, 197, 198 



Son (Holland), 221 

Sosabosky, Maj.-Gen., 229 

Sousse, 160, 161 

South African A.C. Regt., 4th, 139 

South African Division, ist, 136; 2nd, 

no 

Southampton, 15, 76 
Spain, 13, 104, in 
Staff College see Camberley 
Staffordshire Yeomanry, 152 
Stalingrad, 155, 157, 191 
Stirling, Maj. D., 143 
Stratton, Maj.-Gen. W. H., 285 
Struggle for Europe, The (Wilmot), 223 
Student, Gen., 205, 209, 215, 232 
Suez, 36, 161 

Supercharge, Operation, 139-40 
Sussex Regt., 97 
Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg), 44-7 
Sweden, 25 
Switzerland, 21 
Syria, no 

Takrouna, 162-3 

Tank warfare, 115, 118, 132-3, 138; 

at night, 197-8 ; cut-down tanks, 250 
Taylor, Lt.-Col. George, 225, 229 
Taylor, Gen. Maxwell, 228, 229 
Tebourba batde, 168 
Television, 300, 302-9 
Territorial Army, 67-8, 74 
Thoma, Gen. von, 121 
Thomas, Gen. Sir Ivor, 191, 192, 229, 

231 

Thomas, Wynford Vaughan, 301 
Tiaga, 52 

TUston, Maj. F. A., 254 
Tobruk, 133, 142, H3 
Tripoli, 128, 144-6, 160, 173 
Tuker, Lt.-Gen. Sir Francis, 163-4 
Tunis, 108, 145, 160, 163, 166, i68-7*> 

213 



319 



Tunisia, 148, 160 
Turkey, 73, no 

Ulhman, Capt., 45 

U.S.A., 70, 133, 174, i?<5, 228, 234, 
235, 240 

U.S. Army, 56, 133, 144, *6i> *74, 
177, 191, 194-5, 228, 233, 234-6, 
238, 241-2, 243, 248, 254, 260, 276 

U.S.S.R. see Russia 

Uppingham, 13 

Urquhart, Maj.-Gen. R. E., 230 

Valentine tanks, 123 

Valkenswaard, 213, 217 

Vandeleur, Lt-Cols. Joe and Giles, 

206, 212 

Vernon, 191, 194 

Vining, Maj., 51, 54, 55, 57 5^, 61 
Vladivostok, 36, 37, 39, 50, 51, 52, 55, 

5<5, 57, 59, <** 

Waal, River, 210, 215, 2x8, 219 

Walcheren Is., 232, 264 

Wales, 278-9, 301 

Walker-Smith, D. C, 75 

War Office, appointment at, 71; 

modernisation opposed by, 281-2 
Warburton-Lee, Comm,, R.N., 70 
Waterloo, I4o> 162, 238, 252 
Wavell, Field-Ma0hal Lord, 72-3, 99 
Webb, Brig. George, 188 
Welsh Guards, 171, 200, 223 
Wesel, 256, 258 



Weser, River, 264, 265, 266 

West Kent Regt., 97 

Wheldon, Huw, 300, 304-8 

Whinney, Sgt., 16 

White Russians, 36, 38-9, 44, 47, 50, 

5i 54, 55-7 
Wiart, la Baronne Carton de, 202, 

238 

Wilmot, Chester, 223 
Wilson, Field - Marshal Lord 

(" Jumbo "), 72 
Wiltshire Regt., 189, 190 
Wimberley, Maj.-Gen. Douglas, 134 
Winchester, 181, 286 
Windsor, 288 
World War, First, 14-35, 167, 169, 

226, 252, 255, 270 
World War, Second, outbreak of, 74; 

turning points in, 110-11, 136, 241; 

most gallant feat of arms in, 162-3; 

B.H/s bravest act in, 173; B.H/s 

worst moment in, 228; grimmest 

battle in, 255; end of, 266-7 

Yeomany regts., 100 

Young, Capt. Harold, 142-3, 171-2, 

176-7 
Young, Maj, Sidney, 224 

Ypres battle, 17 

Zhukov, Marshal G. 1C, 274, 275 
Zigzaou, Wadi, 148, 155 
Zornclorf, Fort, 21-3, 26* 28 
Zuidcr Zee, 207, 231 



320 



(Continued from front flap) 

the Rhino. One of the most outstanding features 
of this book is the author's revealing but fair- 
minded assessment of men like Montgomery, 
Auchinleck and Eisenhower his ability to see 
precisely wherein their greatness as leaders lay, 
and to illuminate many of the disputes which in- 
evitably arose between men of strong character 
in times of stress. Sir Brian is a natural writer of 
engaging sympathy, modesty, and humor, as well 
as being a man of courage and action. 



Born in Indiahis father was an army doctor sta- 
tioned in India in ,1895, General Horrocks con- 
fosses to having had what would now be con- 
sidered an unfashionably happy childhood. He 
was educated at Uppingham School and at the 
Royal Military College, Sandhurst. TRs distin- 
guished military career from Second Lieutenant 
to Lieutenant-General and a knighthood is re- 
counted in this book. 

Sir Brian Horroeks is now one of Britain's most 
popular television broadcasters. He holds the an- 
cient and honorable office of Gentleman Usher 
of the Black Rod and as such is in charge of the 
daily administration of the House of Lords, as 
well as taking part in various picturesque cere- 
monies. Ladv Horroeks is an artist. 




IJPJtl * WH.P-T- - " ^ 

118 152