His Story, His Words Part Eight

France Continued

The trip across to France was rough, very rough and there was a little machine gun fire going on because somebody was shooting at mines. We were on the water for a long while, I think we went round in a semi circle to stop Lord Haw Haw saying something about the Durham’s. We got off at Cherbourg and went to Le Mans racecourse, I think we got there by train but I am not sure.

I was billeted in an Italian's room, I can’t remember his name but it was on the door, we were right on the racecourse and there was a post office there. With regards to food or drink I cannot remember what we ate or drank, it may have been soup, while we were here I don’t remember that we did anything.

We moved to different parts of France, down the south somewhere, I have forgotten most of the places now, I have asked different chaps about the places we went to but they don’t seem to know either. There was one place called Chantenay, we were there over Christmas 1939 to 1940, it was a bad winter, the roads were very icy, we were there for quite a long while doing drills. I have a photo of myself here wearing a Lance Corporals stripe, I was given the stripe while I was at Woking.

Chantenay France 1940 (Jim Miller Circled)

I had a leave from Chanternay, ten days leave. Our leave money was two pounds and ten shillings.

On Leave 1940 (In Photo:  Jim Miller, His Wife Marion Miller And Son Brian Miller)

At Euston Station On The Way To France As Part Of The BEF 1945

Permanent Pass

When I was Lance Corporal I had my own little section and the chaps liked me. I was in 16 platoon which was Captain Annand's platoon, I did not know Captain Annand then. I remember the NCO’s as a Corporal Wilson and a Corporal Thompson but I can’t remember any more. The first time I saw Captain Annand was on the 13th of May 1940, he was from the reserve of officers. He was in the navy once, his father was a navy man who was killed at Gallipoli. Captain Annand was with the Durham’s but he was elsewhere digging trenches I think then he came to us and that was the first time I ever saw him. He was a Lieutenant then in charge of our platoon.

Next we moved to somewhere near Lille, again we did not do much, it was boring during what was called the Phoney War, again we did a few drills.

While we were there the French were quite happy that we were buying their Dubonnet. There used to be a lot of trouble in the cafes, with different regiments drinking too much and having a scrap, I was never involved, as soon as there was trouble I was out and back to my little billet, I was a Lance Corporal. If there was a row going on in a café and bottles were being smashed, the madames used to say “your smashing everything” it was costing them money, perhaps I should not say this but it was usually the Scottish regiments that had a bust up.

10th May 1940 Start Of Hostilities

The first thing I knew of a German attack was on the 10th of May when they were bombing Douai, it was a railway place and that was the start of it. We all rushed out of our billets and our Platoon Sergeant who was called Peggy O’Neil said “get out there lads with your rifles”. One of the planes dropped a bomb in “A” Company line but it was a dud, it did not go off, those lads were lucky. Later on there was a bit of firing and we all went back into our billets. We were billeted on the first floor of a barn.

Later that night the Stukas came and it was the first time the lads had heard a Stuka with it’s terrible sound, it seemed to be coming towards our barn and someone shouted “it’s one of Hitler’s secret weapons coming”, we did not know it was one of those Stuka planes. I tried to get through the floorboards, the sound was terrible, there was a lot of shelling. One of the Stukas was bought down and there was a lot of cheering.

Sergeant O’Neil said “no one is to leave this billet”, I wanted to get outside with the lads but we had to stop there, I don’t know why we had to stop there, there was not much happening after that until the next morning when we started to prepare to go into Belgium.

I think we got to Belgium on the 13th of May to the River Dyle, we went by truck and marched as well, as our trucks were going through with the battalion on people were lining the roads cheering us, we were going to do a lot of damage to The Germans.

We got to La Tombe and got into trenches that the Belgium’s had left, they were not very deep so we had to do a bit of shovelling ourselves to make it a bit deeper. These trenches were more like slit trenches, they were not like proper trenches, just something in the ground.

Our platoon was on the right of a wooden bridge and some say that Prussian general marched over it to go to Waterloo because we were in the Waterloo area, his name was Blucher, there had been big battles over there before. It was pretty quiet and this was the first time that I saw Second Lieutenant Annand because he had been with some more Durham’s somewhere digging trenches, I do have a letter that says what he was doing.

My first impressions of Annand were that he was a young Second Lieutenant and he was alright, he was quite a nice lad, big and tallish and I said “look Big Jake”, when I first met him after the war I said “we had a nickname for you, Big Jake” and he said “I know”. It was a name from the Daily Mirror called Just Jake, he was one of us, he was great, I admire him because he saved his platoon.

Captain Richard Annand With Wife Shirley

For the next two days we went on a reconnaissance, at night time there was some white tape that we had to follow, I thought it was a stupid idea, I thought if we had left those tapes there the Germans could have followed us through, there were some silly things done like that.

Martin Douglas Forgetting Password

There was not much happening, one night I was on sentry duty, about the 14th of May, we were told to look out for anyone dressed as nuns or any strangers knocking about, it was pretty dark and I was standing there and I saw this form coming towards me, I shouted “halt who goes there”, he said “friend” and I said “advance friend and be recognised, I could hardly see anything then he stopped and I shouted “halt, password” (we had a password but I can’t remember what it was), there was silence and twice more I yelled “password”, still there was silence and again yelled “password”, then I rammed a round up the breach and a voice shouted “don’t shoot Dusty it’s me, it’s Dougie” he was bringing a message and he had forgotten the password. I have a photo of him and I met him again in 1987, he lives in Chester-Lee-Street, he was in my squad and his name is Martin Douglas, when I met him in 1987 I had not met him since those days. Apparently he had a message for the Company Commander. 

Going back to the wooden bridge, I was sent out in front of the bridge into a foxhole and my mate Geordie Blackburn was on the other side of the road about forty yards up the road from the bridge and what we were sent there for I still do not know. After a while “C” Company came marching down, they had been in front and they were shouting at us saying “we have seen the tanks Dusty”, they thought it was great fun, they had seen and heard the Germans, “C” Company went into arrears of our company.

A little while later an Alsation dog came trotting up the road towards us, towards the base, when it saw us it turned around and started running away quick. Lieutenant Annand shouted “shoot that dog”, well I did not have my rifle in the proper position but George did, he fired a shot at it and missed, the dog was going round a bend towards a railway crossing, then he hit the dog, that was the German’s first casualty, poor thing. The German’s had these dogs trained so as soon as they saw a khaki uniform they would run back to the German’s that’s why Lietuenant Annand said shoot it. I think that was the reason.

A little while after that, Annand shouted “come back we are going to blow the bridge, hurry up” and I went hell pelting out and we had just got into position when up went the bridge, blown up, this was on the 14th of May.


Sometime later, the refugees started coming, dear me, I was picking little kids up and carrying them across the rocks where the bridge had been, I was nearly in tears, all these refuges, the rest were just stepping on bits and pieces of the wooden bridge, I and the other lads were carrying the children across, the river was deep and there was still some of the bridge left. Then we got back to our positions.

On the 15th of May our artillery opened up, we were sitting in trenches while our shells were going over, the shells were dropping near a hill. Andy Steadman was with me, I said to Andy “there can’t be many Germans left with all these shells going over the there, you know”, this went on for a while then it stopped. A little while later a shell came whizzing over, Woof!, it was a German shell, our artillery never answered back, whether they had pulled back I will never know but the Germans continued shelling and I a lump of shrapnel hit me on the left knee but I pulled it out and put it in my pocket, that knocked me about because it was my bad knee. Anyway, I got over it.

Then the Germans really started on us with mortars, we did our best to shoot back. It was getting towards dusk and the Germans were trying to get a pontoon across the bridge. At night time all the tracer lights were going up illuminating the approaching German army which looked like a moving field of steel with the lights reflecting off their helmets. I thought “God”. We, the riflemen were shooting at them towards the bridge.

At first I was nervous, everybody was but somehow you got used to it, if you don’t kill them they will kill you. I remember saying to Andy “go on, give them hell”. Annand had a sandbag and he said to me “put some grenades in this bag”, I put about half a dozen in, we were on the end trench and after a while he went out and he was slinging hand grenades at the Jerries trying to stop them putting the pontoon across the bridge, he came back again and I put some more grenades in for him, I think he went out three times and I think he did the same the next day as well. I thought we might shoot him, we could have shot him, he was a brave man. He was under a barrage of fire while he was doing this, it was really frightening.

We got the order to move out and I was with Sergeant O’Neil, we went back with Annand to get some more ammunition because we had run out, we had no grenades and Terry O’Neil (his real name) he was putting detonators into the hand grenades in the dark, if he had missed he could have blown himself up. Sometime later, Terry did lose his right hand, maybe it was shrapnel.

The Wheelbarrow VC

We had to quickly get out of the position, we marched up a road and the roll call was made to see if anyone was missing. I think it was Sergeant O’Niel who said to Annand “sir, your batman is missing, he is back there” this was Joe Hunter, he was a Sunderland lad. Captain Annand went back for him, there was a barn to the right of the trench we were in and he found a wheel barrow in there and by himself he got Joe back, he wheeled him back, for that he was nicknamed the “Wheelbarrow VC”.

Joe was taken to some hospital but later on the hospital was overrun by the Germans and Joe was taken prisoner, I think his legs had gone, Joe died in a prisoner of war camp in Poland. I met Joe’s brother sometime later in Sunderland and he told me about Joe losing his life after he had been saved. I have his brothers address but since then he has moved.

Burying the dead after battle of the river Dyle 1940

Richard Wallace Annand Link

As we were moving out we were under fire, mainly small arms. We marched and we kept stopping. We marched into a wood, a forest near Brussels and the Quartermaster, Pearson (check spelling) gave us some thick soup he had made and we all had a feed. Lieutenant Colonel Simpson gave us a lecture (Simpson had been out in India with us) and he said “you are all going to fix bayonets and go back and take it to the Germans”, well that caused a bit of a sweat but we didn’t go back we had to keep moving.

We went onto Tournai amongst other places, everything was happening so quickly. I remember that Tournai was in flames and lunatics had been let out of an asylum and they were running about laughing, poor sods. We had to leave quickly from there, I don’t know what happened to the inmates, my mate Andy Steadman was always on about these inmates.

From there we went onto Saint Venant, we took up position there, this was on the night of the 25th of May, nothing happened then we just took up our positions. Strangely I can’t remember getting anything to eat. Annand had left us before getting here to go back to England because of his wounds. I only really ever knew him for a couple of days in action.

I was in a trench with my mate Georgie Blackburn, we both still stuck together, now and then there was a little bit of gunfire. I remember somebody saying Sergeant Pearson has been killed, he had gone out with some men and been killed.

On the morning of the 28th of May sniper fire started, there was a young lad, there was this young lad beside me, I didn’t know his name at the time, the sniper had already fired two rounds, I don’t know if he had killed anybody, he was in front of us slightly to our right. I said to this young lad “get your head down there is a sniper there”, he wouldn’t and he said “no German is going to kill me”, then he had another look up and “PING” right through his helmet and right through his head, he didn’t make any sound, he just closed his hand, shut his eyes and he went down. It was frightening. Well, me I went mad, he had a Bren Gun by him, I grabbed the Bren Gun, I stood up with the gun fully loaded and I fired towards where I thought the sniper was, I was standing up, he could have shot me. I often wonder did I get that man.

After that there was not much firing and shelling. Around this time I saw Martin MacLane for the first time, he was our PSM (Platoon Sergeant Major), I didn’t know he was at the time. Somebody told him that Young Fytche had been killed, I didn’t know his name was Fytche, it was Martin MacLane who told me that his name was Fytche (Private William Morrison Fytche 4453140 is buried in Renescure Churchyard between St. Omer and Hazebrouck)

CSM Martin McLane

Grave Information For Private Fytche

We were in front of a privet hedge in front of a farm, we could hear shots going through the hedge, like the sound of bees, we were pinned down and couldn’t do anything, a little later on two shots were heard in this farm house, a little while later I saw martin again and said “what were those two shots in there sir” and he said that there were two German spies in there and they have been killed.

Part Nine