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From Mitcham Road To Mandalay - Bill Stoneman Senior


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  • 2. FROM MlTCHAM ROAD TO MANDALAY By Bill Stoneman Number 1 Batallion 81 42 Commando Royal Marine
  • 3. CONTENTS The Early Years p 11 Bill’s Father, Bill’s Mother, Brother George (Tiddler), Brother Jack, Sister Betty, Sister Elsie, Brother Peter , Brother Brian From Beer to Maternity p 25 Paper Jack, Duppas Hill Kate From Mitcham Road to Mandalay p 43 Wartime & service years as a Royal Marine Commando Buddy Homan,Vincent Cutting, extract from the Guinness Book of Records ,official account of the Battle of Kangaw From Mandalay to Mitcham Road p 89 Return to Croydon from active war service as a Royal Marine Commando, work and the beginning of family life Old Comrades Reunited p 129 The Later Years From Father to Grandfather
  • 4. FOREWORD Bill met Captain (now Major) Stuart Tulloch at his niece’s wedding.On learning that Bill was a Royal Marine Commando they chatted for a long time. On hearing Bill’s account of his days in active service, Stuart made clear to Bill the value of his story. That conversation provided the inspira- tion for him, at the age of 78, to enrol at a local college to learn basic com- puter skills, and then commit to documenting his account of his life from his earliest memory through to today. This is Bill’s story… His world was one where hunger, slum conditions, child and wife abuse were suffered by many. ‘The Good Old Days’ say some. The much-crit- icised National Health service, created by the late Aneurin Bevan, is still the finest in the World. This is a truth, which after 40 years of care and suffering from acute bronchitis and emphysema, caused by the bitter cold, under nourished childhood and youth, followed by the rig- ours of his service life. The building trade in which he spent a lifetime, and endured the primitive conditions. Workers were given no protec- tive clothing or facilities to dry rain-soddened clothing, or to get hot food and drink. Fatalities at the workplace equalled, and sometimes exceeded, the accidents suffered by the mining industry. Always a badly organised occupation it was always a hard battle to wring any concessions from the employers. These were won by bitter strikes and confrontation, often at a cost to the families of the men, who were placed on the mercies of the workhouse charities. It is to these men, who stood out for their rights, a debt of gratitude is owed 7
  • 5. In those days there were no problems with racism, drugs or muggings.The old people were respected and walked the streets in comparativesafety. Immigrants were mainly white Colonials. Front doors were kepton a string pulled through the letter box; this released the catch on thedoor. The milk money along with the insurance man’s money were lefton the table in the hallway. Bill, in todays language, would be called a chauvinist pig and ahomophobe, a relic of the golden age when men were men and womenwere glad of it. Years ago homosexuality between consenting adultswas given legality, then came the lowering of the age of consent, twicein quick succession. Forgive Bill’s cynicism but how long will it be be-fore it is made compulsory? Long gone are the days when Auntie BBC banned even the mildestexpletive, like ‘bloody’. Today our television screens are saturated withporn, explicit sexual acts of gratuitous violence and foul language. A new breed of failed footballers, golfers and cricketers are usedas commentators, with accents almost unintelligble. Add to this thehours of inane commercials which occupy as much screen time as theprogrammes. To be caught lying or fiddling is an open sesame to a spot on thebox. As Arthur Daley says in the Minder series, ‘the world’s your lobster!’When John Logie Baird invented the wonders of television he cre-ated a monster, a machine so powerful that those addicted to watchingwere named ‘square eyes’. It was predicted to be ‘a licence to print yourown money’ and so it proved. Television has brought a new dimen-sion to teaching, and has opened a whole new world. Children arecomputer-wise at a very early age, but playing endless hours of gameson them must have an adverse effect on them. Calculators make mathseasy and Bill wonders how schools would cope with the old English 8
  • 6. money. Adding and subtracting half crowns, half pence and farthings.Decimalisation has made sums so much simpler. Class room brutal-ity has now been banned, the cane, the strap; the practice of teachershurling pieces of chalk across the class room is no longer allowed. Theart of pre-recording a video is an operation way beyond Bill’s ability,yet his youngest Grandson could do it from the tender age of eight.Even this word processor Bill is using they handle with the greatestskill, even to the extent of putting their Grandfather right when hegets stuck! There is of course, a vast difference in their life styles. Notfor them rising at 5am to do a paper round; being taken to school ina car, warm clothes, hot meals at mid-day and teachers that do notbelieve in the use of the cane. Sports facilities are of the highest qual-ity, and they are taught by competent coaches in some schools. Everyyear professional footballers, cricketers, tennis players and golfers withcoaching abilities go on the dole. Why Bill asks can they not be usedto train the wealth of talent that lies untapped in our country? It is abrutal truth that it is only the rich man’s sons that can afford to buy theservices of top class coaches. From Eton, Harrow, Magdalene, Oxfordand Cambridge, to name but a few. One thing Bill is certain of, and that is ‘No government ever gavepensioners £200 to pay their fuel bill before’. Folk would do well toremember one fact. It is the Labour Party that gave people the afflu-ence to think Tory. Opinion polls are one big phoney. Now in his 84th year, Bill hasnever been approached by a National Opinion pollster. Neither in inhis wide circle of friends has one of them been questioned, and he hashad many friends and aquaintances in his long life. 9
  • 7. THE EARLY YEARSTHE FATHER Born in London’s East End near Liverpool Street, he worked in service for gentry. He left this job to join the 17th 21st Lancers. Served in ww1 in what he called German East Africa under General Ian Smuts who was of that war zone. His job a groom. He was infected several times with malaria, and suffered recurring bouts in his later years. To lessen the effects of this fever he took large doses of quinine. He also served in France and said he was gassed at Ypres. He suffered from chronic bronchial asthma and emphysema. There were no breathing aids like nebulizers in those days, so he tried to gain relief by eating Vicks vapour rub jelly, this did no good as an expectorant. He met Bill’s Mother when she was working as a barmaid in the Red Deer public house, where she fell in love with the handsome man in the lancers uniform. According to her sisters, he brutalised her then, throwing her down stairs whilst she was pregnant with her first child. (Is this, Bill wonders, the cause of his dislike Of his Father). This act of brutality brought about a legal separation, foolishly she relented and went back to him. He had a good knowledge of horses, and dressed the animals that pulled the milk floats when they entered Regents Park horse show. He could treat horses harness sores with a fair success rate. Bill recalls see- ing him, stripped to his waist, smearing his arm from hand to shoulder with axle grease, entering the horses back side pulling out vast quanti- ties of straw mixed with coal dust thus clearing the animals bowels. Whilst performing these operations Bill held the animal by tying a twitch to it’s nose, and as an added precaution tied it’s foreleg to a post to stop it from kicking. Brother Tiddler had the job of holding the cats whilst the old man castrated them, this operation was carried out with his cut throat razor. For the female cat a red hot sewing needle was used. Had the RSPCA known, he must surely have gone to jail. He 11
  • 8. was also proficient at puppy tail docking and turning cats into manxcats by docking their tails. He kept a large number of rabbits, thishelped the family larder but needed vast amounts of dandelion leaves,collecting them in all kinds of weather was a most hated chore. It was Bill’s first memory of a brutal Father who, when he came homein a drunken rage, would belt the boys with the buckle end of his strap,being the eldest Bill would get the biggest hiding of them all. Bill’sparents rented two rooms from a woman called Maud Coleman, andshe lived in Old Town Croydon, opposite the slum rat, lice and buginfested shanty town called Pump Pail. Unemployment was rife. Bill’sMother had to attend the relief offices called the UAB. The full namewas the Un-employment Assistance Board. Here she was given vouch-ers for coal, groceries and bedclothes. These were promptly taken tothe pawn shop where the guv’nor would assess the value of the clothes.Still his Father always found money for beer. His philosophy towardshis wages was, beer money first, what’s left is yours. He could consumevast quantities of booze! When he came home the boys fought over thestale sandwiches he had left in his pockets, but first they scraped offthe thick layer of mustard he used. The whole family had to keep deadsilence whilst he was asleep and on Sundays they were made to go toSunday school. It was a ritual that he took the News of the World tobed, their Mother would follow him upstairs and another Stonemanwas on the way. Discussing this in later years Bill’s Sister Elsie asked her Mother whyshe did this, when clearly she did not love him, the mum replied ‘I washis wife, it was my job’. He would never call Bill by name but referto him as bushel head, bacon bonce, and big head, then say ‘you ain’tgot a big head, go down the shop and get four loaves, and six poundsof taters in your hat’. Amongst his pub cronies he was noted for his 12
  • 9. left wing politics and was known as Ramsey MacDonald, the PrimeMinister of the day. The family had an extra treat when the old manacquired a cat’s whisker wireless run on accumalator batteries This con-traption gave poor reception with much crackling The family listenedto the Tommy Farr vs Joe Louis epic which was held in New York at2am in the morning, with his usual alarm call, he would pull back thebed clothes and pour a cup of icy cold water over their privates. Thismethod was used with a doggerel, ‘Get your hands off your cocks andon with your socks’, or another favourite, ‘Rise and shine the morningsfine’. This led to Tiddler saying, ‘why do you make us go to bed whenwe are not tired, and make us get up when we are?’ He loved a bet onthe horses and on the rare occasions he had it off (won), he would lashout on new clobber for the family. This meant new hob nail boots andwhite roll neck pullovers. They were on a certain clip round the ear ifthe toes were scuffed kicking a ball. Sometimes they were allowed tostand outside the local pub The Surrey Cricketers, and when his matescame out half cut they would give the boys their odd coppers, this feltlike Christmas to the boys. One agony they had to endure was his hair cutting, not so much ahair cut, more of a plucking. The antiquated clippers used to pull theirhair out by the roots and to complain earned them a shout of ‘standbloody still’, along with a hefty whack round the ear. Most times hegave them a ‘tuppenny all off’ which made them look like convicts,this led to a lot of ‘mickey taking’ from their school mates. It hadone saving grace – the fleas and the lice did not like it, and it madeNitty Nora’s job so much easier. She was the nurse in charge of vermincontrol. This operation she carried out with a white sheet and a finetoothed comb.She also dealt with the ‘Mothers and Babies’ the cock-ney rhyming slang for Scabies. This horrible infection was caused by 13
  • 10. insanitory conditions. This skin complaint was treated with a medica-tion known as genetian violet, it also left sufferers with ugly sores. The Father’s hatred of Bill was almost paranoid and stayed that wayuntil he died, even to go as far as banning Bill from his bed side whenhe was dying from emphysema. He always claimed his chest diseasewas caused by being gassed in the Great War, but in truth it was causedby the rank strong tobacco he smoked, and by working in the rain andbitter cold snow with no change of clothing. The old man took his ha-tred to the grave, refusing to see Bill even on his death bed. It was onlyafter tearful pleading from his Mother that he relented and attendedthe funeral. Bill never forgave nor forgot. The scars of the brutal treatment he had received from his Fatherwould live in his memory forever. The old man’s favourite joke was ‘myold woman’s a dirty cow, every time I go to piss in the sink it’s full oftea leaves’. 14
  • 11. THE MOTHER She spent a life time of worrying, trying to find food for an ever raven- ous brood. Her finger nails were bitten down to the quick with worry and fear of her brutal husband. The boys had to carry notes to the neighbours like beggars, asking them to lend their Mum two shillings with which to buy the old man’s dinner. This meal oft times finished up being hurled into the back of the fireplace, where he would, in his drunken stupor, fall asleep snoring like a pig. In spite of this she still sang the old time ballads, these same songs had beautiful lyrics, most of them telling sad stories of lost loves. These melodies were to live in the boys memories until they were old men. After coping with her own work, which consisted of huge piles of other peoples washing and ironing, in this chore Bill would often get the gut wrenching job of turning the handle of the big iron mangle, a device that squeezed the moisture when the clothes were put in the wooden rollers. Then after black leading the stove, she hearth stoned her front door step, this was made gleaming white, her pride and joy and the envy of the neigh- bours. These jobs done, she walked four or five miles to scrub and dust in the houses of the better off ladies, she was in fact a char lady. Here at least she could find warmth, a hot meal and a cup of tea. For an added bonus there would be stale bread and cakes to take home, meat and fish that would go rotten for lack of refrigeration. Stale or not, the grub was eaten with gusto. In spite of a life time of abuse and worry she was always there with her ‘kiss it better remedy’ a cut or bruised knee, black eyes, toothaches and ear aches in the absence of pain killers and antibiotics, they found some relief in her ample bosom. When Bill started work he would bring home his wages and his Mother would give him two and sixpence pocket money. He would then take a bath in a galvanised tub in front of the fire. Spick and span he went upstairs to get his new suit bought from ‘Burtons the Fifty 15
  • 12. Bob Tailor’ on tick, repayments were a shilling a week. To his dismaythe suit was gone, it had been pawned by his Mother, that meant noSaturday night pictures, no kiss and cuddle in the back row, no Fridaynight treat of pie and beans in Bunnie’s cafe. She never knew whata holiday was until she was widowed, never saw a show, her life wasdevoted to her family. Her first treat was when Bill took her to see theAustralian singer Frank Ifield, she sat enraptured, exclaiming ‘ain’t hebleeding luvverly’. A weeks stay with her sister in Eastbourne and a fewbob to have a bet with, must have seemed like heaven to her. Thesewere the first of many treats she enjoyed in later years. They don’t makeMums like her any more, on top of all this she was a wondefil cook.Her stews, meat and bacon puddings were the greatest in the world. Such was the poverty of Bill’s family they rarely knew the luxury ofnew clothing, they had to wear other peoples cast-offs, even to the ex-tent of the boys having to wear girls shoes. In desperation she had togo to the ‘chat’, relief or assistance board. Here she was given vouchersfor coal, groceries and bed clothes. These were promptly taken to thepawn-shop where Alf the guv’nor would assess the value of the clothes,the money from this she used to buy food and after, the old man wasgiven the best meal. She in truth took the bread from her own mouthto ensure her family did not go hungry. Often when the old man wasin his cups, he would take on the guise of a caring Dad and plead withhis off-spring with what must have been crocodile tears ‘To take careof your poor old Mum when I’m gone’, some thing he never ever didhimself. He need not have worried, her family took good care of heruntil the day she died. Starved of affection from their Father they mayhave been, but from her they had love by the bucketful. 16
  • 13. BROTHER GEORGE (TIDDLER) Tiddler had a very cruel nature, he would pull the wings off blue bot- tles and smaller flies, and he would bury roadpeckers (pigeons) up to their neck in the back garden. Another cruel trick he used to perform was to insert a straw in a frog and blow the poor creature up. He would put the cat under his arm and say ‘listen to this I’m going to play the bag pipes’ he would then proceed to bite the cats tail until it screamed in agony. Bill had many fights with him, but it was to no avail. He used to assist his Father in castrating the cats, this was referred to in an earlier chapter. It seems he was the old man’s favourite, and his call up for service was delayed. He was detailed to work on the bomb damage of London, and worked along side his Father on this project. This meant good wages for them both, not that it did their Mother any good, the old man’s contribution was as measly as ever. Tiddler could have obtained exemption from the Armed Forces, because his work was classified as essential but to his credit he opted for call up. Tiddler was always mechanically minded, he was forever tinkering with watches and clocks, he could make an old bicycle out of a heap of spare parts. He served in the Royal Engineers in WW2, and saw serv- ice in Italy, Sicily North Africa and in Germany. It was here he met, courted and married his Wife Elsa, she was to bear him one son and two daughters. He was a workaholic and worked all the over-time he could get. The long hours must have shortened his life, for he suffered from high blood pressure and died peacefully in his bed. Later in life, when he was incapacitated, Bill would pick him up in his car and take him for a drink in the British Legion. His wife in her broken English would ask Bill, ‘Are you going down to the Foreign Legion?’ On the day of his funeral, Croydon was lashed by one of the fiercest storms in Bill’s memory. It was as if the heavens were giving him their welcome. 17
  • 14. BROTHER JACK The best loved of the family, always good humoured, good hearted and generous, worked for years as a roof tiler and slater. Then he drove fur- niture removal van with long time mate Joe Penfold. They both had a keen eye for the items of value that were discarded by their customers. They sold the unwanted items of furniture to a second hand dealer that specialised in this type of trade. It was amazing the amount of saleable items that were left behind, this all constituted ‘beer money’ . From there Jack worked for years as driver for Croydon Corporation dust carts as a driver, here he sustained a nasty back injury, causing him to retire. He was diagnosed as having a chronic heart condition. These afflictions he bore with his usual style. Bill and his sons would rise at 4 am and play golf together, on what they termed the ‘dawn patrol’. It was so early in the morning even the birds were not awake. When they did they joined together to give Bill, Jack and the boys the music of their dawn chorus. Jack had a singing voice that could have earned him a living profes- sionally, with that went a style of comedy that could have an audience in stitches. He was in great demand in the clubs and pubs, and often performed with his son Mark in the Railway Man’s club, a terrific duo. Jack had a massive heart attack at the age of Fifty seven. This did not change his happy go lucky style. Sadly Jack died at the age of sixty seven when he succumbed to an- other massive heart attack. During his long illness he was full of praise for the care he was given by the doctors and staff of Mayday University Hospital, a view shared by his wife Jean, who said they had given them a ten year bonus on his life. It is said a man’s popularity can be measured by the number of mourners at his funeral, if that is true then Brother Jack was a well loved man. A tale about the spontaneous wit of Jack that Bill feels it is worth telling, goes like this; Jimmy Turner, who was a bit 18
  • 15. of a wide boy told Jack ‘I was down the chat today (chat is the slang forLabour Exchange) and the geezer says to me what are you?’ Jim replied‘I’m a Cole Porter’, and quick as a flash Jack said ‘What did he say? OKthen, write me a song?’ Brother Jack, after his retirement met regularly with Brother Billat No 63 Euston Road. This was at Sister Elsie’s request. She almostpleaded with her Brothers not to leave her out. There she would sit,on her settee with her constant companion Sheba, her dog who alwayshad a friendly lick on the face for newcomers. The one thing BrotherJack and Elsie shared, was a talent for mimicry. Jack, ever a good storyteller, made every one roar with laughter with his tales, whether it wastold in a Jamaican, Spanish or Irish accent. Another talent Jack acquired was in house decorating, often re-papering a room for her. All the family were heartbroken tolose Brother Jack, he was, as the sayinggoes, ‘something else’. His son Mark hasinherited his father’s talent for singingand is often called upon to give a songin the local or in the club. Brother Jack 19
  • 16. SISTER BETTY Sister Betty left home early, and joined the Women’s Land Army early in the war, where she met her husband Fred, and was married in Ifield near Crawley. After the war they emigrated to Australia there they raised a family. Bill had only his Sister Elsie to relay news from Sister Betty, so un- fortunately he has no contact with her. He was told by his Sister Elsie that they enjoyed a very happy life in Australia.SISTER ELSIE Sister Elsie was very timid and very close to her Mother, she was so scared of her Father she cried when he shouted at her, she would sit by the fire place, nervously twisting her hair with her fingers. This treat- ment may have led her to turn to religion. When she introduced a black Preacher to her Father he made fun of him in a sarcastic way. The preacher sounded his aitches in the wrong places and after that, the old man called him ‘Mr Honions’. This was a phase she went through and she reverted to her normal ways. In her later years she became much more sure of herself, and after the old man died she became closer than ever to her Mother. She had several men friends, but scorned offers of marriage because she would not leave her old mum. For a number of years she worked for British Rail, until she was made redundant. She then worked until her retirement at the Immigration Home Office in Croydon. 20
  • 17. Free from the domination of her Father she blossomed into well-groomed lady with a lovely sense of fun. She had a gift for mimic-ry, and could adopt any mimic, in any dialect she chose. Very goodhearted with her money, and cared for her Mother until she died, andremained all her life a spinster. After her Mother died she was threat-ened with eviction from her council house, and Brother Bill soughtlegal advice. Croydon Council reversed its decision on the grounds offamily rights to tenancy. She eventually bought the house under the right to buy scheme,thereby ensuring her tenancy rights. She took her younger BrotherBrian under her care, but, due to his excessive drinking, this kindnessended in tears. In spite of him being out of work, she fed him, kept hisclothes washed, gave him money to buy his beer. For a while it seemedhe was changing his ways. He fitted a new bathroom suite, a newboiler and a new kitchen layout. None of this without being well paidfor his labour. He was caught driving under the influence of drink,and fined four hundred pounds. She paid his fine and gave him moneyto re-insure the car. He then was threatened with prison over unpaidtaxes, this also she paid. She felt that because he was the baby of thefamily the old Mum would have wanted her to do this. There were nothanks from him, all she got was a mouthful of abuse and told thatshe was a greedy selfish woman. Bill knew what he was because he hadworked with him. Enough was enough, in the end she told him to getout. Elsie became an ardent fan of an Irish country and western band,the Brendan Shine Group and spent many happy hours at his gigs. Hereshe was a very popular member of his fall club and, while she lay dy-ing, he was kind enough to phone her with the band to wish her well.Her bad luck continued, she met Scot from Fort William, and Elsie,forever a soft touch, fell for a hard luck story he told her and lent him 21
  • 18. money, needless to say he never repaid her. Sadly she died from cancer, and did not live to enjoy the retirementshe so richly deserved. When she was told her illness was terminal shesobbed in Brother Bill’s arms and posed the question ‘Why me?’ Shewas in death, as in her life, a very generous person, she left her wholeestate to her nephews sons and Bill’s daughter, her niece. She was laidto rest in the same grave as her Mum. Bill is sure that is what she wouldhave wanted.BROTHER PETERBorn during the war years Peter took on the role of the elder son withBrothers Bill and George both away on active service. It was now hewho had to endure the work load on his own, i.e. cleaning out the rab-bit hutches and the hen coop, added to this he had to walk miles togather dandelion leaves for their food. These tasks performed earned him more abuse and cuffs from the oldman, and Peter was always very thin, hardly an ounce of flesh on his body. He would bravely attempt to face up to the old man and almostin tears his bottom lip would protude in a futile gesture of defiancethus earning him the nickname of ‘Stickum’. This name was given toBrother Brian later on. The treatment he endured Brother Bill couldrelate to, after all, had he not suffered the in the same way? After the war Peter married and moved to Ifield near Crawley andraised a family. Self taught, he became a valued worker, but like hisBrother George he became a workaholic. This led to his death fromheart related stress. He, like Bill, never forgave nor forgot. 22
  • 19. BROTHER BRIAN Brian the baby of the family was thoroughly spoilt, and was a heavy smoker and drinker, which led to his premature death. He worked with his Brother Bill who taught him his trade as a plumber, and he was a very good tradesman. However, when he found out his wife had been unfaithful to him he went to pieces and became an alcoholic. His divorce was acrimonious and he never saw the three Sons, whom he idolised, ever again. He was facing a prison sentence for drunken driving and another for income tax arrears, and his soft hearted sister paid these fines for him. She got no thanks for that, instead, she was abused once more with foul language. He suffered a fatal heart attack whilst driving his car in Purley, he was just passed his fiftieth birthday. Poor Brian had inherited the same legacy of hate from their Father. 23
  • 20. FROM BEER TO MATERNITY Bill’s first memory of childhood was sleeping three in a bed, with- out proper bed clothes, they had ex-army greatcoats and overcoats for blankets. It was a bug-infested room where the wallpaper was alive with bugs bigger than the biggest ladybird – to be bitten left huge sores on the body. Bill and his Brother George (nick-named Tiddler because he wet the bed) slept four to a bed (two at the head and two at the foot). His Mother was heavily pregnant with his sister Betty. They were burn- ing newspaper in the fireplace and the chimney caught fire. The fire Brigade came on the scene and tackled it like it was the blazing in- ferno. They made a horrendous mess putting their hoses full jet down the chimney stack, the house was flooded in over three-foot deep wa- ter, and their poor old Mum, heavily pregnant, was trying to mop it up. King Canute had better luck! It was also the first memory of their brutal Father who, when he came home in a foul rage, would belt the boys with the buckle end of his strap, being the elder Bill would get the biggest hiding of them all. Bill’s parents rented two rooms from a woman named Maud Coleman, they scrounged what money they could by scavenging in Surrey Street market for ‘specs’ – these were half-rotten fruit that had been discarded by the stall holders, or boxes they could chop up for firewood. This money went to their Mother to buy food. They were then re-housed on a new council estate in Upper Norwood, where it was a common sight to see the poor sods evicted by the bail- iffs for rent arrears. Work was scarce, so it was a common sight to see the evictee’s furniture strewn all over the green; those bailiffs were cold-hearted bastards, some thing like the present day traffic wardens. Up on the hill stood the Percy Lake Mission Hall with his banner proclaiming the words ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’ or ‘God 25
  • 21. is Love’. This was to become their compulsory Sunday school, wheretheir cards were stamped to entitle them to a days outing to the sea-side at Dymchurch. The boys rarely qualified for this, they were alwayshopping the wag i.e. playing truant. Maybe it was Percy’s brand of ‘hell fire and brimstone’ preaching thatput them off. Percy shared the view of the late General Sir WilliamBooth of the Salvation Army. ‘Why should the devil have all goodtunes!’ The boys joined in with gusto to the hymn ‘The best drink of all iswater’, a sentiment not shared by their Father for sure. The boys drankplenty of it, they had to, their Mother owed the milkman too muchmoney to afford his milk. Bill the eldest boy rose at five am to help themilkman with his round, his wages were used to pay off the big milkbill. He soon changed to another milkman. Getting up at this hourmeant he would often fall asleep in school. One of the horrors of childhood was facing the tally-man (the creditsalesman), you could buy shoes and clothes for six-pence per week;these items were promptly taken up to ‘Uncles’ i.e. the pawn-brokers.When the tallyman called they had to answer the door and tell himMum says ‘she’s sorry she’s got nothing for you this week’, but he wouldreply ‘she said that last week’. She then, would put her head round thecorner and reply ‘and to save you coming next week it will be the sameagain’! In work or out their Father was a ‘navvy’ ganger and good athis job. With the general foreman he marked out the profiles for thefootings of the houses, theodolites weren’t used then, just boning rodsand pegs, and in truth an efficient ganger man ran the site. He wastimekeeper, site clerk, drain layer, and also kept a record of the men’ssubs (this was money borrowed in advance of their wages), these werealways a week in arrears. 26
  • 22. There were no mechanical digging machines in those days, so the small-est of sites would need half a dozen labourers, or to call them by theirproper name-navvies. Bills Father’s first stop after work would be a pubwhere he would sink half a dozen pints of beer. His Uncle Tom hadmarried a gypsy girl, who lived in a caravan that stood in the yard inNapier Road. (This site has since been taken over by London Transportand is now a bus garage). When the boy visited old Granny Dennard(she was the tribal queen) and sat in an ornate and garishly paintedcaravan, her fingers covered in gold rings and diamond bracelets; shedid not trust banks. In the yard was a huge cast iron cauldron heatedby a wood fire and in the pot was a huge stew. She offered Bill somebut he declined (having heard that Gyppo’s ate hedgehogs that hadbeen baked in clay!). When Bill left she gave him a gold sovereign, thiswas snatched by his Father for beer. Gypsies favoured Biblical namesfor their children, names such as Hannah, Eli, Jacob and Isaiah. About this time Bill lost his second younger Brother named Tommywith pneumonia, a regular killer disease of that time. His Uncle Tom and Aunt Rose succumbed to the virus; they died leav-ing their three sons orphaned. His second cousin was named Absolem,he made headlines in the local rag when he purchased a new suit anda rope and hanged himself in the Guards barracks in Caterham, wherehe was employed as a boiler room attendant. Like his Brother Henryhe suffered from epilepsy. The Coroner brought in a verdict unknownin this present time ‘suicide whilst of unsound mind’. Their poor old Mum still suffered his violence and prayed regularlyto the good Lord to take her and end her misery. Glad to say he neverlistened to her. Bill was doing quite well at school and was considered bright enoughto be scholarship material, but his Father insisted he be placed on 27
  • 23. the labour market. He took the view that his children should workand keep him, their education and future meant nothing to him. Theschool leaving age was fourteen years, but pupils could leave at thenearest quarter, so the boy could leave at thirteen and a half. Bills firstjob was as an errand boy pushing a tricycle for a cleaning firm. Hiswages were nine shillings per week, eight shillings of which went to hisMother. This life style did not suit Bill and he was determined to carveout a better way to earn his living, and the way to do it was by learn-ing a trade. He was aware of the difficulties this posed; it had alreadybeen made known to him, the rule of the closed shop. Apprenticeshipwas not open to him, and Bill’s efforts at self-education were treatedwith scorn by his Father and he was given no encouragement at all.This drove him to try even harder to teach himself a trade, he often feltdepressed at the hard going, but persevered in his efforts. Schooldays were not happy times for the boys, Rockmount Schoolresented the influx of the re-housed slum dwellers with their handeddown clothing, and shoes, lined with cardboard which did nothing tokeep out the snow and rain. Sometimes the boys had to wear secondhand girls shoes with hook and eye lace ups, this led to more jeersand sneers and more humiliation. The head teacher, a mean featuredmartinet with a passion for dishing out punishment wielded his caneswith unholy and savage venom. He almost slavered at the mouth whenhe dished out his brutal punishment, he would have made a first rateNazi SS Officer. The cruel jibes of the other kids were hard to bear and led to fighting,most of which was done by Bill. This brought him before the much-feared head who, true to form called the wrong-doers to the stage inthe hall. The glow in his eyes made him look like a starving man seeinga full roast beef dinner. He positively drooled as he swished his cane 28
  • 24. through the air. Things did not improve for Bill’s Mother; the old man still foundmoney for his booze and tobacco. In his local pub he was known asRamsey MacDonald, after the current Prime Minister, mainly becauseof his left wing views. He was very racist and called Irishmen turks andany one north of Watford ‘swede gnawers’. He also enjoyed the com-pany of the ladies of easy virtue that frequented the public houses. Bill’sMother called them ‘dirty old Messers’, this from Shakespeare’s Romanwife of Julius Caesar, a woman of loose morals. These accusations onlyserved to get her another vicious hiding from her brutal husband. Then came a welcome respite for Bill. He was sent to his ailing grand-Mother’s home to run errands and help in any way he could. This,with new warm clothing, clean sheets, plentiful food like meat pies,stews and bacon-puddings – to Bill it was like Shangri-la. By this time Bill was employed as a paper delivery boy by W.H.Smith& Son on Sanderstead station and was up at five am every morning,winter and summer, and after school he did an evening round, thismoney went to his Granny to help pay for his keep. Near the station was a parade of shops, into the bakers for three-pence-worth of stale bread, for this he took a small pillowcase and apenn’orth of stale cakes and he would take the biggest creamiest onefor himself. If he was lucky he would get four white loaves and onlyone brown loaf, brown bread wasn’t liked. Into the butchers for three penn’orth of breast of mutton, threepen’orth of pieces for a stew, and some pork rind and bones, this withsplit peas made delicious soup. Then to the fish-monger, for three penn’orth of wet fish and three-penn’orth of dry kippers or bloaters and, finally, to the grocers for apenny ham bone and some streaky bacon. He also took a basin for 29
  • 25. some cracked eggs. ‘If you haven’t any cracked we’ll crack them our-selves!’ All this in the days before refrigeration, the perishable goodshad to be sold before they went rotten. Another cheap food was a pigshead, this made a delicious brawn, and for a stew they had calves andsheep heads. His maternal grandparents were hard working, kindlypeople. The GrandFather worked as plate-layer on the Railway, as didthe two eldest sons, who were both train drivers, and when they retiredthey had served over one hundred and sixty years in man and boy serv-ice. The elder son was a driver on the Brighton line and always gave ablast on his horn when he passed his Mum’s house. ‘There’s our Will’she would say. They had four sons and three daughters; the boy’s werethe second and oldest. The grand-Father kept an allotment that borea bountiful harvest of vegetables each year, potatoes, marrows onionsluscious runner beans and carrots, most of which went to the daugh-ters to feed their ever-hungry families. Their new found lodger madehis contribution by collecting horse manure in his two wheeled hand-cart, horses were used extensively in those days. He made this a dualoperation by collecting the dung on his paper round. He used to watch his grandfather in amazement, eating a kipper andnot leave a single bone on his plate! After a week he realised that Peter,a long haired mongrel off-shoot of a sheep-dog, was sitting between hislegs scoffing the bones head and tail of the kipper. Bill took the dog with him on his paper round for exercise, the dogwas too lazy to walk, he rode most of the way in the barrow but theybuilt up a great bond of affection between them. Every morning his grandFather would put a huge tea spoonful of ep-som salts in his tea to act as a laxative; the second cup would be heav-ily laced with sugar and he would then pour a big saucer-full for thedog which he would lap up noisily. Regularly his grandfather would 30
  • 26. go into the Red Deer pub for his pint of ale then home for his dinner.Often the boy would go across to the off-licence to get him a quart ofale, there were no restrictions on serving beer to children in those days.In the kitchen come scullery stood a triplex type stove that was coal orwood fired with a kettle always on the boil and a big cast iron pot fullof bones making a delicious gravy stock for stews, and in the oven werebaked delicious steak and kidney pies and scrumptious apple pies. It had a red hot grill on which you could toast the stale bread andliberally spread it with dripping, made from the fat off the sundayjoint. With this kind of diet Bill bloomed, except for the odd bout oftonsillitis, treated by Gran by wrapping a sweaty sock round his neck.Then through a rolled newspaper tube Gran would blow vile tastingsulphur powder down Bill’s throat. Antibiotics were not discoveredthen, and most of these remedies were of gypsy origin, but still quiteeffective. An often-used remedy for a chest infection was to smotherthe patient’s chest with camphorated oils, a pungent smelling con-coction. Alternatively plaster Russian tallow on the chest then coverit with brown paper (as previously mentioned, antibiotics were notavailable at this time). Many varied cures and remedies were tried, forear-ache (chew a wad of tobacco add place in the ear – ear-ache was aninsufferable pain). A visit to the dentist was an experience to be avoided, no medievalexecutioner was as brutal as the dentists of the day. It’s small wonderpeople of Bill’s generation were dead scared of the dentist. Bill recallshis Father’s treatment of a loose tooth. His method was to tie one endof a piece of string to the tooth, then tie the other end to the handle ofthe door, which he would slam violently shut. Bill had now settled in his new school known by its new name, PurleyOaks School, it had previously been known as Bynes Road School. 31
  • 27. They were happy days for him and he made many new friends and wasdelighted when he was selected to play for the school soccer team, gonewas the fear of bullying and snide sarcasm. He saw his Mother oncea week when she walked from Upper Norwood to South Croydonpushing a pram with two kids and Brother ‘Tiddler’ walking along sidecrying from the cold. She came to get what ‘goodies’ she could fromhis Granny, a sack of coal dust and logs for the fire, vegetables fromhis grandFather’s allotment, scrag ends of meat, margarine and flour,anything to make a meal. His Gran had a heart as big as a house. HisMum would make the long weary up-hill journey home, oft times inthe pouring rain or freezing snow. Organisations for the protectionof battered wives did not exist in those days, if the police were called,they did nothing, they described it as a domestic incident. His Father’streatment of his kids would have meant certain prison under today’schild abuse act, as would his last headmaster who, by the way was al-legedly caught fiddling the golf club funds – so much for his unctuousmoralising in the school hall. It transpired that he was found guilty ofembezzling the golf club funds and served a long prison sentence. Hisdeparture went unmourned. He was replaced by a much more tolerantheadteacher. In fact, he was the assistant Head of Purley Oaks School.Life back at Rockmount School had changed since the departure ofthe tyrannical old head, and due to the fact Purley Oaks had an ad-vanced standard of work Bill found the work load easier. The boys in view of their Fathers conduct could not understand hisinsistence on their going to Sunday school and making them say gracebefore a meal, it was to them rank hypocrisy, truth to tell there wasnever enough to eat so they were always hungry. It was after their Father’s death that Bill’s younger sister Elsiebrought to Bill’s notice the family bible, and it seems their Father had 32
  • 28. experienced a strict upbringing from his parents, who it seemed wereardent church-goers. Bill and his siblings never knew their paternalgrandparents, and never saw a picture of them. Their Mother was still subject to the old man’s brutal behaviour, yetshe still nursed him when he suffered the severe attacks of emphysema,brought on by a bout of malaria. He would stand on the stairs beneaththe window on a freezing cold night, gasping for breath, and at thesame time eating a vapour rub called ‘vic’, this he ate by the spoon-ful in a vain attempt to clear his bronchial tubes. Linctus type coughmixtures were of no help to the breathing at all. Bill often heard hisMother say ‘The good Lord pays debts without money’. His poor Mother suffered agony from bouts of neuralgia, broughton no doubt by constant worry. Her face swelled up to a hideous size,her devotion was to be marvelled at, and this care was lavished on theold man until the day he died. Bill went to work for a cleaning firm;his wages were nine shillings a week, eight shillings of this went to hisMother. He was not happy with the type of work he was doing, evenafter several changes of employment (he hated factory work), but heenjoyed watching the skill of the plumbers when they dressed the leadto the flat roofs which formed the weathering. He could not afford topay for night school so he purchased a set of plumbing encyclopaediason the ‘never-never’. From these books he taught hirn-self to executethe many and varied tasks in plumbing. It was hard work and he feltfrustrated when things went wrong but he persevered, although manytimes he felt like giving it all up. He acquired a few tools, a blow-lampwas essential, so he took home a length of lead pipe solder and tallowto practice preparing an wiping a joint. The plumber in those days was a much-respected figure, even thegeneral foreman knocked on the door of the plumber’s shop, he was 33
  • 29. the aristocrat of the building trade. His tools were kept spotlessly cleanand highly burnished, his tea was brewed three times a day and his eat-ing utensils were up to the same high standard of cleanliness. His over-alls had to be aired over a paraffin furnace each morning and he had tohave a supply of hot water every night to wash his hands. Time keep-ing was strict, five minutes late meant a quarter of an hour stoppedfrom the pay. Trade Union membership was not open to any one of the rank ofplumbers improver, until after the war, which had taken its full tollof tradesmen. Plumbing practices were a closed shop, only those thathad served an apprenticeship were trained in the arts of the plumbingtrade. The site on which Bill was employed was nearly completed. Thismeant cards and money (this was the sack). It was the practice of themore sadistic foreman to walk the site with a few dole cards stickingout of his pocket, this was a form of a goad, the sack was dreaded. Thecanteen was a leaking shed with a brick fireplace on which tea wasmade. Toilets consisted of an open pit with a wooden pole for a seat. Atale was told of a man seen pulling his coat out of the pit, who whenasked ‘You ain’t going to wear that coat are you?’ Replied ‘No, but megrub’s in me pocket!’ On one site Bill had the job of making the tea forthe men, no canteens were on site at that time, and Bill has to admitthat brewed as it was on a smoky wood fire it tasted vile, and he neverdrunk the stuff himself. At this time Bill had taken lodgings with his Aunt Em. This was ablow to the family finances, but Bill could bear his Fathers brutalityno longer. His Aunt was not a lot better off than his Mum, she too had a largefamily, five boys and two girls and a husband that was a darts fanaticwho kept the lion’s share of the wage packet. 34
  • 30. Then tragedy struck, the town of Croydon was ravaged by typhoidfever outbreak. With the exception of the boy and his Uncle the wholefamily was stricken with this virulent plague and the house had to befumigated every week and placed in quarantine for six weeks. One ofhis Aunt’s twin boys died and another was left crippled from the dread-ful disease. Bill stayed with his Aunt until war was declared againstGermany. One of Bill’s pals during this time was Cocker Smith, he wasa few months younger than Bill and at seventeen years old could notsign up without his mother’s consent, not given because of her fear forhis safety. Bill at eighteen was conscripted for six months war service. Ironically poor Cocker Smith was killed in an air raid on CroydonAirport the bombs hit the factory estate where he was working. Whoknows, had they joined up together he may have survived. His deathhit Bill quite hard, they had enjoyed some good times together in spiteof the hardships they shared. Cocker had an irrepressible sense of hu-mour, tall and good-looking, he had a pleasant singing voice or, as theother fellows would say, ‘he could chant’. Women adored him, and hewas the apple of his Mother’s eye. Bill had a girl friend that was injured in the same air raid, she waslucky, the casualties in that raid were very heavy, and whole factorysites were razed to the ground. Maybe the Germans mistook CroydonAirport for Biggin Hill, a military aerodrome nearby. Croydon wasbombed heavily during WW2 and his Mother spent many hours inthe air raid shelters or, if she couldn’t make it to the shelter, she wouldduck under the table thus earning the nickname ‘Mrs Ducket’ fromthe old man. Always Sister Elsie and Brother Brian were cuddled in herarms, afraid and crying. After his Mother had been bombed out fora second time, Bill came home on leave and experienced the horrorsof the full fury of the bombing attacks of the German Luftwaffe. It is 35
  • 31. true to say that some service men never saw a quarter of the enemyfire as heavy and sustained as that inflicted on the civilian population.Day after day, night after night, without respite, the sky was lit up bythe beams of the searchlights. Added to that was noise of the anti air-craft guns banging away with little success. Not many enemy aircraftwere shot down, the more successful was the RAF fighter planes, butat a heavy cost. To tell the truth Bill was glad to get back to camp, itseemed much safer there. On his journey back to camp, he had to step over the people that wereusing the underground railway as a bomb shelter. Some people madethe tube their second home. They even had parties and sing-songs inthe tube. Sometimes when the old man was half-cut, he would fill hisclay pipe with an evil-smelling black shag, made into a twist like thatsmoked and chewed down the mines by the coal miners. He would tellof his service in what he called German East Africa and of his Africanservant named ‘Steamer’, who was beaten quite regularly, but gave hima dog like devotion. He made his tea, shaved him, washed his laundry,cleaned his brasses and his leather equipment, all for few pence in wag-es and what scraps of food he could find, mainly from the swill bins. He told them tales of cruelties of the Germans in East Africa andhis service as groom to General Jan Smuts, Commander in Chief –German East Africa. His regiment was the 17th 21st lancers, and hekept his skull and cross bones cap badge in his family bible, this Bill’ssister Elsie kept until her death. Another feature that marked out the ‘poor’ was the recipients of thefree milk. Bill never took milk; he hated it and still does to this day.Bill’s Mum told him that he never took to her breast feeding, but wasfed on Nestles tinned milk. This gave the old man a further reason tohate him, and led him to say ‘Breast is best’ What he meant was, it 36
  • 32. was the cheapest! When Bill grew older he marvelled at the number ofnapkins his Mother had to wash. Line after line was hung out to dry.It led the old man to say caustically that his kids could fill two napkinswhile their Mother was washing one. A task Bill hated was turning the handle of the big cast iron mangle,or wringer (as it was sometimes known). Not for his Mum the luxuryof a washing machine or spin drier. Three more tasks had to be done,first was to blacklead the kitchen stove, second to hearth stone the stepof the front door, and third tear up the old newspapers and put thepieces of paper on a string attached to a skewer, this was used as toiletpaper. The super soft luxury of the toilet rolls that the puppy dogs playwith in the television adverts were not for them. Croydon had two faces, the upper-crust area of Croham Hurst,Old Addington and Park Hill, and the poverty traps called Old TownCroydon and Banghole. Both run-down slumlands where unemploy-ment and poverty went hand-in-hand. Coppers walked the streets inpairs, such was the reputation of the people of Princess Road, FosterRoad and Wilford Road. On the street corners dice and cards wereplayed, the kids kept ‘doggo’, and would yell ‘copper,’ at the top oftheir voices as a warning the law was on their way, for this they wouldbe rewarded with a few pence from the kitty. Many times the men’sdole money would be blown on this past-time resulting in many hun-gry stomachs. Fights inevitably broke out and blood was spilled andbones were broken, some times the women would fight alongside theirhusbands, they fought like wild-cats tearing each others hair out by thehandful. Some of the men scraped a living as totters i.e. ‘rag and bone’men, some carried sacks on their backs some trundled hand-carts, themore fortunate had a horse and cart, the same types of characters were 37
  • 33. portrayed in the television series Steptoe and Son. The street book-maker managed to make a good living between horse and dog racing,plus a spot of money lending. They used agents to collect their bets called bookies runners and paidthem commission, maybe one shilling in the pound. A ploy used bythe runners was to buy the mid-day racing paper, place a few poundson the non-runners, their commission was thereby increased. Streetbetting in those days was illegal and those caught were fined or sent toprison, one such runner when cornered by the law stuffed a handful ofbetting slips in his mouth and swallowed them. It did him no good, hewas nicked just the same, and because he had form he went to prison! One Jack the Lad up before the beaks pleaded guilty, the magistratesaid ‘Five pounds or seven days’ replied ‘I’ll take the five pounds yourhonour’ he responded cheekily. War time brought food rationing butin these bleak days poverty imposed a more severe type of rationing,and belt tightening was the order of the day. Bill’s Mother was fre-quently pregnant which resulted in him being kept away from school.Strong as she was during these times, she could not cope with theheavier household chores, such as bringing in the washing from theclothes line, chopping the fire wood, carrying heavy buckets of coaland making the beds. These enforced truancies brought sneers andtaunts from his school-mates and this led to many a fight. No hospitalbeds were made available for working class Mothers, maternity bedswere for the wealthy people. The local midwife (a much over workednurse) did the hard ante-natal and post-natal care. 38
  • 34. ‘PAPER JACK’ A well-known character on the streets of Croydon was a hermit nick- named ‘Paper Jack’ who shunned orthodox dress, instead he wore newspapers to cover his body, except his arms which were always bare. Bill remembers seeing him when he was a boy, he would cover his feet with the thicker type papers used as placards on the newspaper bill boards. It was after some research in Croydon library’s Local Studies that Bill gained a lot more information on the life of the hermit ‘Paper Jack’. His real name was Arthur Ellis Preece, a son of a wealthy estate agent in Biggin Hill, Kent. He was sixty years of age when he died and was married to a girl named Miriam. Sadly it would seem he suffered some kind of a mental breakdown and because of his eccentric ways he became separated from his wife.He was educated at Oxford University and spoke several languages. He saw military service in ww1, where he was reported to be working on codes and ciphers for the War Office. Bill remembers he always walked in the gutter and this almost surely led to the accident that caused his death. He used a long rough wood- en staff. He was struck by a car and died in Croydon General Hospital on January 29th, 1935. He was very much respected by the people of Croydon – he was a harmless, kindly old tramp. Winter or summer his only form of dress was the newspapers, and in deepest winter he would lie over the grille where he gained benefit from the bakers ovens. From time to time people would offer him cast off items of clothing, these be politely refused. The Spartan existence he embraced he would persist with until he died 39
  • 35. ‘DUPPAS HILL KATE’Another character who was well known on the streets of Croydon wasa lady known as ‘Duppas Hill Kate’. She was dubbed this way becauseshe spent a lot of her time on the recreation park at Duppas Hill. At this time Bill was living with his aunt in Drovers Road, Croydonand as the name implies, sheep and cattle drovers held a cattle marketthere. This had a stone water trough with a drinking fountain. In fact,a large public house called The Fountain stood at the end of the road.Quite often Bill would see her in the early morning washing her selfunder the tap in the cold water – winter and summer. She dressed a lit-tle dowdily with an old-fashioned cloche type hat, and a coat that shewore reached down to her ankles, she seemed to be talking to herselfand always had a cigarette in her mouth. She did not get the kind of af-fection that Paper Jack enjoyed, quite the reverse, they mocked her in acruel way. The homeless existence she led took its toll. She was admit-ted into the Queens Road Homes in Croydon, suffering from pneu-monia. It was here she sadly passed away. Some of Bill’s older friendsallege she was on the game. If this was true then the Police treated hervery leniently, for she was never to the best of Bill’s knowledge evercharged with that kind of offence. 40
  • 36. 42
  • 37. FROM MITCHAM ROAD TO MANDALAY To steal a line from the comedian Rob Wilton ‘The day war broke out’, I was walking along Wellesley Road, Croydon, where gangs of workmen were busy filling sandbags with earth.The Sirens began to wail giving every one a taste of their mournful sound. It did not seem like a real war, people seemed uninterested. There was none of the fer- vent passion of ww1. That war saw young men trying to make them- selves look old, and older men dyed their hair to make themselves look young; cripples hid their disabilities; kids barely out of school falsified their age and enlisted. Silly young girls pinned white feathers on any one wearing a civilian suit, sometimes these men were disabled; were victims of shell shock or had lungs ruined by deadly gas attacks. This led to a disabled service mans badge being issued by the British Legion. ww1 was a vicious killing machine that mowed down the flower of the world’s youth. The phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ was an apt description of their leaders. History condemns these architects of death; millions were slaughtered over areas covering a few yards .Every street, every road, every village, every town had had a father, brother, son, uncle or cousin killed in action, yet this fierce patriotism prevailed. Bill was now a man and had received conscription call up, it had been decreed that lads of eighteen should serve eighteen months military service in one of the armed forces. Army, Navy or Airforce. Mitcham Road barracks was the HQ of the 4th Queens Regiment and was used as a recruiting centre, and it stood next to the old Rectory Manor School, by the side of the Croydon Municipal lodging house. This was, in fact, a doss-house for the unfortunate down and outs. A refuge incidentally never used by Paper Jack. Service in the armed forc- es in the climate of high unemployment was the last hope of getting a living, and, unlike today, they were not fussy who they used. Petty thieves were given the option of doing time or joining up. A much 43
  • 38. higher standard is required from our service men now, it seems nowone needs five 0 levels to be an idiot. Having passed his medical, hisfirst choice was the Navy, they were taking no new recruits so he optedfor the Royal Marines. He was told how little difference there was be-tween a Royal Marine and a matelot; that Marines were sea soldiers,manning a gun turret, usually ‘X’, as well as sentry duties aboard ship.February 28, 1940 saw him on Bromley South station, where he meta townie Harry Mills, who was called up in the same group and, untilhis death, served with Bill in 1 Royal Marines. and 42 Royal MarinesCommando. Harry loved the service life and was always polishing hisboots and brasses. So on to Chatham Barracks, expecting the glam-our of the blue uniform and, after training, off to sea on one of HisMajesties big ships. What a shock, when they arrived at Melville Barracks to be told therewere to be no big ships, but they were to serve in an infantry battalion. They watched in awe as the squads drilled, in fact it was said of theMarines, that ‘They were smarter than the guards but not quite so tall’.It was to lead to many hard years, some happy, some sad and to meetsome of the finest men he ever knew. Labelled by the establishmentwith the title of hostilities only (HO’s), Bill always thought this title tobe derogatory and it is still resented by the veterans to this day. The Chatham Adjutant was a Captain Lumsden who cut an impos-ing figure on his horse, dressed in his full blues, nothing escaped hiseagle eye as he watched the drill instructors put their squads throughtheir paces, and the precision drill was faultless. They were drilled un-der a Sergeant Butcher, who instilled in them a squad and corps pridethat would stay with them forever. Once a marine, always a marinegoes the saying. He commanded quite a lot of respect from his squad,and he honed their competitive edge. Bill was a bit of a rebel in those 44
  • 39. days, until his Sergeant told him one day that he would never beat thesystem, he knuckled down then. There was no leave for six weeks, nocoveted blue uniform, no big ships, just six weeks of long days andhard work, drilling and square bashing, and all for the princely sum ofone shilling per day. A tanner (six old pence) went to his Mum as an allotment. Bill couldnot relate to some of the Marine jargon, for example the term forgoing out was called ‘going ashore’! Weren’t they already ashore? Incharge of our barrack room was a long service corporal named Jones.He had the disgusting habit of coming in after a night on the beerand pissing in the boots of the squaddie in the next bunk to him. Hethought this a great laugh; Bill told Jone’sy he was taking liberties withthe boy. Bill then had a word with the young Marine and said to him.In future put your boots under his bed and put his boots under yourbed, that way the Corporal would be urinating in his own boots. Thishe did, that night Jones must have had a fit of conscience because thatnight he pissed in his own boots, so the lad still had wet boots. Billwondered if this is where the Naval expression ‘fill your boots’ comesfrom. Oh well you win some and you lose some. We were to lose thedoubtful leadership qualities of Corporal Jones, he was drafted to seaservice. Harry Mills was in the same squad as Bill and he had the awfulhabit of splitting his words with an expletive, he would say ab-so-effinglutely, and posit-effingly and so on. Bill and Harry were members ofthe Rectory Manor Boys Club before they joined up and Bill foundhim to be a solid and reliable character. In Harry and Bill’s group wereseveral diverse characters, some like Harry were lucky enough to bepaid by their firms and were sent food parcels and fags. Freddie Wellerjoined us wearing an immaculate new suit, his long blond hair hungover his collar, his hair was his pride and joy. Fred was a brilliant pianist 45
  • 40. and had worked in peacetime for the Post Office, whilst his buddy, aColonel Blimp look -a-like named Neville Underwood came from theMidlands. He was forever moaning, but was amusing when he put onhis irate Blimp act. Six am, reveille sounded off and the keener sortshopped out of what served as beds, but were in fact palliasses filledwith straw, and made their way to the ablutions, which was a poshname for the wash place, then to breakfast. Most of the lads ate heart-ily but the more fastidious left their food, this was a harvest to the lessfussy and they scoffed what was known as ‘gash’! In civvy street Bill was always hungry and cold, but in the service withwarm clothes and good boots that kept his feet dry, and three squaremeals a day (and he did not mean oxo), this was a different world. Oncompletion of training at Melville Barracks the Brigade was posted toBisley for rifle training, in the bitter cold March weather under canvas. They were housed in a tented city, and slept twelve to a tent, feet to-wards the pole and this was to be their quarters for the next six weeks,There were no luxuries like hot water for washing and shaving (someused their hot tea for this purpose) the tea was not worth drinkinganyway. The officers flunkies always managed to get hot water, Billsuspects this came from the cookhouse. Whilst at Bisley there wereseveral desertions and one lad committed suicide. Life was rough butit toughened the lads up and stood them in good stead when theywere on active service in the future. The lads were not sorry to seethe back of Bisley and its austere way of life. The pay, after Bill hadgiven his Mother half his measly seven shillings per week, did not govery far, not enough to buy his beer and fags, or the odd cup of teaand a bun. Wildman Lushington, Commanding Officer of 1RM hadas his adjutant at this time Captain (now Major General (ret), TitchHoughton who was unfortunately captured during the raid on Dieppe. 46
  • 41. His predecessor as adjutant was Evelyn Waugh, the romantic novelistwho had served as ‘D’ Company Commander. Bill’s CO was CaptainDigby Bell who wore a monocle and was a dead ringer for Cardew thecad of television fame. He was a complete professional Royal Marineofficer and a great lecturer. He had a fictional Marine ‘Bloggs’ whohe used as a role model. ‘Bloggs’ would not stand up on the skyline,would not smoke at night, he could map read, was competent with acompass, and was able to handle himself without supervision. In otherwords, a modern day Marine. Late in 1940 the Battalion was sent toLooe in Cornwall as an anti invasion force. They stood to at dawn and again at dusk each day with not enoughammo to go round. Firepower was non-existent, and had Jerry attackedthey would not have stood a dogs chance. In ‘C’ Company there werethree Sergeants, all long service Marines. 13 Platoon Herbie Addison;14 Platoon Bill Smith; and 15 Platoon Sgt Ginger Burton. They allsported luxuriant waxed moustaches and each had an imaginary dogthat they exercised before parade. They didn’t have to be barmy to be amarine but it must have helped. Addison was an ex-copper and between them they fostered a friendlyInter platoon rivalry. When they went on the dreary route marchesthey sang songs, which were a bit of a morale lifter. Some songs werefunny, some rude which caused Sgt Smith to yell out an admonitory‘Shit in it you lot’ Included in this training was practice beach assaultsand rock climbing, to prepare for roles they may have to under takewhen they were on active service. Then they travelled to Wales whereit never seemed to stop raining. In Haverford West beach landingswere practiced from ships cutters; then on to Aberystwyth Llandeilo,Lampeter and Llanelli and we were treated like kings. ‘Up’ homers were there in plenty, this meant being invited to peoples 47
  • 42. homes for a meal and sometimes a chance to sleep in a warm bed, andif you were lucky, get your leg over as well. The top brass were looking for a role the 102 Brigade could play, whowere the only fully mobile Brigade in Britain at that time. The Brigadewas made up of numbers 1-2-3-and 5 RM Battalions, with a unit of theArgyll and Sutherland Highlanders, they were at peak fitness; ready,willing and able. Their chance finally came, they were ordered to Liverpool docks,which was now under sustained vicious attacks from the Jerry dive-bombers. They lay in dock taking victuals and troops on board, mean-while the bombers continued to lay the City to waste. One of Bill’smates Freddie Whiteman met and married his wife in the five days theship lay in dock, after a whirlwind courtship. From Liverpool they set sail to take part in Operation Menace. Theirmission was to land near the Vichy French garrison of Dakar in WestAfrica in an attempt to bring them into the war on our side. On theway they called into Gibraltar, then on to Freetown capital of SierraLeone, given the name very aptly ‘the white man’s graveyard’. Herethey carried out a programme of acclimatisation. Like the mad dogs of English men from Noel Cowards famous songthey were taken on a twelve-mile route march, where the heat and thethirst were unbearable. They could not remember being so thirsty. Theblazing sun burned through their shirts, this caused the heavy webbingequipment to rub their backs raw until they bled, and in the shipscutters on the way back aboard, thirst crazed they were scooping upthe water and drinking it. Those of fair skin were burned raw, a damnfool exercise inflicted on men who had no time to get used to tropicconditions. It was quite a while before the afflicted were able to weartheir webbing equipment. Zero hour approached but as they were 48
  • 43. about to go into the attack the mission was aborted. The Vichyites hadscuttled some of their ships, among them the battle wagon Richilieauand had point blank refused to change sides. De Gaulle did not wantFrenchmen fighting Frenchmen even though they were German lovinglackeys of Marshal Petain, so the convoy set out for home. During thevoyage home they watched a show put on by the ships EntertainmentsOfficer Lt. Lloyd and his big show was entitled ‘It couldn’t be worsethan Ensa’, but in truth it was a bloody sight worse. The acrynommeant that it was the official body to entertain the troops. Somethinglike the TV series ‘It ain’t half hot Mum’. At least aboard ship theyhad decent grub, and a ration of the odd bottle of beer. Watches werelimited to submarine look out, and they did see the flying fishes play.With plenty of fags and chocolate, sun bathing on the upper deck lifewasn’t so bad, plus the odd game of nap and solo to pass away the time.They did not go a lot on the compulsory physical training however. During the voyage home Bill had the job of prisoner escort during aships court martial under Major ‘Titch’ Houghton RM. Two marineswere alleged to have carried out an act of gross indecency in a ham-mock. They had been caught in a compromising position by a fear-some twenty-stone provost Sergeant Darby Allen, and in his evidencehe left little to the imagination and was crude to the point of obscenity.They were found guilty and were placed in prison when we reached theRock of Gibraltar. Bill still says to this day, that had the accused beenrepresented by a brief of the Perry Mason caliber, they would have gotaway with it because nobody, but nobody, can commit a sexual act ina hammock and to do so is a physical impossibility. They landed inGourock in Scotland and Bill can still recall the beauty of those greenhills, and wherever he has travelled he has never seen grass so green.1RM moved on to Paisley and into a billet in Glebe Street School, 49
  • 44. Renfrew. Here the statistics said there were nine women to every man,so the lads did not go short of company. Freddie Whiteman and Billgot the cooks of the mess number, and became mess hands and diningroom attendants. Their duties included cleaning the hall and dish-ing out the grub. Fred came from the East End of London, and wasbuilt like a tank, a very proficient boxer with a punch that could fell amule, were he a young man today he could have been a title contender.Having access to the school boiler meant we could draw off massesof hot water and with lashings of soap we made our mess tables andfloors gleaming white, and we reserved our best kitchen utensils forthe Colonel’s rounds. On the day of his inspection Colonel WildmanLushington was accompanied by Captain Digby Bellon on his rounds,Fred and Bill were caught in their fatigues, sweaty and unshaven, butcould not get away in time. The CO congratulated Digby Bell on the‘C’ Company mess and said, in a disdainful way, ‘Digby, I have justseen the cleanest mess in the whole of my time in the Royal Marines,and the two dirtiest Marines to go with it’! Captain Bell was so pleasedhe gave ‘C’ Company a day’s make and mend, i.e a day off. The Brigade was sent up north to Scapa Flow, it was here a GermanU boat sank the Royal Oak with a heavy loss of life, a very audaciousattack which earned the U boat skipper an iron cross and became anational hero. They went on to Inverary to board HMT Ettrick, a landing craft ves-sel to practice more landings and beach assaults, no landing craft wereavailable so they had to use ships cutters. The draught of these boatswas eight feet so the water came over their heads when they went overthe side and that water was icy cold. It was here Bill endured some ofthe bitterest cold in his life, and contributed to the sickness in his lungs. They went home on leave to Croydon, which by now was in a sorry 50
  • 45. state, it had been ravaged by the heavy bombing. Bill’s Mother hadbeen made homeless twice, but he chose not to stay with his Mother.He had a girl friend named May, and she greeted him with a hungrypassion he found overwhelming. In truth Bill did not love her, andfound her appetite for sex a bit too much for him. May visited Billon a day trip when he was stationed at Bisley and was hurt trying toshoulder arms with his rifle, this cost her two front teeth. At the end ofhis leave he explained to her that there was no future in their relation-ship, because of the uncertainty in his fate in the war. In fact May wasinjured in the same air raid that Cocker Smith was killed in. After a spell in the Exmoor region near Dalditch Common, they car-ried out exercises consisting of long gruelling route marches. Spendingbitterly cold nights in bivouac, with only a flimsy oilskin gas cape forprotection and no other means of keeping warm. Fires were not al-lowed as they were working under simulated active service conditions,in fact Bill recalls brass monkeys balls were frozen. To those who wereused to a more cosy way of life it became very difficult, even the ladssuch as miners and building trade workers found the going tough.Those that were too fussy to wear the heavy thick woollen vests hadcause to regret it. The food was cooked in the daytime on wood fires,and served in an aluminium mess tin in two halves and if it was calledvile it was paying it a compliment. It was here Bill first heard thatuncomplimentary phrase, ‘who called the cook a prat?’ and the reply,‘who called the prat a cook?’ The man in charge of the cooking wasa Sergeant ‘Slosh’ Clayson who, with the aid of several trainee cooks,had volunteered in order to get out of picket guard duties and stunts.‘Slosh’ did his best but to tell the truth he was the only man Bill knewthat could burn water. The lads had him near to tears at times, buttruth to tell the conditions he worked under were abysmal. 51
  • 46. The Battalion then was posted to Scotland where Bill sustained in-juries to both knees whilst boxing; this in the Marines was licensedmayhem. It seems a cartilage was torn in both knees, after diagno-sis and treatment in Mearnskirk Hospital in Glasgow, Bill was trans-ferred to Kingseat Royal Naval hospital in Aberdeen where he under-went surgery on both knees – this turned out to be very painful. Thewife of a fellow patient that bore three children had under gone thecartilage operation said rather than go through that again she wouldtake chidbirth every time. Bill unfortunately did not have that choice.Eventually he was discharged and posted to Dalditch Camp where hewas given the job of marker on the firing range. These were very harshwintery conditions. The long service Corporal in charge of the riflerange had lodgings in the village, and spent his evenings in the localpub. Bill was left in the freezing cold hut, with just an old gramophonefor company. There were just two records, one by Cab Calloway ‘There’s a Cabin inthe Cotton’ and the other, a real oldie from the Boer War called ‘Breakthe news to Mother’. Bill learned the lyrics of these songs by heart, andstill knows them to this day. After six months of this Spartan existenceBill was posted to the newly created 7th RM Battalion in Dalditch.This was a nissen hutted encampment where the Commanding Officerwas a slightly eccentric Lt Col ‘Dolly’ Dewhurst. He was reputedly ofthe family butcher business. He sported a huge bristly Moustache androde a big white horse. One day on CO’s rounds, they had their kitslaid out for inspection in a hangar they used for a drill shed. Whenthe CO saw the kit layouts were wrong, he rode up on his horse andsent them flying with a blow from his stick snarling ‘rubbish! rubbish!’He liked Bill’s layout, he did it to 1RM standards. ‘Dolly’ was chuffedwith the socks he had darned; Bill thought he was going to ask him to 52
  • 47. darn his socks. His adjutant was a stiff-necked, ram-rod-backed MajorWaiters, and it was he that took command of the battalion when Dollywas ruled to be too old for combat duties in the Middle East. Whilstthe unit was out on Woodbury Down in Exmoor on an exercise forfour days in quite wintry conditions Bill made up his mind to re-quest a draft back to 1RM. He was coming off watch and went toshake his relief and was amazed to find only his platoon Sergeant in histrench. Everyone had taken it on their toes back to camp saying ‘It’stoo bloody cold out there’ When he appeared before Dolly to approvehis request for a transfer he was irate, because he considered Bill to beNCO material, contrary to his way of thinking. He likened Bill to arat leaving a sinking ship; the buzz was that the Battalion was goingover seas. Bill saw it in a different way, if they could not stand to beout in the cold over night, how would they perform in the real thing?In fact 7RM performed valiantly and took a hiding in the Middle Eastand won honours. Bill’s request was granted and he was drafted backto 1RM where they were stationed at Hursley near Winchester. He wasmarched in before the then Company Commander Major Tweedy,who promptly read him the riot act. It seems Bill had acquired a repu-tation. It was here for the first time Bill met Buddy Homan, a manwith a mind like a computer and possessing a prolific memory. 53
  • 48. BUDDY HOMAN Buddy Homan had to be seen and heard to be believed. Six foot Four in his socks, solid muscle and you could tell by his face he had been in the boxing game. In the old days they used to say he had photographic memory, this description did not do him justice. He had in truth a mind like a computer. He could name every military, naval and air force commander on the Allied Forces, and the same with the enemy, The number of men each army had, their overwheming strength in numbers made the al- lies look puny by comparison. When the blitzkrieg was so successfully used by the German High Command it1 WW2 in France and the Lowlands they were given the credit for it’s sweeping success. Not so said Buddy, that method of tank war fare was first performed on Salisbury Plain was expounded by a British General Le Quesley Martell, also there was the German tank expert General Heinz Guderian, and he was the man that master minded the tank warfare known as Blitzkrieg. Also in attendance was a young French Colonel, one Charles De Gaulle. The TV script of the documentary watched by Bill in the year 2003 could have been written by Buddy himself, word for word. He was also a keen lover of the classical music and opera. He could recite the story of any known composer’s work and carried in his mind a vast and clinically accurate library of facts and figures. Buddy told Bill that he had enlisted in the Royal Marines before the war and had been granted compassionate release when his dad had died from T.B. better known in those days as consumption. According to Buddy, his father had been a superbly fit man, an expert in the sport of wrestling and was a col- league and admirer of the famous Russian wrestler Hackensmidt. Buddy was well versed in unarmed combat and to his delight was 54
  • 49. asked by one of the instructors known as ‘the body beautiful’ (not apopular figure among the troops) to disarm him- the instructor foundhimself flat on his back, without his knife. An extremely accomplished boxer, he would have been a title con-tender had he turned Professional. He told Bill a story in later years, ofhim watching the pro’s spar at a gym near the Essex Rd, Islington. Theman in the ring had run out of sparring partners so Buddy offered togo a few rounds with him. Whereupon his trainer said grudgingly ‘allright then just two rounds’. Buddy went five rounds and hardly brokesweat. An onlooker, a big man carrying a towel and shorts under hisarm said, in an aggrieved way, ‘Bleeding good ain’t it? Bloody ‘amerch-ers’ taking the bread and butter out of our mouves!’ That man saidBuddy was the old cockney actor Arthur Mullard, our old mate ‘arfur’ It is here Bill would like to tell the story of Marine Alexander, as toldto him by his old mate Les Wood. The story begins during a visit bythe First Lord of the Admiralty A.V.Alexander when he was doing hisround of inspection. Marine Alexander was Captain of the heads (hecleaned the toilets). The First Lord stopped and Marine Alexander said to him ‘Here Guv,I’ve got the same name as you’ The First Lord gave a grin and congratu-lated him on the cleanliness of his toilets and went on his way. At thispoint a young subaltern on the end of the entourage stayed behind andsaid to Alexander, ‘there is dust up there on those lampshades’, ‘I knowguv,’ said Alexander, ‘but they don’t shit up there do they?’ Major Frank Taylor a great man with the women, replaced MajorTweedy, but still a fine Marine officer. We were ordered to travel south,to Sway in Bournemouth where we were told we were to become 42Commando. Many were excluded because of their age and physicalshortcomings. Most of us were overwhelmed by what was seen by the 55
  • 50. glamour of the green beret. It was while we were in Sway in the New Forest that they saw the firstgrim realities of war, a yankee liberator had crash landed in the NewForest; the pilot was still sat in his cockpit where he was burned to acinder; his teeth bared in a snarl of agonised pain, it was gruesome.Another poor sod, probably a crewman, had his entrails strung highup in the treetops. Half the crew had bailed out, the pilot was a verybrave man, he had stayed with his aircraft to steer it away from the citycentre. His courageous action saved countless lives that day. The commandos were on duty, presumably to stop the ghoulishsouvenir hunters from looting. Later they were called to the heavilybombed town, to a hotel called the Queen’s that had been reduced toa heap of rubble. They had the task of digging through the devastatedruins to find the bodies, they made a weird sight, completely immersedin the tons of dust and concrete, sitting like wax-works clothed in theirdress suits and evening gowns, holding their unbroken wine glasses intheir hands. After the war, Bill read that Keith Miller the famous Aussiecricketer had stayed in that hotel at that time he must have had a luckyescape. By now all our roles had been settled, many went to landingcraft duties. Sergeant Major Bill Dennis took a commission and com-manded a landing craft unit on active service in Europe. Many of thelads were to die at Walcheren and the second front. Because of ournew role we had to take the long train journey to Achnacarry near FortWilliam in Scotland for our official commando training. We arrived bytrain at Spean Bridge railway station and in full marching order we setfor the camp and the rigours that lay ahead. Such is the severity of thelandscape at Achnacarry that almost sixty men lost their lives trainingthere, and it is no longer used by modern day Marines. We found theCamp well organised and the instructors, who were Army personnel, 56
  • 51. very efficient, they had a keen sense of rather excitable rivalry andmade every effort to urge the unit they were training to complete thefastest speed march of 7miles, 12 miles. and 30 miles cat crawling acrossa fast flowing river on a rope. Where if you lost your hold you crashdown to the fearsome rocks below. When this happened the team instructor would offer odds on howmany times the poor sod would bounce on his way down. Then thedreaded slide of death, here you threw a looped toggle rope over athicker rope that was fixed to the tower of the castle wall, it thenspanned the fast running river, and was tied to a tree. A good heartyspit on the toggle rope helped lubricate the system, because if there wasnot enough momentum on the slide, you went in the hoggin. A great spirit existed and the stronger ones assisted those who wereflagging or perhaps had blisters, maybe muscle cramp or were tired.The carrying of heavy weapons such as machine guns or mortars wasshared during these marches and on completion those camp gates werea sight for sore eyes not to mention sore feet. It was not for the skirlof the bagpipes from the drum and pipe band to which, knackered asthey were, they had to march to attention when entering the camp, butbecause of the immense pride we felt we remembered the corps saying‘bullshit baffles brains’ The story was told of an American Ranger whowas coming to the end of a seven mile speed march receive the order‘eyes left to the sentry at the gate. Several commands rattled out. ‘eyesright eyes left’ said the dimunitive black yank quite out of breath ‘eyesleft eyes right – I’se knackered ! By the way, a drum and fife band hadbeen formed in I RM by Captain Doc Rogers and it became a showpiece in 42 RM Cdo. One fact comes to mind from this period and that was the threemock graves just inside the gates. On the mock tombstones were the 57
  • 52. words ‘this man stood on the sky-line.’ Another was ‘this man fired hismortar under a tree, don’t make the same mistake’, these were lessonswere to be remembered, or ‘This man stood up on the sky line and hadhis balls blown off.’ We were, after passing out and winning our green berets, posted toHerne Bay in Kent and allotted civvy billets, where we were treatedlike royalty. Training carried on, learning map and compass reading.Another feature was using the pier where a section had been blownup as an anti-invasion precaution. This involved spanning the gap inthe pier with a heavy rope. Over the rope we practiced the cat crawl.Below the sea thrashed against the rocky base of the pier, hard luck tothe poor sod that lost his grip and fell in, and some did! To fall whenthe tide was in meant a soaking; if the tide was out it meant a brokenbone or two. It was accepted that the first into a new camp grabbed thebest-looking NAAFI girl, not only for company, but to ensure a goodsupply of fags and chocolate. Bill on this occasion missed out, he hadbeen detailed for rear guard at the last camp, consequently all the goodlooking birds were spoken for, and all Bill could get was Maggie, and ifyou said she was bloody ugly it was an under statement, so ugly he darenot go out with her in day light, but she did keep Bill well suppliedwith the goods and crumpet. After a spot of leave they had orders tomove on to Scotland, and lining the road out of camp were the wivesand sweethearts of the commandos, among them sobbing and wavingfrantically with tears running onto her tear stained moustache thatcovered her hair lip was Maggie, this to the derisory hoots from Bill’spals. It took him a long time to live that down still he had the satisfac-tion of having been well supplied in fags and comforts and, what thehell, she was alright in the dark! All leave over, they boarded a train for Pembroke Docks. Bill recalls 58
  • 53. Charlie Radley pointing out his house as the train roared past BromleySouth station, he was fated never to see it again. Charlie was a regu-lar marine who came from ship duties, and hated the rigours of theBrigade work. This type of routine seemed to come hard to the sea serv-ice marines, this attitude was apparent in Charlie who always seemedmorose, his favourite saying was ‘roll on death lets go to bed with theangels’, somewhat irreverent Bill thought. He caused a laugh when hesang a parody of the funeral service. It went something like this: ‘Oh death where is thy sting a ling a ling Or grave thy victory For the bells of hell went ting a ling a ling For you but not for me’ He did not have a very good singing voice but he sang with feeling.Part right, these words were prophetic, because the bells sure enoughrang for Charlie, he died a hero’s death on Hill 170 along with manyothers. On arrival at Pembroke Docks they boarded HMT Ranchi .Itwas now 1943. Bill recalls they were half way across the Med when wewere attacked by German dive bombers, we were playing cards at thetime when the bomb struck us up for guard, it went down throughthe foxhole and out of a port hole. Two of the ships crew were killedby flying shrapnel and debris. It was weird, for three days and nightsthe sharks had followed our ship before it was bombed and they hadsingled our ship out of the whole convoy, yet after the dead had beenburied at sea the sharks left us. We arrived in Alexandria harbour toawait repairs to the ship. We were encamped in a stinking sand blastedhole called Sidi Bish, and it was from here the bone shaker trams raninto the centre of Alexandria, one Arab tram driver, who seemed to be 59
  • 54. perpetually on duty sounded off his tiny horn, calling out Sidi Bish!Sidi Bish! In a high pitched voice. The two most popular places in Alex were the Fleet Club, noted forits beer and grub, and the Rue de la Sistere (Sister Street), a street ofbrothels organised by the naval and military authorities. Montgomerywhen he became Commander in Chief put a block on these placesof ill repute, which were highly popular with the service personneland this action did not meet with their approval. Like the heads theseplaces were labelled, Officers, SNCO’s and other ranks – now we hadclass distinction for crumpet and crapping! It was our first experienceof eastern khazies (toilets to you). They consisted of two earthenwarebowls set in the floor with two huge foot prints either side. We soonfound out especially if you had ‘gyppo tummy’, that it was better totake off your braces, better still, if you had time to take your trousersoff altogether. Quite some time was spent on exercises and route marches, and wefound it hard going in the desert sands, gruelling in truth, you tookone step forward and two back, the sand was in our weapons, filteredinto our boots, it was then we realised the terrible conditions our com-rades in the Eighth Army fought under. The temperature were wellover one hundred fahrenheit in the shade, but the nights were bitterlycold. It was strange seeing how hard-pressed the Allied forces were,that no role could be found for the 3rd Commando Brigade. Repairsto HMT Ranchi could not be completed so we were transferred toanother troop ship named HMT Cythia, in which we headed forBombay, where we did see the flying fishes play. We were dumped in aplace called Kedgowan, near Poona, now renamed and spelt with a U. Once again, like mad dogs and English men, we were drilled in theheat of the mid day sun, and apart from that we had eaten a lunch of 60
  • 55. dog sired goat meat, and nearly every one went down with some formof food poisoning All the fit men were mustered for guard and picketduties, so I said to my oppo Buddy, ‘go down or we will be lumberedwith guard duties.’ This we did and round came the orderlies with jal-lop and hot sweet tea (jallop) was medicine. After they had gone I saidto Buddy. ‘You can stop moaning now they have gone.’ He replied, ‘Iknow you bloody fool; I really have got it now!’ This was one cookingcock up that Slosh Clayson, our cook could not be blamed for. Soon after we departed Poona for a place called Belgaum. Here weengaged in more jungle training. It was here Harry Mills and Bill builtan enormous charpoy out of bamboo trees which grew in abundancethere. It was so high we could sit under it and shelter from the heat of theblazing sun and the torrential monsoon rains. It was here too that theygained some relief from the dreadful prickly heat, that caused theirbodies to erupt in white blisters and an agonising itch, Amazingly theblisters and itching stopped when they stood naked in the pouringmonsoon rain. After a period of intensive jungle training, there fol-lowed a gruelling four day train ride on a rickety old train to Ceylon (now of course Sri Lanka). There were more natives riding on the roofand clinging to the sides of the train getting a freebie ride than therewere sitting inside. The Commando arrived in Trincomalee where theclimate was beautiful, and those lucky sods that were stationed therestill were awarded the Burma Star. Quite a number of the Royal Navy far eastern fleet was riding at an-chor in the harbour, a very impressive sight. They were no doubt soonto be on their way to support the projected landings on the Japaneseheld territories by what surely must have been spear headed by the 3rdCommando Brigade. 61
  • 56. Meantime the Australians were fighting fiercely to kick the japs out ofNew Guinea. At the same time the yanks were being bitterly resistedon Okinawa, here too both sides lost thousands of men in some of thebitterest fighting of the war. Just a taste of the opposition the British forces could expect. The harbour was chocka-block with warships of the Royal Navy. It was here Bill said goodbye to Monty, a monkey he had bought in India knowing they were soon to go into action. Bill often wondered how he fared going into a jungle life for he had been born in cap- tivity. He was nearly a goner when the Commando were shunted into a rail- way siding, where a vast monkey colony were treated as some kind of god wor- ship. It was as if they had the freedom of the township. They were allowed to The Author roam at will. Entering their homes andtaking any foodstuff they could. Monty escaped from the collar hewore around his hips and recklessly ventured into the heart of thecolony. A she monkey promptly cocked her bum in an inviting fashionoffering Monty free sex. He chunterred with joy as he climbed aboardthe amourous female. Poor old chap never knew what hit him, he wasgrabbed brutally away from his ‘oats’ by huge dog monkey, who sankhis fangs into poor old Monty’s neck, nearly decapitating him, andthen threw him into the air. Bill will never know if the monkeys wouldhave attacked him, but he grabbed hold of Monty and ran. Monty wasin a sorry state and must have been near deaths door. He surely would 62
  • 57. have died but for the ministrations of Corporal Herbie Spencer oursick bay taffy from the RAMC. He administered a daily shot of mor-phine, and dressed his wound with a sulphonomide powder. Bill knewMonty would have problems in the wild, but all in all it was the onlyway out of a difficult problem. From here they returned to Maungdaw and into action. Major FrankTaylor picked Sgt Major Bert Walsh, Buddy Homan, Vince Cutting,George Fradd his flunkey, and Bill for patrol duties behind the Japaneselines. They took no firearms just knives, and no watches. They told hetime by the stars. That night when Bill estimated his hour watch was up, he shook theSgt Major to relieve him and he said that was the shortest hour he hadever known, He reckoned by his way of keeping time there were 48hours in a day. They came back empty handed. CSM Bert Walsh was asquad mate and old friend of Bill’s and was a very brave man to boot.He was awarded a DCM on Hill 170. Bert had an ornate lion tattooedon his chest of which he was very proud. During one action he washit in his chest by a jap grenade, he then charged at the japs with astring of grenades, with drawing the pins and hurling them at the japsas fast as he could yelling at the top of his voice. ‘you bastards lookwhat you’ve done to my lion!’ In his broadest taffy accent. Anotheroccasion, out on patrol we set up an observation point on a jap villageand watched them getting drunk on saki rice wine. The drunken japswere only an arms length away; in hindsight Bill thought they knewwe were there. Our patrol reported in and the next day No 1 Cdo sentout a bigger patrol and engaged them in the village. Now is the appropriate time to tell my mate Harry Mills’s story. Onenight we were under strict silent routine and had string tied to the wristof the watch-keeper in the next trench which was pulled when it was 63
  • 58. time to change watches. A marine from X Troop, Major Frank Taylor’sflunkey, panicked during his watch and a grenade was thrown. It rolledinto the trench occupied by Harry Mills, Bert Rosser our troop cookand Alf Spurr. Harry and Bert lay on either side of Alf Spurr and whenthe grenade went off. Harry lost both of his legs. Bert Rosser one legand miraculously Alf Spurr got out without a scratch. Doc Rogers andCorporal Herbie Spencer RAMC worked hard all through the nightunder screened tilley lamps to save them but to no avail. They bothdied in a welter of blood, and it was a long time before Bill forgottheir screams of agony. Next morning in the pissing monsoon rain,Sgt Major Walsh, Buddy Homan, Vince Cutting and Bill formed theburial party. Bill felt sick, they had no ropes to lower the bodies andthey fell into the water logged trench like sacks of potatoes, whilst aCatholic priest gabbled out what was meant to be the burial service inlatin. Bill still says to this day, that had we a hospital unit like the yankshad in Korea called MASH, their lives would have been saved and agood many more like them. The first thing to be done when in actionwas to dig a trench. This was done with an entrenching tool and in therocky terrain this was a totally inadequate tool, so in fact Alf had morethan luck. What happened to him was a bloody miracle. One personwho brightened up our rain soddened lives was singer Patricia Burke,daughter of the famous actress Marie Burke. RQMS Bill Dowse ran aCommando sods opera and was aided by a very good pianist namedFreddie Weller. Bill Dowse had a sketch that he performed in the early days of 1 RMentitled ‘Napoleon crossing the alps in a small boat.’ All the original1RM lads used to say the words with him like the Lords Prayer Hewould come on stage with his bush hat worn side on, wearing a waterproof cape over his shoulders saying, ‘curse Wellington, curse Blücher 64
  • 59. and the arsenal last week for letting me down on me four aways’. Thenthrowing pieces of torn up paper on the floor he would say (after plac-ing a piece of paper on the ground) he would bend down to pick it upsaying ‘what’s this I see, a letter in the snow. It must have come by car-rier pigeon, then wiping his eye said ‘it did, it must be from Josephine’.She writes ‘Dear Nappy, I am in bed withtonsilitis. Bah! those Italians again!’ BillDowse did a great job and I know he gaveour boys a lot of entertainment. PatriciaBurke sang a song ‘lust my Bill’ fromShowboat, among hoots Bill was pushedup on the stage whilst she sang to him. She kissed Bill on the neck and shoul-ders, and her lipstick was still therethree days later. Bill vowed never to bathagain, of course he did, he bathed everyChristmas, whether he needed it or not.Patricia was a fine lady and she handledthe vile conditions like the trouper shewas. They went on to the Island of Akyabwhere they met no opposition. BuddyHoman carried the flame thrower andBill was his number two, from there theyboarded HMS Indian sloop Narbarda,They supplied the shell bombardment Patricia Burke as Cinderella atonto the beach-head for us. Most of the the London Colliseum in 1939time their gunnery was so poor theymissed it. We had a Colonel Blimp look a like character called Nevillewho was not the bravest of the brave and when the Sloop’s gun-fire fell 65
  • 60. short he cried, ‘are they our shells? To which Bill replied. ‘if they don’tlift their sights we’ll have that bloody pagoda up our arses. He calledBill a bloody fat little bastard.’ Bill resented the fat part then sang hima few lines of a war-time hit song. ‘By an old Pagoda it happened inMandalay’. He swore again, it was here Glynn Morgan, a Taffy lost hisleft foot. Famed for his power in front of the goal, he was good enoughto play pro football. Bill recalls seeing a rifle and bayonet stuck in the rocks, Eddie Carlisledied aged 19 years, said the note in his helmet! A lovely fellow andanother good footballer always represented the 3rdCdo Brigade. FredJolly, whom Bill joined up with and was in his squad at Chatham,stopped a bullet in his jaw, and he had to endure many painful plasticsurgery operations. Major Frank Taylor and his flunkey George Fraddwere also wounded there. Before this action, our Section CommanderLt Bud Kater had been seconded to 44 RM Cdo and with him wentmy old mate Vince Cutting to act as his flunkey. They went through avery rough time on this mission, and Bud and Vince was lucky to sur-vive. Meanwhile 44 Cdo were landed on another part of the beach andhad to wade ashore in swampy mud under heavy gunfire to reach theshore. All this occurred on the Island of Myebon where the japs foughttenaciously to hold their ground was very rocky and in the open terrainthere was little or no cover. On top of the hill was a small pagoda thathoused a Buddhist Temple, The japs still set up machine guns whichinflicted heavy casualties on the marines. Many of the enemy commit-ted suicide rather than surrender. If the marines were foolish enough toturn the bodies over they would be met by an exploding hand grenade.Some of the prisoners were infected by gangrene, and the smell wasawful. The Indian Sloop Narbarda, who supplied the shell-fire on a hitand miss basis on Myebon then transported us back to Akyab. 66
  • 61. So much has been written about Hill 170, but most of it wrong, Billwonders if these authors were ever there. Lt Col Hartley Dale had now taken command of 42 Cdo and led histroops in the assault on Hill 170, and 14 section had a new leader calledLt Nobby Hall, fresh out from England he was a bit overawed by hisnew command, but he was very much liked by his section and provedlater to be a very brave man. With hindsight, I find it incredible thatthe attack on Hill 170 was allowed to go ahead. There was no real landor sea based artillery support available, nor was saturation air bombingused. Bill does not recall any tanks being used in the operation. Heremembers seeing the burnt out shell of a Sherman tank at the foot ofthe hill. This had been put out of action by jap kami-kazi engineers,who were the forerunners in the art of suicide bombing. The japs hadbeen in control of the Hill for over 3 years and had it criss-crossedand zeroed in with heavy mortars and machine guns, so obvious toBill it made him wonder how any one survived. If anyone deserved a 67
  • 62. Victoria Cross that day Lt Hall did, for his bravery leading, what Billbelieved to be the last bayonet charge of the war in the Far East. Theycould see the japs talking to some turbanned Sikhs and thought the15th Indian Division had captured them, but they were the so calledIndian freedom fighters and were on the jap side. Marine Badger Ellis who was a great mimic, yelled ‘Look at the littleyellow bastards (a sure case of racism in present days standards) there’s‘fousands’ of them’. He gave a shriek and ran full pelt up the hill. WhenBill reached him he had a small hole in his chest, but in his back a holebig enough to put his fist in. It may have been a durn dum bullet. Everybody thought it was all over. In fact Lt Hiram Potts and SgtGinger Budd had gone down to the beach-head to bring the advanceparty of the 15th Indian Infantry division to relieve us when the mainassault was renewed with intense ferocity. Waves of japs came stormingat the commandos and with it a fierce barrage of mortar fire. Hiram andGinger rushed back as fast as they could. Hiram was wounded straightaway. Corporal Jimmy Bent was left in charge of the heroic section 13.The whole section perished, Charlie Radley. Ronnie Philpott, Lofty‘Casual Bateman’ as they tore the red hot barrels from their bren guns.The only one left alive was Johnny Fawdry. The skin was burnt fromtheir hands and fingers from changing the red hot barrels of their brenguns under the constant firing – medals for their bravery, there werenone. It was near this sector that Lt Nobby Hall, Buddy Homan andBill along with others formed up to make our bayonet charge, Nobbywas surrounded by japs, when he fell it was said he had enough leadin his body to start a scrap-yard. In later years we found that Buddiesversion of Lt Hall’s demise differered from mine. In a letter writtento Sgt Ginger Budd, he wrote. ‘Nobby was bayoneted to death,’ Billcalled it a letter from the grave. Bill’s version is this. Buddy had been 68
  • 63. severely wounded in his chest and fell to the ground bleeding heavily,and must have passed out. Five or more japs advanced on us with theirbanzai cries, being armed with semi automatic yankee garand rifleswe shot three of the japs in quick succession. Lt. Hall shot three morewith his revolver. When that was emptied he picked up Buddie’s auto-matic rifle and began firing with that, Bill then went to ground to lookat Buddy and to take up a defensive position. Lt Hall took a full blastof machine gun fire that almost cut him in half. Bill turned to Buddyand tried to stem the bleeding from the wound. From here his versionagreed with Bill’s. Bill still says Lt Hall was a very gallant man and died Defending Hill 170 Kangaw, Burma 1945 Lt George Knowland 69
  • 64. a hero’s death. Buddy was right he should have had a Victoria Cross.Why didn’t he? Because any award for valour must have been seen byan Officer. Where were our Officers? Dead! Bill repeats his question.‘Where were those who wrote about Kangaw?’ They sure enough werenot with Nobby, Buddy and Bill that day. Meantime blood was gushing out of Buddy’s shoulder, so Bill wrappeda field dressing around his green beret to help plug the wound. He wasat this time coljapsing from the amount of blood he had lost. Bill thentook the magazine from Buddies rifle and smashed it against the tree tokeep it out of jap hands. It was then Bill realised he had to get Buddyto the medics very fast. Bill put him across his shoulder, it was then hefelt a trickle of blood on his face, a bullet had gone into Buddy’s neckand out the other side. Bill still believes to this day that if Buddy hadnot been on Bill’s back that bullet would have blown his brains out.Bill passed Buddy over to a medic and returned to his position in theline. There then followed the longest, loneliest night of his life. Bill’smemory went back to Akyab island and to a visit by the army dentaland butchery corps. A Marine from 15 Section named Jack Groves, wasin front of Bill in the queue for a dental check-up where the ‘surgery’consisted of a hand operated chair in the middle of a field with a sack-ing fence around it. Jack went in and was diagnosed as having pyor-rhoea of the gums; this meant Jack had to have all his teeth extracted. Bill could hear the groan as each tooth was pulled. ‘ugh, tinkle’ as thetooth dropped into the dentist’s kidney bowl, 32 teeth were extractedand 32 times Bill heard tinkle ‘ugh tinkle ugh.’ He was shaking in hisshoes in fear of what lay a head. As luck would have it Bill did not needany treatment. The next time Bill saw Jack Groves was as he lay deadin a trench on Hill 170. His bleeding gums were staring at him. Forforty years Bill was afraid to go the dentist, he always feared he would 70
  • 65. go to the dentist, have his teeth out and drop dead with a heart attackor something, He always thought that the sacrifice of Jack’s teeth wasa shocking waste of pain. Next morning the 15th Indian Division re-lieved 42 Cdo. As they mustered on the beach they watched the RoyalEngineers bulldoze huge trenches to bury the many jap dead. Overlooking this scene, as Bill has described earlier was the burnedout shell of a tank the jap suicide engineers with dynamite tied aroundtheir waists had tried to blow up. Hot tea with fags was gratefully re-ceived from the Royal Engineers before we boarded an Australian sloopto take us back to Akyab Island. Here, what was left of the commandowent up country and made camp. A big ceremonial parade was heldwhere Brigadier Campbell Hardy dished out the awards. Major FrankTaylor always said they were mean in giving 42 Cdo so few awards,especially for the great part they played on Hill 170. Bill thought med-als were awarded by a raffle, one recipient when asked why he got hisreplied ‘Idon’t know’ and wasn’t in fact near the action, another got hisMM passing the wounded over to the medics when he in fact shouldhave been in the thick of the fighting. Bill recalls one Sergeant, whoshall be nameless rollicking him for not wearing medals for the awardsceremony. The sergeant said to him ‘Where are your medals lad?’, ‘stick them onyour chest; you are as much entitled to wear them as I am’. To whichBill retorted ‘more so, more bloody so, I was on Hill 170, you were inCalcutta with the rear guard’. We visited many camps in Bombay andMadras, where many local dignitaries met us and gave us gifts, amongwhich were bars of soap. I don’t know if they were trying to tell ussomething. Once we were in the transit camp we sought some well-earned leave. Most Of us went to Bombay, and saw the market place inGrant Road. It was hot and smelly and had all the trimmings – beggars 71
  • 66. and baksheesh wallahs, snake charmers, Indian rope tricks, and theawful cages of prostitutes, to partake of their services meant a certaindose of the most virulent of venereal disease. Children who had been maimed and blinded for the purpose of beg-ging, for this was a growth industry in the east where poverty was rife.Everywhere the plaintive wail of the beggars could be heard, ‘Baksheesh,Sahib, Baksheesh’. Bombay was in the throes of a general strike,whilethey were there, and they had jolly jacks, marines and pongoes drivingtrams, trains and buses. All under the watchful and spiteful eye of thesikh coppers; when they lashed out with their bamboo canes it musthave really hurt. Most of their leave was spent drinking weak Indianbeer, and it was our first experience of chinese restaurants. Big eatswere the order of the day, steaks, pork chops chicken and eggs werescoffed with gusto. So hungry was Neville Underwood he jabbed hisfork into his pork chop fiercely and his whole dinner cascaded intohis lap. The natives could not understand why they ate the last two atthe same time. At the end of this well deserved leave, where feedingtheir faces was the main pastime. they all went back to Madras, fromthere a place called Nassik, then on to Ahmadnagar for yet more jun-gle training which was not popular with the old troops, but it had tobe done for the benefit off the newer squaddies. They were then sentto Lake Coat Raisa where we were issued yankee type helmets andnew Garand semi automatic rifles.The condoms we were issued werelike inner tubes from lorry tyres but came in handy to keep our riflemuzzles clean. The only thing missing was two choruses of from theshores of Montezuma, the yankee battle hymn. It was here Bill had alucky escape; out on a compass reading exercise, under the leader shipof one bushel headed corporal named Scott Whaley, they were ford-ing a river just below a dam, and the flood barriers opened whilst they 72
  • 67. were crossing the river linked together by holding one anothers rifles.Whaley lost grip of Bill’s rifle and he was swept down stream in thebroiling waters, buffeted along by the force of the water. Bill was savedby his haversack and webbing equipment, it acted as a life belt. He stillfinished face down couple of miles downstream without a rifle, thismeant a court of inquiry, and Bill was lucky he did not have to pay fora rifle. Scott Whaley felt the lash of Bill’s tongue full force. Now theywere preparing for operation Zipper. This was to be the invasion ofMalaya and Singapore. Once more in the Monsoon rains they trainedfor jungle operations again. They then moved to Bombay to boardHMT Llansteffan Castle that was to take them to their next target PortDixon in Malaya. They must have left Bombay before the atom bombs were droppedon the jap cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with that news, the shipturned round and went to Trincomalee in Ceylon. No shore leave was granted, but after a few days in idyllic Trinco wewere told we were going on to our target, Port Dixon. We reached theStraits of Malacca when we were diverted to Singapore and then on toHong Kong. Half the US Pacific Fleet must have been in Hong Kongharbour, they were there to accept the japanese surrender, and amid ashow of yankee bullshit the japs handed over their swords. Much hasbeen written on horror of dropping the atomic bombs, but it is true tosay the japs would have fought with a fanaticism to defend their shoresagainst invasion, and the cost in allied lives enormous had Harry STruman not made that fateful decision along with Clem Atlee, theLabour Prime Minister. This is a fact that the loonie left seem to forgetwhen they stridently defend the evil Saddam Hussain. On arrival inKowloon we went ashore in Mosely Road at the rear of the PeninsularHotel and used the Gun Club Hill Barracks as a head quarters, just 73
  • 68. vacated by the enemy, and we had seen cleaner pigsties. On enteringKowloon, 42 cdo were taking control of the jap Prisoners of war lock-ing them in their compounds, Bill and his section went on a hunt forsouvenirs when they came upon some stables, and hidden away underthe straw Bill found plumbing tools. There were hammers, chisels, leadknives, a shave hook and a petrol blow-lamp, plus several wrenchesand spanners. Then wrapped in dirty old piece of sacking was whatBill took to be an ingot of lead, but when he scraped it with his knife,to his amazement he discovered it was gold. Bill’s mind went into overdrive, but he kept quiet about his find, and stuffed the loot in his bigpack to await a further inspection. One thing Bill was sure about, herecalls that there were many other eyes watching him. He had no ideawhat value the gold bar had, nor did he know how he would be ableto sell it. He was by now billeted in a house in Mosely Road, so whenhe was on his own, He lifted a floor board under his bed and hid itthere, as he said there were other eyes watching him, because when hecame off parade the whole lot had gone. By now, our Medical OfficerCaptain Doc Rogers RAMC had left the Cdo take up the post ofEditor of the Forces own newspaper SEAC. He was replaced by an-other RAMC doctor, and he hit on the idea of setting up an oflicialbrothel, in which the girls were certified free from venereal disease. Thebrothel was set up in the house next to the place where ‘X’ troop wasbilleted. Some one had the bright idea of getting up on the roof andspanning the gap between the two paraDets with a scaffold board. Sixof his mates scrambled over but Bill, who had been holding the plank,was to cross last. In the rush to get over the plank was kicked away andit went hurtling down to the bottom leaving him stranded. Bill had the last laugh however, his pals topped up with dose of dibsand dabs – crabs. That was the end of that venture, the ‘brass’ closed 74
  • 69. it down. Whilst we were here there came a call for any one here withplumbing experience! Bill kept quiet, the old gag came out anyonehere know any thing about music? Bill had already sworn never to vol-unteer for anything again. So when the hands went up the Sgt Majorsaid ‘good; you, you, and you, go with the corporal, and taking everycare, move the piano from the Sergeant’s Mess to the Officer’s Mess.However, anything was better than watch keeping and so when theyfound out Bill’s job in civvy-street was plumbing related he was lum-bered, like it or not, for sanitation duties. It turned out to be not sucha bad number, he had all the labour he needed from the jap prisonersof war and although Bill had no rank they greeted him each day withtheir foreheads touching the ground in prostrate position. They werenot too hot on hygiene and sanitation. Their method of cleaning thedrains was to tie lengths of bamboo together, as soon as these rods metan obstruction or blockage they came adrift and they ended up creat-ing a worse blockage. Building materials were as rare as ‘hair on a badg-ers ‘arse’. Everything had to be recycled or modified to suit. Not onlywere building materials rare, cement, bricks etc, the same could be saidfor transport. Bill was allocated a horse that had the name of Charger.He was now RMP, a Royal Mounted Plumber. Experience had taughthim that when there was a blockage in a run of pipe it had to cut intothe drain at the lowest point of pressure. The drain discharged into theopen sea after a thirty foot drop, so his Jap working party had to swimout seawards, dive, and pull up the furthest end lengths of pipe, whichwere then used to repair the drain ashore. The establishment wouldn’tleave a lowly marine on his own in such an important job so they ap-pointed a fresh faced sprog Second Lt straight out from England totake charge. He had a great idea to save the time we spent on the tedi-ous task of raking out the joints of the drain. ‘Stoneman!’ the young 75
  • 70. Second Lieutenant said ‘why don’t we save time and cut the drain witha strip of plastic HE explosive?’ Despite Bill’s warning to start high upthe pipe at the point of lowest pressure, he started at the foot of thedrop. Bill yelled at him to run as he dug his heels into Charger and gotout as quick as he could. Bill was right; the drain was cut as clean as awhistle. A geyser of filth and excrement shot a full thirty foot in the air,sMothering the officer and the prisoners of war from head to foot in allkinds of urine and turds the size of which Bill had never seen before! The Chief Public Health officer, having heard of Bill’s success in re-storing reasonable drainage to the Gun Club Hill barracks, asked himto help with some of his problems.. He asked Bill to forgo his demoband stay on working for him. This Bill declined, anyway fate playedhim a dirty trick, he went sick with a nap hand of diseases. He wentdown with malaria, tonsillitis, pleurisy, bronchitis, and dysentery, thenwhen he was clear of all that he contracted yellow jaundice. These dis-eases contracted no doubt through the filthy conditions he was work-ing in. Whilst he was recuperating in hospital the rest of the lads inthe Commando were having fun chasing pirates and smugglers aroundthe New Territories and the Portuguese colony of Macao, these villainswere into smuggling drugs and tobacco. Lt Hiram Wynn Potts commandeered an old tug and carried outsome very effective patrols. To this day this area is known as Hiram’sHighway.’ X’ troop acquired an old sub chaser and used it to goodeffect.At the end of 1945 many were demobilised but we were well behindwith our group numbers. Bill eventually said farewell to Kowloon andboarded HMS Striker an aircraft carrier. He had with him the Japanesecap, sword and flag and rifle, his war souvenirs. The voyage home wasmainly uneventful, except that when we were approaching Gibraltar 76
  • 71. the ship was hit by a mini typhoon that nearly capsized it. We wereusing those multi dish platters, and with the heavy swell the custardwent into the roast beef, the potatoes mixed up with the trifle, an un-holy mess it made. On arrival he went to Wrexham for demob and tocollect his natty pin stripe suit and trilby hat. Bill wore a jap flag roundhis neck and was told to get it off, and that he was ‘not out of the mobyet’. Bill remembering his vow never to get in trouble again, removedthe scarf and stuck two fingers up at the RSM behind the tarpaulin ofthe lorry. It was to be many years before Bill saw any of his old mates,but that comes later in his story. After his discharge from the serviceBill’s Mother asked him to pay a visit to Harry Mills’ Mum. At first herefused, how could he explain to her the cruel way her son had died?Eventually he plucked up courage and called to see her. ‘What does‘killed on active service mean’? she asked. Bill tried to explain that hedied of his wounds whilst he was in hospital. A little white lie, but Billcould not bring himself to tell her the awful circumstances of his death.Today his death would be described as ‘friendly fire’. Bill wonders, ifthat is ‘friendly’, what is enemy fire like? Harry left his widow and ason he never saw where they lived in Scotland. In later years Bill was todiscover that Harry was not on Croydon’s Roll of Honour, belatedly,and with the help of Mr Howard Passman, a council secretary, theywere able to printan addendum tothe Roll of Honourbearing the detailsof his death, whichis in the CroydonLibrary’s LocalStudies section. 77
  • 72. Although it has been mentioned before, Bill cannot end this part ofhis story with out paying a heartfelt tribute to some of the bravest menthat fought on Hill 170. It is to Corporal Jimmy Bent and the outstanding courage of ‘X’ Troop’s section 13. Jimmy had a great rapportwith his lads, all devoted to their sweethearts and wives, and neverwere boozy or go to the bag shanties. They would sit all together laugh-ing with each other, and one time wrote a cowboy ballad, with wordsand music, the last line went: Wrap me up in my blanket Cradle my guns on my chest Bury me out on the lone prairie My bones from the vultures save … (there was more, quite a ditty).Wave after wave of jap attacks they repelled, staying together in deathas they always were in life. Awards for bravery, there were none. Billfeels mystified to this day how their Section Commander and theirSergeant could both been sent to bring up the relief troops the 15thIndian Division. Bill knew they had obeyed orders and with the lullin the fighting every body thought it was all over. The question is whogave the order in the first place ? One thing Bill knows, both Hiram andSgt Les Budd would have perished for certain in the renewed fighting. 78
  • 73. Most Fatalities From Animal AttacksOn 19 February 1945, 980 Japanese soldiers out of a group of 1,000were killed by salt-water (estuarine) crocodiles (crocodylis porusos) af-ter being forced to cross a 16 Km mangrove swamp in order to jointheir infantry division. This is a survival rate of only 0.2per cent – theworst ever crocodile attach. The estuarine crocodile found in Asia andthe Pacific, is the world’s largest reptile; adult males average 14-16 feetlong and weight about 480 lb – 1,150 lb. The largest authenticated specimens measured over 23ft, unauthen-ticated reports claim some were 133ft long. The reptiles had been dis-turbed by the Naval bombardment in support of the Commandos.One week before this Bill was on this island with 42 Cdo. Bill knewfrom past experience that chaungs were tidal, so the mangrove coveredislands became swamps when the tide came in. When ‘X’ Troop dugin, Bill, along with his mate Buddy chose to build a mound shaped likean eskimo igloo with walls two foot thick. In the bottom of this struc-ture they lined the base with ferns and bracken. The rest of the trooplaughed at what looked like a vunerable target, but they laughed onthe other side of their faces when the tide came in and found Bill andBuddy high and dry. This is the story retold by Captain Stuart Tullochat his sister in laws’ wedding. 79
  • 74. 80
  • 75. 81
  • 76. OFFICIAL ACCOUNTS OF THE BATTLE OF KANGAWMajor Stuart Tulloch writes… There are many official accounts ofKangaw, some good, some bad, some indifferent, but all are relativelysimilar and have existed pretty much since the actual battle. The onebelow is from 42 Commando’s History page on the web. The key thingis the importance of the whole Burma campaign which sought to de-feat the Japanese. The Battle of Kangaw was pretty much the final stageof an operation to cut off the Japanese retreat to Rangoon. Had theJapanese been able to withdraw in an orderly fashion then they wouldhave continued to be a credible fighting force, therefore prolongingthe war, threatening the military build up and then moving on to oth-er countries such as India. As it was they were forced to flee leavingbehind their heavy equipment which effectively rendered them as aspent force. Following the successful Burma campaign they were ableto then launch Operation ZIPPER which was the invasion of Malaya. In all battles those who dominate the high ground maintain the ad-vantage. This is why the Japanese fought so bitterly to regain the highground once 42 and No1 Commando dislodged them. Such was theintensity of battle an officer from No1 Commando was awarded theVC for his efforts on Hill 170. (That officer was George Knowland). In Burma during January 1945, following the capture of the MyebonPeninsular, 3 Commando Brigade was given the task of making a furtherlanding near Kangaw, with the intention of cutting Japanese lines of with-drawal down the coast. On 22 January 1945, 42 Royal Marines Commando (Lt Col H H Dales)together with No 1 Commando landed and occupied positions in the man-grove swamp. Subsequently the Commando was ordered to capture a heavily woodedridge known as Hill 70. Two days of hand-to-hand fighting were necessary 82
  • 77. before the Japanese could be driven from the ridge, and no sooner were they dislodged than they subjected it to heavy artillery fire. After a lull of several days, the Japanese counterattacked at dawn on 31 January 1945. The enemy at- tacked repeat- edly. In spite of heavy casu- alties to theCommando, the Japanese were finally beaten off and withdrew leavingtheir dead lying thickly among forward Commando positions. In a Special Order of the Day to 3 Commando Brigade, Lt Gen Sir PhilipChristison, Commander of XV Corps, concluded. “The Battle of Kangawhas been the decisive battle of the whole Arakan campaign, and that it waswon was very largely due to your magnificent defence of Hill 170” 83
  • 78. Bill takes up the story again…No sooner had the guns stopped,than the rats were nibbling away againat the Royal Marines. Bill comments on this version. Very few of 42Cdo Officers escaped unscathed in that battle for Hill 170, ‘X’ Troophad no Commanding Officer and as far as Bill can recall the one of-ficer that was left was Lt Borg Banks (he later dropped the name Borg).Those lucky enough to survive with time to collect war trophies likeJapanese swords were not with Bill. One man who came out of the Battle of Hill 170 with little or no creditwas Lt Col Hartley Dale. South African by birth and an HO (hostili-ties only), he led his troops bravely, and tho’ suffering from dysentrycarried on until the job was done. 42 Cdo and X Troop in particulardid not get the recognition for the part they played, and the top brasswere mean in the awards they dished out. As Bill sat on the bows of theAustralian sloop that was to take the Cdo back to Akyab, the Colonelgave Bill a tired sort of grin with the words ‘well done old son’. Bill neversaw him again, in his condition he must surely have been admitted tohospital. Bill never saw Major Frank Taylor until after the war was over.He had, Bill was told, been given command of ‘B’ troop. Frank Taylorwas at a reunion with his old war time mates when Frank related a partof his story. He was it seems serving as some kind of Military Attacheto the American Embassy in Las Vegas, and there were allegations ofa scandal. The outcome of all this he was asked to resign his commis-sion. Alas he died from Luekemia, and Bill, Tug and Les were bitterlydisappointed that they heard too late of the funeral arrangements. AsBill wrote before, a great one for the women and great Marine OfficerBill never felt the same way to his section on their retum to AkyabIsland. His memories always went back to the time on Hill 170 when 84
  • 79. Lt Nobby Hall, Buddy Homan and himself had been left alone, on thatlast futile bayonet charge. Buddy Homan too was embittered when he saw the accolades ofpromotion being awarded to them that least deserved it. He shared thesame view as Bill, namely ‘That medals were meaningless’. 85
  • 80. VINCE CUTTINGIt was at Hursley in 1943 when Bill rejoined IRM that Bill first metVince Cutting, shirtless and unshaven in die queue for the mid daymeal. As always he was full of high spirits and skylarking about, andthe friend ship began there, a friendship that was to last until the dayhe died. He was always smoking a Briar pipe that had been carved inthe shape of a Bull’s head, in which he smoked a vile smelling blackshag. His coal miner pals chewed it down the pit where smoking wasbanned.Vince was supremely fit and had a tireless energy. A magnifi-cent swimmer and a fearless diver. Bill used to say jokingly, ‘he woulddive off a tall tree into a wet towel.’ He had a wicked sense of humour,aud was rarely down in the dumps, this made him very popular withevery one. He was, like Bill, a bit of a rebel, and railed at the harsh dis-ciplines imposed, but was always there when a job needed to be done.He served in X Troop in the same section that performed so bravelyunder Lt Hirani Potts and Corporal Jiimmy Bent. Vince was not onthe hill that day, he had been asked to accompany Lt David Kater ashis batman, and they served with No 44 Cdo on hill pinner, and tookquite a bit of stick from the japs. After his discharge Bill lost touchwith Vince, so what a shock Bill had on walking into his local TheMan on the Moon when he heard a voice say ‘hallo you fat little bastard’when he looked round there sat Vince, supping his pint. Many yearsprior to this Bill had tried to trace Vince, even wrote to RM recordsgiving his old regimental number, to no avail. To his amazement helearned later that Vince had signed on for 21 years. It was sheer luckwhen Bill learned of his whereabouts. It appears Vince’s daughter andher husband had bought the local newsagents-cum-grocery shop inBerwick on Tweed and Edna, Vince’s wife, was staying with them onholiday. One day she was in the doctor’s surgery when she met an old 86
  • 81. section mate’s mother, a Mrs George Fraad, she told Edna he was anex-commando. George phoned Bill straight away to tell him the news.From then on, along with Les Wood, Buddy Homan, Tug Wilson,Vince and Bill met on many reunions, and enjoyed a few pints anda chin wag. They remained staunch pals, he continued to attend theCdo re-unions until his legs gave up on him. He and Buddy renewedtheir arguments as to who was the greatest tenor, baritone, who wasthe greatest composer! Alas after he had been stricken by a virus thatturned him into a bloated invalid, he still greeted Bill with ‘Hallo youfat little bastard’ when he visited him in Manchester Hospital. Onetragedy in his life that hit him very hard was the death of his son, killedby friendly fire whilst on active service in Ireland. He left a lovely ladyhis widow Edna with whom Bill still keeps in touch. Sleep Well OldSon. Later on in life Bill’s number two son posed the question, ‘what’sit like being in action?’ Bill’s mind went back to those times, and hadto think hard before he could reply. He remembered having a sensa-tion of his stomach knotting up, and it was when Bill turned BadgerEllis over on his side and saw the gaping hole in his back,he wonderedif the japs were using the soft nosed dum dum bullets. Badger was a brummie was always full of life and had a perpetualchuckle in his throat. His impression of the comic in the three stooges,Mo was really life-like. Whilst Bill was kneeling beside Badger, he heard,what he thought at the time was the buzz of mosquitos, and at timesseemed to be picking at his bush shirt. Bill then realized those mozzieswore leaden jackets. Looking back Bill knows, that who ever his godswere, and he didn’t have many, they were surely smiling on him that day.Even when he stood along side Lt Nobby Hall and Buddy Homan onthat fatal bayonet charge, he felt nothing. It brought to mind a sayinghis old Mum used ‘where there’s no sense there’s no bleeding feeling’. 87
  • 82. Bill’s mind went back to when he was helping Buddy to get back to themedics, he remembered he had him leaning heavily on his shoulder. Itwas then he felt a warm trickle of blood running down his neck, andwas only after the war that Buddy had told Bill he had been woundedtwice, once in the shoulder and once in his neck. Bill then realized thatBuddie’s neck had protected him from a jap bullet that most certainlywould have gone straight through his head. Meanwhile the top brasswere organising Operation Zipper, ie Malaya, Sumatra, New Guineaon the road to Tokyo. In a camp in India were assembled all the reha-bilitated wounded, the sick lame and the lazy. Some newly out fromblighty. The survivors from the Prince of Wales and Repulse. Anybodywas dragooned into battle stations. In fact if you were warm then youwere considered fit enough. Here Bill quotes his old mate Les Woodwhen he said ‘If the atom bombs had not been dropped on Nagasakiand Hiroshima, the allies would have suffered massive losses in manpower, too dreadful to contemplate.’ Feelings ran high about banningthe bomb, and many people marched in protest against it. The decisionto drop the bomb was in part taken by Clement Atlee, who was thenthe Labour Prime Minister. For him to take this dire decision must havebeen the the most difficult in his life. Along with the decision to giveIndia her right to govern. Makes him in Bill’s book one of the Country’sgreatest statesmen. Todays servicemen have been found to need counsel-ling after being in action, sometimes the tour of duty on active servicelasted a matter of weeks, Les Budd a veteran Marine Sergeant who sawaction in South East Asia, Malaya and Korea once told Bill ‘They willneed counselling to cross the road next!’ Leaving aside Bill’s own expe-riences he gave thought to those men like the Desert Rats who foughttheir way from El Alamein via North Africa, Italy to the battles in Franceand Normandy. They were never asked if they needed counselling. 88
  • 83. FROM MANDALAY TO MITCHAM ROAD From Wrexham demob centre Bill arrived at his Mother’s house in Euston Road, near Mitcham Road, in Croydon. In spite of his Father having had a good run of employment, the place reeked of poverty and Bill’s daughter (from his brief and unsuccessful first marriage) now nearly four years old, was dressed in little better than rags, and clung to her Grandmother wondering who was this strange man. Bill gave his Mother money with which to buy some new clothes, although money alone could not supply them. Clothes, like some food and sweets, were still on ration, and coupons were needed. His Mother had, no doubt sold the ration books to buy the food, and then was buying the fam- ily clothes at jumble sales. Bill gave his younger Brother Brian the war souvenirs he had brought home, the sword, the rifle and the jap flag. He gave his daughter a giant doll, and this was the envy of all the other kids in the street, he also gave them a big bag of sweets, which were not rationed on board ship. The police announced an amnesty on all fire-arms, so that meant the rifle had to be handed in, although it was harmless as Bill had taken out the firing pin. Try as hard as he did, relations with his Father were still strained, in spite of the beer he paid for they did not get on. So Bill obtained lodgings with an Aunt in South Croydon, in fact it was the very house in which he was born, and the same stairs his Father had thrown his Mother down when she was carrying Bill. His Aunt then offered to let him bring the child to live with him and not being satisfied with the conditions in which she was living, Bill agreed. His aunt had one daughter, and Pat became a different child under her care. She was always nicely dressed and clean, and she was taught to speak properly, to sound her ‘aitches’, not to say ‘sarf ’ for south and so on. His Aunt was very strict but very kind to Pat and all was well for a while. Then she began to pine for her Nanny, this Bill understood, because the Grandmother had been a Mother figure 89
  • 84. to the child, so this arrangement was brought to an end by mutualagreement. Bill spent quite some time in lodgings, and although hislandlady was good to him, her son and daughter made it clear he wasnot wanted in the house, and in fact resented him being there. By now Bill had found work as a plumber improver, and his boss hadtaken a liking to him, showing him the way to perform some of thetricks of the trade. Bill spent most of his leisure time drinking beer andplaying darts, whilst his love life had all the niceties of a dog – shagand run. A drinking pal of his Uncle’s broke down in front of Bill one nightand told Bill he’d had a relationship with his ex-wife whilst she wason leave, (she was serving in the ATS later named WRAC). So, full ofremorse he begged Bill to hit him and so purge his guilty conscience,this in half drunken rage Bill did, giving him a terrific beating. Notentirely to blame, it transpired she had been unfaithful many times.About this time Bill received a letter from a Sergeant in the US Army,who was seeking a divorce for his new found love, it would be paid forby the Americans and Bill would be cited as correspondent. As far asBill was concerned she might as well have been dead, she meant noth-ing to him at all and the Yank was welcome to her. The divorce hearingtook place in the law courts in the Strand. There in ermine robes thejudge sat in regal authority, while Bill’s brief put his case to the court.The case was undefended, so all that was left was who had custody ofthe child, this was granted to Bill. When he was on demob leave, spending his hard-earned gratuity, theprincely sum of Seventy four pounds fifteen pence (old money) – whata reward for six years of hard work, and Churchill’s blood, sweat andsore feet. A small gesture from a grateful government was that ex-Serv-icemen were allowed to draw dole money while on demob leave; this 90
  • 85. was a paltry seven shillings a week (Thirty five pence in new money).Bill did not like this life style, and his gratuity was almost gone so hefound employment. His favourite pub was the Red Deer in South Croydon where hisMother and Aunt had worked as barmaids in an earlier time. Duringthe war when Bill came home on leave with his two pals, Vince Cuttingand Charlie Radley, his Aunt was a generous benefactor, supplyingthem with free fags and beer. An oft time trick played when they camehome from Sway in Bournemouth was to avoid paying their fare bypretending to be prisoner and escort, saying to the Porter,’Can’t stopthis, man is dangerous’. This gave them many free rides to Bill’s hometown In the Red Deer Bill met and took a fancy to a Scottish barmaidnamed Barbara; she was separated from her husband and supported aneleven-year old daughter. They struck up quite an intimate friendship, which lasted four yearsor more, he knew this relationship wasn’t to be permanent becausehe did not love her. Living as she did in a one bedroom flat whichhad the luxury of a gas stove and a kitchen sink, the opportunities forlove making were restricted to the times maybe when the child was atschool or staying with her friend. Bill would rise at five am and often met his Father on his way towork. The old man did not like this and made the fact quite plain. Billfound that mastering the arts and skills of the plumbing trade verydifficult, and it put quite a strain on his self-taught excursion into thetrade. Working on the roof weathering a chimney stack with lead flash-ings, he was near to desperation when his supervisor climbed onto thescaffold, and Bill told him it was no good and he was unable to cope. His supervisor sat down beside him and gave him a piece of advicehe never forgot, he said ‘when you get to this stage again, sit down and 91
  • 86. have a smoke, after a while have another go at what you were doing’.He then took Bill over every part of the process – this, together withthe instructions given in his plumbing encyclopaedia, made the taskeasy. Bill never forgot that man’s kindness, or his advice. Four yearspassed and Bill went to other sites to work, and although he made alot of mistakes, he learned by them, and reached the stage where hecould present himself as a tradesman. Then there appeared an advert inthe London Evening Standard for Plumbers wanted on a constructionsite in Gibraltar, so he applied for an interview, not daring to dreamhe would be accepted. He was instructed to attend a specialist in thefamed Harley Street in London for a medical examination where hewas passed fit, and to his surprise he was given the job. Bill knewGibraltar, he had stayed there for short spells in war time, and hadliked it very much. After obligatory vaccinations he arrived at GatwickAirport bound for the Rock and what fate had in store for him. Thecompany he was to work for was the well known firm of plumbers,Ellis Brothers from Kensington, and the contract called for all the exist-ing plumbing installations of copper piping to be ripped out and re-placed by cast iron, due to the corrosive effect the salt water was havingon the copper tubing. This entailed changing all the bath room fittingsand sinks, then when it all was fitted it had to be tested, and to highstandard of near perfection, all supervised by a Clerk of Works whoknew every trick in the book. This testing was the most difficult taskof all and took many frustrating hours. On arrival in Gib the plumberswere transported by taxi to Alameda Gardens, opposite the fire station,where they were housed in a nissen hutted complex. Adjoining thata canteen where meals were served, this for a modest rent. The hourswere long and the work tiring, sometimes working a twelve-hour daywhen an area had to be made fit for habitation. All the single men 92
  • 87. made tracks for La Linea, a Spanish border town or Malaga, whichwas then a small fishing village, and not the luxury resort it is now.Here in Spain the pound sold for more than double it’s its value onthe black market, official rate being one hundred pesetas to the poundand the ‘black market’ rate as much as two hundred and thirty pesetasto the pound. Food such as fresh vegetables and fruit were cheap onthe Spanish side of the border, and the Gib people employed Spanishlabour that brought them milk eggs and fruit, and they smuggled backwhiskey rum and tobacco, in this way subsidising their meagre wages.Spanish police were open to ‘back-handers’ and closed their eyes tothis little fiddle. Apart from the cheap booze and good hotels in Spaina big attraction was Gib Street-La Calle Gibraltar, a street of govern-ment run brothels, where every effort thorough regular health checkswas made to ensure the girls were free from infection, and all the wom-en were issued with a licence. They supplemented their earnings byencouraging prospective customers to buy them expensive drinks likeimitation champagne. The street was, of course, was very popular withservice men such as Naval ratings and Army and Air Force personnel.A better way to keep to one woman exclusively was to get her to renta bed sitter (called a Casa). For two or three pounds per week therewas a meal and a nice clean bed to sleep in, thus reducing the risk ofinfection. The girls knew quite well the conditions of sale and that itwas purely a business arrangement. They lived in hope they would geta marriage. In fact, a couple of the blokes did marry their whores, andthey made true and good wives, better in truth than the one Bill him-self had married during the war. Spain was and is a pre-dominantlyCatholic country, so every house in the street had a picture or an effigyof the Crucifixion over the bed or the Virgin Mary, and the local priestcalled to collect his perks, if not in cash then in kind. Hypocrisy at its 93
  • 88. best. The Spanish building trade at that time, unlike its British coun-terpart, did not believe in specialist tradesmen, the same men that dugthe footings and poured the concrete did the brick work, plasteringand painting. Safety rules were non existent, as were safety officers. Thescaffolding consisted of wooden poles tied with rope (not with wirebonds) thus casualty rates were high. After a while Bill learned a working knowledge of the Spanish lan-guage, it was known as Rock Spanish because of the dialectic slangwords that were used. He picked up quite a lot from the boy that wasworking with him as a Plumber’s mate,whose name was Enrique and lived in LaLinea and was married with one child. Bill was amazed to see the Spaniards boiltheir eggs in the same water they madetheir tea in, his Mother had told him that ifyou drank the water you boiled eggs in youwould get warts, an old wives tale evidently. Bill was fascinated by the spectacle ofthe bullfight, the stirring shrill notes ofthe trumpet when the Matadors enteredthe arena with their entourage. It wassurely a work of art watching their assist-ants play those huge animals with just acape and a spot of nifty footwork. Author with Enrique, It was cruel to see the Picador’s hors- plumber’s mate in Gibralteres being gored, and sometimes lifted offtheir legs by the ferocity and sheer strength of the bulls that got pastthe protective padding the horses wore, and many times open the poorhorse’s entrails; these were sewn back by a vet so that horses could be 94
  • 89. used at another ven-ue. Cruel too werethe darts of theBanderillos, thesewere placed withsome skill into theneck of the bulland paralysed hisneck muscles andthe animal lost a lotof blood, this, ofcourse, weakenedit. Then the Matador would administer the death Bullfight in Sevilleblow with his sword, not always successfully, inwhich case his assistant would finish the kill with a stiletto into theanimals head. Animal rights protectors have fought for years to havethe spectacle (you could not call it a sport) abolished to no avail, it hasa fervid following, as has Fox hunting in our own country. Bill with the hours he worked, plus the bonus of an inflated rate ofthe pound against the peseta enjoyed a life style beyond his wildestdreams, and on his week-end off he would make a trip to Malaga. Onhis wages he could now afford new shirts, suits and the best of foodand wines. A favourite Sunday snack was braised sheep’s brains, anArab delicacy, as are jellied eels to a Londoner. The Humphries blockon the council estate was the first task given to Bill; it entailed tellingthe householder what work was to be done, and to make other ar-rangements for water and toilets. An elderly lady answered the doorwho could only speak Spanish – this was no problem as he his mate 95
  • 90. could translate the conversation. At this point a lovely young girl cameto the door to speak for her Ma in perfect English. Working in herhouse for over a week they soon got talking. She told him her namewas Clemencia Victory, and that she worked in the Main Street grocerystore, Liptons. To this day Clem is still to Bill that ‘lovely young girl’. Ration books were still being used in the UK, so she used the giftparcel service to send tea, sugar, coffee, fruit and biscuits to Bill’s Mumwho found these parcels of goodies a godsend. Leaning over the balconyhaving a smoke, they watched Clem walking to work, and his SpanishPlumber’s mate said ‘Que guapa a Bill?’ which roughly translated meantvery pretty! You gonna marry her one day Bill’. How prophetic hiswords were. There was immediate opposition from her family to thefriendship, firstly Bill was a divorcee, even though an innocent party,her family were devout Catholics and were against the marriage. Thecourtship was closely chaperoned, by a brother or sister. In fact Bill usedto sing’ I’ve got your Father your Mother your Sister and your Brother,oh I never see Clemmie alone!’ They were only allowed to go for walksand an added treat was the Naval Cinema although even that was undersupervision. Bill tried to dissuade the girl from marriage, that it wouldnot work out, that the age gap was too great (she was nineteen, andhe nearly thirty years old) and her Father was adamant the courtshipshould end, but they found an ally in Clem’s Mum. When the cou-ple approached the church for permission to marry they were refusedpoint blank, that meant they had to get married in the Registry Office.This caused Clem problems, because she believed that a civil weddingwas not legal. In fact, all marriages must be confirmed in a civil cer-emony. Much against his better judgement the wedding went ahead.The couple spent their first married night in a hotel in La Linea, thenext day they took the ferry to Algerciras then on to the beautiful city 96
  • 91. of Seville, where theyspent an idyllic fourteendays on honey moon.The Tourist Office thereplaced them in typicalSpanish hacienda. Theirbedroom was over a sta-ble, and the horses keptthem awake all nightwith their kicking andneighing – well that’s Bill’s story Bill’s wife Clem on Honeymoon in Sevilleand he is sticking with it. An embarrassing moment for Bill happened when the young waiterin the restaurant which was Full of diners, in a loud voice asked Clemwhat would she like for dinner, she told him, he then said ‘and yourFather, what would he like?’ Cheeky monkey! Alas all good things must come to an end. They made their wayback to Gib and back to work. Not for long, the contract in whichBill was engaged in drew near to completion and his passage homewas booked on a BEA flight, and he had to pay Clem’s fare on theflight. She was terrified of flying but she plucked up courage to boardthe plane. There was not a lot of money in the kitty (the weddinghad cost quite a packet). Bill then had a stroke of luck, he won a fullhouse playing Tombola (Bingo) in the Fleet Club in Gib, and it wasabout four hundred pounds, what a godsend, like manna from heaven.They boarded the plane and as expected Clem was terrified, and herfingers dug deep in his hand, added to that she was violently airsick.When Bill’s family saw his beautiful bride, they were shocked to saythe least; at best he was thought a cradle snatcher. Council housing 97
  • 92. was awarded on a points system; luckily he had the foresight to reg-ister as an ex-serviceman, which meant he had priority. Meanwhile,his Mother’s neighbour was kind enough to give them a room in herhouse, although it was against existing council rules. In the meantime,Bill’s Mum supplied their meals. They lost no time in putting in theirapplication to be housed, and with the help of their Labour Councillorthey were awarded a flat in New Addington. Conditions were prettygrim; it was so cold it was given the name of Little Siberia. Bill hadto bring home coke for their fire in a sack with firewood. He alsoscrounged coke from the site of the builder’s watchman’s hut. Theyhad no luxuries like carpets, not even a bed; the mattress was on thefloor. The dressing table was an empty orange box with a skimpy pieceof curtain round it. Their furniture was purchased from a second-handshop; the other items were bought on hire purchase. When they couldafford it, linoleum was laid two feet from the skirting, and the floor-boards were stained. To make matters worse there was a coal strike on,and power cuts were the order of the day. By now Clem was pregnantwith her first-born son Joe and Clem had to walk to the bus stop overhalf a mile away to get to the maternity hospital. At that time Billwas in bed with tonsillitis and bronchitis. Not a happy start to theirmarried life. During her pregnancy Clem had found employment ina Croydon store called British Home Stores, and made many friendsand this helped her to overcome the home sickness she was feeling. Shewas not happy, nor for that matter was Bill with the living conditions.Added to this fact their landlady benefactor was worried the councilwould evict her for taking in lodgers. The daughter stayed with her Grandmother as it was plain to seethey did not get on together, plus the fact the girl had been very muchspoiled by her granny. Because of the bleak conditions Addington 98
  • 93. seemed a lonely and isolated place. By now Bill had taken full plumberstatus, and found employment on a big Greater London Council es-tate at Hooley near Redhill Surrey. Here to his surprise he met an ex Royal Marine he had served with in7RM, he was working as a bricklayer. Bill had another surprise whenhe met Tug Wilson, who served with him in Burma. Tug served in HQTroop. It was about this time their eldest son Joe contracted whoopingcough, and this led to a severe attack of pneumonia. He was admittedinto St Mary’s Hospital Carshalton in a very grave condition, in factthe boy was so ill the Padre read the last rites over him. Bill and Clemhad long journeys by public transport, they were shocked one nightwhen they arrived and the ward sister told them ‘we’ve lost him’. Clemnearly fell to the floor in a faint over that shock news, but the Sister wastrying to say Joe had been taken to another ward. Clem suffered quitea bit under the strain and lost a good deal of weight. Being a Catholicshe attended a mass to give her thanks for their son’s survival. On Bill’sway home one night he was confronted by his ex partner, and she wasvery irate at what she thought was the shabby way he had treated her,he answered her saying cruelly ‘These things happen, any way it’s donenow’. With the birth of number Two Son, named WR Stoneman theThird, they were allocated a three bedroom house on the newer estate.This of course, led to Bill having to take on private work to pay for thenew furniture, beds, dining room suite and bed clothes. This left himlittle money for beer. Bill handled his family finances differently to hisFather, his family’s needs came first and what was left was his. Nightsout were rare, they were restricted to Saturday nights and Sunday lunchtime. His ‘watering hole’ at that time was the Addington Hotel. Herehe made many good friends and enjoyed lots of laughs.Among the friends he made was Snowy Wiltshire a real comical 99
  • 94. character. With Bill they put on a comic old time boxing match wear-ing old fashioned long john pants, they would keep their audienc-es in fits of laughter. His two best friends were Jimmy Sweeney andJock McKenzie and they stayed good comrades until the day theydied. Jimmy Sweeney worked as a stevedore in Surrey Docks and wasbombed out of his house in Bermondsey and was re-housed in NewAddington during the war. Jimmy was a rosy faced Falstaffian lookingcharacter, kind-hearted to a degree, a crutch for any hand out Harry.He stood barely five foot four in his socks but a kindly wise old manwho had a terminally ill wife who, nonetheless, mollycoddled him likea baby. Her name was Dora, a frail kindly old lady, blind in one eye,and suffering the agonies of the lung disease emphysema, who handledher disabilities with courage and dignity. Jim drank a vast amount ofbeer that left him no appetite to eat the succulent sandwiches his wifemade up for him; these were grabbed with relish by his mates in thepub at night time. He was also very well read and a life long supporterof the Labour party, and why not, the Socialist Government had im-proved their working conditions beyond their wildest dreams, withlittle gratitude Bill adds. Dockers would strike for the silliest of reasonsand at times held the country to ransom. Jim was always true to hisprinciples, and would join his mates on strike, even tho’ it meant ter-rible hardship. The dockers eventually killed the goose that laid the golden egg.The bosses took their business to places like Peterboro, and overseasto ports in Holland. Brought up with a strict Catholic faith, in hisdeclining years he attended the Sunday Mass. He would always doffhis cap to a lady, and his favourite admonishment to a wrong doer was‘you ought to be put away until you are sixteen’. Jimmy was worldlywise and self taught, and a brilliant raconteur. He was something of a 100
  • 95. philosopher and had a full and happy life. He held the belief that manwas not the stronger sex, but women were. He said and Bill quotes.‘Women haven’t got the strength to fight a man, so they use guile.This consists of three weapons –Tears, Tongue, and the withdrawal ofconjugal rights. Each one equally potent. First no man likes to see awoman cry. Second not many men can stand a nagging tongue. Finallyno man can endure the silent treatment called the cold shoulder’. Hehad another pearl of wisdom when he stated. ‘When a man puts onhis khadi and choker (cap and scarf ) at seven o’clock in the evening,the woman will ask. ‘Where are you going?’ They never ask that ques-tion at five o’clock in the morning do they? Jim had mates with namesout of Dickens. Bert Scroggins, Womper Harris and Arthur Batty whobegged his mates not to shorten his name to ‘Arf ’. During the lunchbreak or while they were waiting for a ship to dock they ate vast quan-tities of salt beef, pease pudding and faggots, washed down with pintsof ale. It was a wonder they could walk the ships gang-plank carryingthe heavy loads of timber. Jim would still stop on his way home for afew more pints. In his cups Jimmy loved to sing, one of his favourites was ‘The nighthe stabbed the Canary with a Fork,’ this ditty ended with the line ‘Allbecause there was no crackling on the pork’! A well loved and respectedman, the church was packed to see him off. Another man Bill became close friends with was Jimmie’s old mateBill (Jock) McKenzie, a Scot, a bachelor and a plasterer by trade. Hewas of course known as Jock, a well-read and much travelled man.There were no cheap package tours in those days; his trips to Chinaand Soviet Russia were either obtained through a trade union sponsor-ship or those countries Embassies he wished to visit. He was a typi-cal dour Scot with a dry sense of humour, an ardent lover of classical 101
  • 96. music and of the Opera. An avid reader he was said to have read TheRise and fall of the Roman Empire three times. He was a staunch TradeUnionist, and worked until he was seventy two years old. During thetime Jimmy was alive, along with Jock and Bill they enjoyed a firmfriendship. Meeting in The Man on the Moon public house at week-ends they covered most subjects, sport, politics, and on these sub-jects Jim and Jock had the information at their fingertips. Mine hostoften would vacate the bar to join Bill and his two other pals DaveLongford and Harold Marshall. These hilarious session were known asHancock’s half hour. Bill Dave and Jim went to most of the big fights;they saw the greatest - Mohammed Ali, George Foreman, Joe FrazierBenny Lynch and a host of others. After Jim died Jock and Bill becameregular pals in spite of the age gap. Bill would collect him in his carevery Saturday and Sunday from the house where he lived as a lodgerfor thirty years. His late landlord had decreed that in the event of hisdeath, Jock was to have a home in his while he lived, and his daughterswere not to sell the house while he lived. Nor did they. This vow theyhonoured. One Saturday Bill knocked on Jock’s door and could get noreply. This worried Bill so he phoned the landlord’s daughter to ask ifJock was staying with her, but he wasn’t. She phoned later to say shehad found him dead on the bedroom floor. Jock had read the MuslimHoly Koran and quoted from it that ‘Man, when he left his Mother’swomb, feared the thought of dying alone’. This was to be the fate of bothJimmy and Jock. Bill’s wife Clem used to clean Jim’s bedsit council flattwice a week. It came to the time when Clem was due to pay him avisit, and the weather was foul .There was a foot of snow on the pave-ment so at Jim’s request she did not go out. Came Monday morningshe let her self into his flat to find him lying dead on the floor. Hehad died from a massive heart attack. The thing he feared most had 102
  • 97. happened! He had died alone! Another quotation was ‘I leave to manno greater curse than woman’. Bill was inclined to agree with him. Nothaving read the Koran he cannot vouch for the truth of his words.Bill says however it makes good sense to him. Ironically a week beforeJock died they sat together in the member’s bar in their British Legionclub when he surprised him by saying ‘Bill Stoneman, I have knownyou a long, long time, and I want to say it has been a pleasure and anhonour to have been your friend. Did he, Bill wondered, sense his endwas near? In the year 1960 number three son was born and was namedPeter. Clem was disappointed, she had desperately wanted a girl. Billworked as a foreman plumber for a firm called Plumbing Services andhe remained in their employ for over thirty years. At this time Clemwas feeling homesick so Bill knowing her fear of flying arranged a seapassage through a friend for her to go to Gibraltar for a holiday and tosee her family. She stayed two months and on her return Bill met her atTilbury Docks. He was shocked to see her. She had lost a lot of weightand the two sons did not know him. She suffered deep post natal de-pression and underwent treatment in Mayday Hospital. Bill at thattime was working a long distance from home, and was away for twelvehours a day. It was his habit to go for couple of pints before dinner andthis made him late home. Things got so bad he was afraid to leave her.Talking to the Doctor told him of the guilt he felt going for a drinkon his way home. That is nonsense replied the Doctor, if you stoppedhaving your pint I might have two of you to treat. He advised Bill to befirm with her. Talking in bed together he told her of the dread he hadin leaving her alone with the kids. That she might do them some harm,even kill them. Electric shock treatment was proposed, and whether ornot it was the talk they had, or the fear of the extremities of the shocktreatment but she was a changed woman over the next two months 103
  • 98. and was discharged from hospital. A story Bill tells relates to him seeing Clem in tears on her birthdaywhen he used to give her a ten pound note. He put his arms aroundher and asked ‘what was the matter, are you feeling homesick?’ Clemsobbed ‘No it’s you, other men give their wives a nice card for theirbirthday, and you just give me a tenner. So for the next few years Billdid just that. Returning home after having eaten out she amazed Billby saying ‘You know something, you are getting mean, and at one timeyou used to give me a ten pound note for my birthday’. Now, to saveany arguments, Bill gives her the card, the flowers and the ten poundnote. What famous philosopher once said ‘woman thy name is mys-tery?’ Whoever it was he knew what he was talking about. No greatersin can he commit than that of forgetting their birthday or anniversary.The Man on the Moon public house in New Addington was built circa1960 in Headley Drive, and was rather unique in the fact that it wasthe only Pub to be so named. The Pub sign was a copy of the originalpainting of the astronauts landing and walking on the moon. In factthe American Embassy attended the official opening, where their wasfree eats and beer for all. The first landlord was a Bob Heritage assist-ing him was his Sister in law Marie. It had as its second landlord anIrishman named Tom Beegan. He was a man of sturdy physique andtook over the pub when trade was at its best, and was one of the onlytwo pubs on the estate. He kept a very tight control of his house andwas well able to handle any drunken behaviour, a handsome man whocould drink any of his customers under the table. He would not allowwomen of easy virtue to be served in his pub. In fact one old Paddy,when Bill told him he was going home for fear his wife would thinkhe had been with another woman, said ‘Bill Stoneman (in his broadPaddy brogue) I’ll tell you this and I’ll tell you no more! You will find 104
  • 99. no prostitutes in The Man on the Moon. They could have called theMoon, the Builders Arms, or the Coalman’s, on account of they werehis main clientele. Every day its bar would be packed with customersgasping to get a pint or two, and many times he would handle thepacked bar on his own. Bill, Jim Sweeney and Jock Mc Kenzie struckup a great friend ship with him. Ron the milkman used to call in onhis lunch-time for his pint and a pie. One day Ron opened his pie andcried out ‘Look at this Tom; I’ve got a fag end in my pie.’ Tom wastoo busy serving, so Ron said to Bill ‘This ain’t right is it?’ who withoutsympathy said what do you want for nine pence Twenty Players?’ Ronwas a bit of a lothario but it got on top of him, in the end his cry was‘Milko for money’ The Moon had characters galore. Benny Hewlett,only five foot four in his socks, and would fight any man black, blueor brown and size made no difference. Billy Gardener who fought asa pro under the name of Pat Stribling. A two-ton Tony Galento type,who could sink a pint or two, but never won many fights. His rewardfor a five round fight was a miserly ten shillings, worth fifty-pencenow. Pat always said ‘I can’t fight but I can make it awkward for themthat think they can. He worked as a coalman and had a mate, a part-time alcoholic, named Cyril, who in some strange way felt he had todo a Penance. It may be that he knocked his wife about when he had too muchto drink. Pointing to his nose he would ape the late Jimmy Duranteand say ‘wipe my nose you’re nearest’. He would then beg Pat to hithim on the nose. Finally in frustration Pat would oblige and he brokeCyril’s nose leaving him bleeding like stuck pig. The winter of 1963saw a big freeze up, with snow up to six feet deep. It was so severe thatfor a couple of weeks the people of New Addington were cut off fromCroydon. No one could get to work and all building sites were locked 105
  • 100. out. Tom Beegan became the person the out of work and out of moneyturned to for help. This he did very generously. Most of the loan mon-ey was spent on beer any way. Harry Wright, nick-named the Colonel,had a twenty-year old Ford van. It had no headlights, nor sidelightsfor that matter, they were supplied by his mate Jimmy Haynes. Heleaned out of the side window holding a torch! Several of the Moon’scustomers, along with Tom, had brand new cars that would not startat all. The ‘Colonel’s’ old banger, with one crank on the starting han-dle, would start first go. Quite a character was the ‘Colonel’; he couldsell sand to the Arabs or ice cream to an Eskimo. He always lookeda million dollars yet he never had a pot to piss in. He was always indemand as a piano player, yet he could not read a note of music, buthe always earned a few shillings playing in the pubs. Today his playingis restricted because of arthritis in his hands. He was a Surrey streettrader, Harry still does a stint at the age of 79 years on his Son’s stall inSurrey Street market Another very good mate of Bill’s was fireman BillPenfold, he held the rank of Station Officer, and they argued fierce-ly over politics. Penfold was a die-hard Tory, whilst Bill was staunchLabour. Penfold was outraged when Bill labelled the Prime Ministerof the day ‘Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher’ thus named when shestopped the poor kids free milk. Penfold vigorously denied that fire-men had a soft number and that his watch was top of the happy fami-lies and snap card games league. Bill had a large family and needed tosupplement his Fire Brigade pay by acting as an insurance collectoron his off days. He was, however, a self-taught man. He could haveearned his living as motor mechanic so skilled was he. During theirfriendship the two Bill’s ran a loan club at the request of Tom Beegan,which was quite successful and very popular. One instance of the gen-erosity of the Moon’s customers was when a young woman with newly 106
  • 101. born twins lost her husband with a heart attack. The club membersput money all year in an ashtray to keep up her payments. In spiteof there being quite a large sum owing, her debt was cleared and shedrew a fully paid up share. Just an instance of the great hearted peopleof New Addington. Bill Penfold retired from the Brigade and joinedthe Metropolitan Police Fire Service. Bill earned two big pensions butdied not having drawn a penny from them. Bill Penfold, as has beensaid before, was a self-educated man, and he was elected Treasurer ofthe New Addington Royal British Legion Branch. Very successful at ittoo as the branch funds went from a deficit to healthy bank balance.This was at a time when many branches were failing. At the quarterlymeetings attendances grew, just to hear the verbal exchanges betweenthe two men. To say Penfold was careful with branch funds was a massive understatement, he in truth made Ebenezer Scrooge look like John PaulGetty. At that time the branch was responsible for the one-armedbandits and took the profits from them. Mysteriously these grew to anenormous £50,000 pounds per year under his Stewardship. From theseprofits he with the help of a loan from the Brewers a new branch headquarters was built. At this time he handed over the Treasurers postwith branch funds in a very sound state, he then stayed out of officefor a couple of years. The Royal British Legion social club was goingthrough a difficult time with its finances and many allegations weremade that the books of the club were being mishandled or worse. Atthe next Club AGM Bill Penfold was asked to take over as Social ClubSecretary, this he agreed to do providing Bill Stoneman would stand asChairman. The duo were duly elected to these posts and made sweep-ing changes. One change he proposed was that of the Club changingcheques, amongst many protests, because using this method it dodged 107
  • 102. the tax-man. His proposal caused uproar in the committee headed bya few of the old guard. When the Chair used his office to over-rule theprotest, it was claimed he did not have the power to do so. Bill thentold the meeting that the Treasurer was doing the job he was elected todo, and if they wanted to he would accept a motion of no confidence.None was forthcoming. The Chair then said that was going to be hisstyle of Chairmanship, so they had better get used to it. Fireman Billas he was known then changed the locks on the fruit machines gettingtwo sets cut, thus ensuring no one person could empty the machines.(This was to be proven wrong at a later date). The takings, which hadslumped to £40,000, now rose to £50,000 per year. This made theout going set up look fishy to say the least, others put it stronger.Bill saw Penfold at the paper shop and he told him he had a shadowon his lung. Bill was upset at this news. Penfold said ‘We all have todie sometime’ ‘I know’ said Bill ‘but you don’t want know the sell-bydate!’ A well loved and respected man. He was buried with full FireBrigade honours. A gruesome feature about Bill’s friends was the veryhigh percentage that died from the dread disease Cancer, to give it acolloquial nickname ‘The Old Bill’ and they all died bravely without aword of complaint. Big John Kirby a massive 6ft 4ins, employed as adriver on a brewers dray, with a thirst big enough to drink one of hisown deliveries. He went out in style with six black plumed horses, andmoney left over the bar to have a farewell drink with him. Edie Farrant(that was her maiden name) she loved life and was always ready todress up. She wore outrageous old-fashioned bloomers. Her HusbandArthur Pettit was an ex Chief petty officer sail maker, and it was he thattold Bill the gruesome tale of the preparing a body for burial at sea.The method was the same as it was in Lord Nelsons day. The corpsewas wrapped in sailcloth and sewn up, the last stitch was put through 108
  • 103. the dead man’s nose, and this was to make sure he was dead. Surely amethod not used today. Edie loved to dress up for the fancy dress par-ties held in the British Legion hall. Invariably she would wear her drawers made out of the Union jack.The dreaded Cancer took her after a long and harrowing fight. KennyHook was another so stricken by Cancer. Kenny was an eternal optimistwho never worked after twelve mid day and was a confirmed alcoholic.To him every day is a Bank Holiday and week-ends are Christmas’.The cancer was on his liver. The time came when Bill was diagnosed as having chronic bronchitisand was sent to Mayday University Hospital for specialist treatment.Their diagnosis was after an X ray and other tests were that he wassuffering from emphysema and asthma. Named under the acronymof COAD, chronic obstruction of the air ways disease. A truly fright-ening malady. He met the consultant and was given a good dressingdown for being grossly overweight. When weighed on the scales he wasnearly nineteen stone, which caused the doctor to say ‘Look at you, sofat, and asked him how many fags did he smoke a day? He replied ‘tena day’. She then wanted to know how much beer he drank. He toldher ‘twelve pints.’ – ‘a week’? she asked – ‘no,’ said Bill ‘per day!’ Thedoctor was an Austrian or a Pole and reminded Bill of Irma Greese (theGerman prison camp wardress), she also terrified Bill. She was almostbrutal in her summing up, and said bluntly ‘If you do not give up mitder drinking, eating and der smoking you vill be dead in six months’!Bill wondered if this would make him live longer, but was sure it wouldmake it seem like it. He was still under Mayday Hospital’s care fortyyears later. Part of his treatment was a strict diet, and he was almost asmuch afraid of the dietician as he was the doctor. So much so he would 109
  • 104. take off his belt and take the silver coins from his pocket, and wear aslittle clothing as he could. As part of the weight losing project, he took up playing golf, and meta character named Terry Purdy who was fatter than Bill. They spentmany happy hours playing with his boys and Brother Jack. The troublewas the calories they lost playing golf were put on by the prodigiousquantities of beer they drank. One morning whilst playing AddingtonCourt golf course in the pouring rain, they had been consistently heldup by the couple of lady golfers in front. They would not obey thecourse rule which said, ‘If you have no one in front of you for twoclear holes, then you must call those behind you through’. Terry finallyblew his top and as was his want he yelled ‘Why don’t you two piss offhome?’ This outburst did not go down very well with them, so they werereported to the Club Committee. At their hearing Bill was asked toexplain their behaviour. He related the instance of persistent hold upsand the complainant’s failure to conform to course rules. Bill thenshocked his accusers by saying ‘women should not be playing golf atthat time of day, they should be home cooking their old man’s din-ner’. Furthermore ‘if whoever made us, meant women to play golf, hewould have put their tits on their back, and they would be better todance with’. One would have thought that they were trying a capitaloffence, and Bill was sure they were about to pass the death sentence,but in fact they took our previous good conduct into account and gaveus both a severe reprimand, with a suspended sentence of one year ban.Terry, by the way, was an uncannily good putter, one of the best, andBill includes the Professionals he has watched. Their favourite time toplay was what was known as the ‘dawn patrol’, (Bill has referred to thisearlier) this meant getting up at four am and waiting for the sunrise, 110
  • 105. the birds in their sanctuary gave us their beautiful dawn chorus, some-times blotted out by agonised shouts when the players fluffed theirshots. The air then turned blue. Fortunately no female of the specieswere out on the course at that hour of the day. They picked wild mushrooms from the course, bought steak andtomatoes and ate a hearty breakfast which included a couple of eggs,baked beans and fried bead. Strange the working class families ate somuch fatty food, today’s dieticians would have condemned their eat-ing habits. Yet Bill says empty stomachs don’t ask questions when thepangs of hunger begin to bite. Bill and his family spent every week-end and holiday they couldcamping. He had use of the company van, into which he put anold mattress, where he and Clem slept. He bought a six-berth tentthat the boys used. They camped on the banks of the River Arun inLittlehampton. The family would go into the fields before breakfastand pick wild mushrooms, then into the butchers for some steak, sau-sages and bacon. Hot crusty bread from the bakers (Mother’s Pridehadn’t been marketed then) – thank heavens. Another treat was totake the boys on a 2/6d mackerel fishing trip. There was an abundanceof the fish, and these gastronomic delights were devoured with relish,even today the boys say they were the happiest days of their child-hood. Holiday times they travelled farther afield to Wales, Devon andCornwall. An added treat was a trip to Plymouth Dockyard in NavyWeek, to go aboard the big ships and submarines. Bill inherited thelove of a bet from his Father The only other thing he left him was athirst and often whilst on holiday, he would as they say have it off, thismeant extra goodies like a sea side show, and a meal in a restaurant,their favourite meal being a portion of fish and chips – junk food was 111
  • 106. rarely eaten those days. Bill loves to tell the story how at 6 o’clock everySunday morning the kids in the street that were the same age as histwo sons would jump in his van and 14 or 15 kids would go swimmingin Croydon baths. Those same kids are grand parents today. Bill toldhis wife Clem when they were first married that it was his wish to havethree sons and a dog and his wish was granted. When the two firstborn were quite young they wanted pets. They had a guinea pig and ahamster each. Then they wanted a rabbit. So into the van they go withtheir Mother to go to Brick Lane market near Liverpool Street, whereit was said you could buy any thing from a dinner-set to a donkey. Billasked the stall-holder for two baby rabbits and to make sure they werebucks. His method for establishing their sex was quite simple, holdingthe animal by the ears he would lay it on his forearm and squeeze itsgenitals, if it were a male up would pop his John Thomas. The secondRabbit was male. Nos. 3 to 11 were does and surprise! Surprise! Number12 was a buck. The pets were housed in their hutches, constructed byBill. They grew fat on their diet of potato peelings and bran mash.Then Willy (Number two son) said excitedly ‘my rabbit is giving Joey’srabbit a piggy back’, soon we had to make hutches for twenty bunnies.Bill said afterwards that he thought the stall-holder’s method of select-ing the sex of the rabbits was poor, or that he was a con man of thefirst order. Wages were poor at that time so the meat from the rabbitswent a big way to supplement their menu, and not only was the meatdelicious it helped support the family budget. A full bred mongrel arrived that had more varieties in him than HeinzBeans. He was in fact part Labrador and part Alsatian, small in size, butall the other dogs kept out of his way. A neighbour of Bill’s, Jack Fishnamed Butch Gary Player, because he said he always had 18 holes beforebreakfast. He was a rebel and would not stay at home, at the slightest 112
  • 107. chance he would make off,taking the 4ft high chestnutfences like the hurdlers at thegreyhound track. He musthave sired hundreds of pups,even today his look-alikeoffspring roam the streets ofNew Addington. Sadly hemet his match whilst hur-dling the back gardens. Anew tenant had moved inwho was the owner of German Shepherd Butch(left) & Raglandog. Poor Butch took a savage beating, fromwhich he never recovered. He could barelywalk and suffered a great deal of pain. Bill sincerely believed that whena dog can’t cock his leg it is time he should be put down. So on the Vet’sadvice Bill and Clem decided to do that. Bill says he will never forgetClem walking into the surgery, with tears streaming down her face.Cradling Butch in her arms it was as if we had lost one of the family.After that we never had another dog in that house. ‘All the world’s a stage’ wrote William Shakespeare. These words Billfound to be very true, and prime examples were the members of theBritish Legion. One such character was Paddy Fitzpatrick an Irishmanof note as the song goes. The annual Poppy day drew near and thebranch did not have a Poppy fund organiser, so Fitz (as he was af-fectionately known) volunteered to do the job. Armistice Day drewever nearer and the collection boxes were piled high in the store-room,and at a Branch meeting Fitz was asked to explain why they had not 113
  • 108. been distributed. The meeting roared with laughter when he said ‘I’msorry Mr Chairman but I’ve only got two pairs of hands’. Poor Fitzhe was another to fall to the dreaded ‘old Bill’ (cancer) it attacked histongue and spread to his throat. He never complained yet he musthave suffered terribly. Every Saturday night was fun night at the BritishLegion. It consisted of talent drawn from the audience, singers wouldchant their specialities. Tommy Sutherland (who had a fine voice) acted as MC as well as giv-ing a few songs. Ernie Scott sang. ‘It’s only a shanty in old shanty Town’and another sang The Laughing Policeman song. He sang with so muchgusto he was in danger of rupturing his tonsils. The Legion could notafford the luxury of professional performers so the entertainment wassupplied by the regulars. Billy Lennox a Scot, who is at present theBranch President, he always played the drums to the resident pianist.The turns were rewarded by the audience throwing coins in the ringand was called penny on the drum. Proceeds were used to finance thechildrens and old age pensioners Christmas Parties. These were theonly nights the young wives could get out with their spouses and bringtheir children. Then at a quarterly meeting someone tabled a motionthat kids be barred from the Club on Saturday nights. Bill, who was nomean orator, protested vigorously saying ‘I have no axe to grind, my kidsare grown up, and I have no grand children, I am wondering that per-haps I have three queers.’ This caused a roar of laughter. ‘Further moreyou will be depriving our younger families of a night out’. Happily themotion was defeated. Another well-known character was Jock Sheehanwho came from the Gorbals in Glasgow and made out he was a razorslasher who had served time in Barlinnie Jail. A fellow Glaswegian saidJock had never done time, but it was his brother who was a villain. Totell the truth Sheehan would not say boo to a goose. He had many jobs 114
  • 109. but spent a great deal of time on the dole. In work he was a steel erec-tor, an iron fighter, motor mechanic, lorry driver, and a cattle droverin the Chicago stockyards. The last job he had was as a salesman driverfor a fruit drinks company called Fling. After that he was called to hisdisgust Errol Fling after the swashbuckling film star Errol Flynn. Jockdied the hard way gasping for breath, emphysema killed him. The poetJohn Dunne wrote ‘Every man’s death diminishes me’. Bill had lost somany friends that the poet’s words were imprinted on his mind, so ifthis story seems over loaded with people dying, it is because he knowsthe truth of the poet’s words. It was on Jock Sheehan’s Mass card thathis real full name was printed. It was Patrick Alphonse Sheehan, alivehe would have been teased without mercy. Jock loved to play the hardman, and his second name was the nearest he got to that for that wasthe name of the notorious American gangster-AL Capone. When Bill had just started work he joined Rectory Manor boys club.This was a Croydon Council youth club with sports facilities such astable tennis, billiards, badminton and boxing. A cup of tea and a buncould be bought on the cheap. They also had a football team thatplayed on Waddon Marsh. Well-named too, it was under a foot ofwater in the winter, and to try to head that water soaked ball was ask-ing for a headache. Across the road stood a sweet shop owned by NellPeat, who ran a system of credit called the slate, this quite often nevergetting repaid. On the wall adjacent to her shop hung a cigarette ma-chine that sold two Crayol cigarettes and two matches for the priceof one penny (old money). Five woodbines cost two pence, little didthe boys know it, but it was cancer on the cheap. Poor old Nell’s shopwas demolished in a German air raid. The Rectory Manor boys clubwas closed during the war years, but whist it was functioning it gave ameeting place for working class lads to spend their time. It was thanks 115
  • 110. to the volunteer unpaid instructors that they found an interest in life.Remember, there was no Television in those days – even radios werea rarity. Bill cannot but help to recall that knives were never used in afight, and to put the boot in was a coward’s way of fighting. The range of activities available at the club was many and varied.Apart from boxing, gymnastics, and what is now known as unarmedcombat, was taught. These activities stood the lads in good stead whenthey were called up by the services, for they had acquired a high stand-ard of physical fitness. It was here Bill met his wartime colleague HarryMills. Here too, he first tried the noble art of self-defence under BertSimmonds. His first sparring partner was Billy Adcock, who couldbattle non-stop. He had a good punch in both hands. He was also atireless athlete who could run and run. He, like Bill and his mates wereeventually called up as conscripts. Billy joined the Royal West KentRegt, whom he affectionately called ‘The Mutton Dagger Lancers’.Billy was at Dunkirk during the epic evacuation, and served on theSecond Front in the landings against Germany in France, it was therehe met his wife Gerda, who bore him three sons, and over fed himwith her wholesome German cooking It was sheer chance their pathscrossed again. Billy was employed as a painter on the same site as anold Marine mate of Bill’s, Freddie Whiteman. Billy had an extrovertnature, generous to a degree, always wore a big ear-to-ear grin. Heloved to sing the Al Jolson songs, and knew all the lyrics word forword. Always happy, could see good in every one, loved his pint ofbeer and his fellow men. When he lay in hospital his last words to Billwere ‘Good-bye me old brancher’. Sadly he died at the age of 80, fromkidney failure. Another member of the club was George Aylard, lucky in that hewas an apprenticed bricklayer and always had plenty of pocket money 116
  • 111. to buy smart clothes. Bill was in the Local Studies section of CroydonLibrary researching the Town’s Roll of honour to establish whether thename of Harry Mills had been recorded. This was subsequently doneas it has been written earlier in the story. George and Harry both haddied as a result of that which is known as friendly fire. George hadjoined the Royal Engineers and was killed outright whilst attemptingto disarm a Russian bomb, a gruesome two some. Two more of Bill’sfriends were Frank Tolfrey and Bill Bentley who both joined the RoyalMarines; they were, however, drafted to sea service. Bill Bentley wasaboard HMS Repulse when it was struck by a japanese torpedo inthe Far East. This he survived but suffered under the dreadful treat-ment in a japanese prisoner of war camp in Sumatra. He was to sufferfrom the latent effects of his ill treatment all the rest of his life. BillBentley was interviewed on tape by a war reporter on his experiencesas a POW. When at the end of the interview he was asked ‘did youhate the Japanese?’ Bill replied ‘No, they were soldiers carrying outtheir orders, a different set of rules however.’ Bill the interviewer, thecruellest of the enemy were the Korean soldiers who were their POWguards. Jimmy Pooley, Bill remembers, was his first encounter with aspiv, in other words a wide-boy. Jim earned his living as a street tradercum greengrocer and made the headlines selling tins of fruit to thetroops during the evacuation of Dunkirk. After his discharge from theArmy he went back to his green grocers round. Any profit he madewas given to the bookmakers at Catford greyhound racing stadium.Unfortunately he was a compulsive gambler, a heavy cigarette smoker(up to eighty per day) which shortened his life when he suffered amassive heart attack. Jim was a comedian to the end. When I go hesaid ‘Put twenty Woodbines in my coffin, and then I can give St Petera smoke’. The British Legion had a busy social side that included a 117
  • 112. Cricket and a Football team. Bill was secretary and manager of thefairly successful Football team that won a winners medal in the localleague. Paul Swan was quite a character and a very good footballer.He was a master of ball control but very cheeky with it. A well-knownreferee in the Croydon League Peter Bedford knew Paul well and oftencrossed swords with him. On one occasion a coloured boy from theopposing side and Paul were having a bit of aggro, and Peter wavingan admonitory finger at them both called them to him and said ‘ Lookhere you two, don’t piss me about, cut the capers and get on withthe game’. They gave Peter no more trouble after that. Bill thoughtthat Peter would have been the first Referee sent off for swearing atthe Players. Peter was and is still a fitness fanatic. He still takes partin Marathon Runs in aid of Charities, in spite of him being over sev-enty. Another highly successful project was the Golf Society. It wasfirst formed by John Devereux. The Society was very well respectedand had a high standard of dress-code; the Golf too was of quite ahigh standard. Several of the players were of single figure handicaps.Most times a mini bus or coach would be hired and after a shower anda meal a good old sing song would be had. Pat Murphy carried in hisbag three number one woods nobody knew quite why. Playing in onetournament Paddy was playing in a heavy jacket that had a hood. Hestruck his ball that went straight up in the air and nestled in the hoodof his jacket. Time went by without him finding his ball, then he bentdown to look again and his ball rolled gently over his shoulder to theground. Bill had the honour to be made life President of the Society;he also was made Captain twice. Both Bill’s sons, Willy and Peter, wereelected to the post of Captain. Norman Butler found an abandonedartificial leg and this came to be used as a booby prize for the low-est score in society competitions. Railway Charlie’s wife was horrified 118
  • 113. when Charlie took it home, she was furious. The lads said that was thefirst time he had a leg over. Reg Francis was a regular recipient of thisghoulish and unwanted trophy. On the 6’th green was giant Richardthe 3rd (turd) that was pronounced to be from a Fox. How can you tell it was a Fox’s? Bill said, quick as a flash, ‘Because it’sgot a glacier mint on top’. John Devereux who was nick named ‘Fingers’after an accident cleaning a lawn mower, decided to leave. He left be-hind a thriving society and it was a credit to his organising abilities. Up to the time of writing Bill’s story, he and Clem had lived for over50 years in Leigh Crescent and seen many new faces come and go.Across the road lived Denis and Josie Frith, a real London Mum. Sheworked at two jobs to help bring up her family with her husband whowas employed as a meat porter. They were both tragically stricken withcancer and died within nine weeks of one another. Poor Dennis, Billrecalls his words when learning of his condition. ‘Stone me I thoughtI had a few more years in me yet!’ Next door to them lived the Lovells,Ernie and Joan. He, a Chief Petty Officer and she a Wren, who sewedand met in wartime. At Joan Lovell’s funeral service the music shewanted played was Colonel Bogey – (words rhymed with ‘Rollocks’– her way of sticking two fingers up). When Bill and Clem lost thesefour it was like losing Brothers and sisters. Down the road lived PhilLaws whose old Mum (she was called ‘Gran’ by everyone) was stillworking at the age of 88 years. She went to work winter and summeras a Laundress, and very good at it she was too. She would finish herday in the public bar of The Man on Moon, and drink a fair quantityof Guinness along with her old mate, another Granny – Edie Farrant.Although the price of Guinness (that was their tipple) went up severaltimes, Tom Beegan froze the price of their drink all the time he was 119
  • 114. there. Little Irish Billy still lives in the street, and talking to Bill oneday of their eating habits, they both said they were partial to piece oftoast. Irish Billy said his Mother only toasted their bread on one side.‘Why was that?’ Bill asked. ‘Was it to save using the gas?’ ‘We neverhad gas’ said Billy, ‘our toast was made in front of the fire’. Another neighbour of those early days was Charlie Carson who of-ten stood in for Fireman Bill on loan club nights. Charlie was an exPresident of Legion New Addington branch. With this post went thejob of service committee. This meant visiting the elderly, the sick andailing. They sometimes gave financial aid to the needy. It was at thistime that the income from the fruit machines plummeted rapidly. Itwas then the Police were informed, and a trap was laid. The machineswere treated with a dye to entrap the suspect. The man with the dyeon his hands was Charlie Carson who was subsequently arrested andcharged. This was a big shock to the members, most of all Bill whocould not believe it when he heard. Nobody knew the exact amountthat had been taken from the machines. Charlie was found guilty andsentenced to a term of community service, and banned for life fromthe Legion. He also was made to repay a monthly sum as reparation.It transpired that his very good friend Fireman Bill had sent Charlieto get two sets off keys to the machines cut. He had three sets cut andkept the third set for him self. He was another victim of the cancer thathas cursed the Legion. He died from Asbestosis. Big John Kirby and his mate Nobby Clark, huge men, well over sixfeet tall and over 48’ chests. They had a huge capacity for beer. They wereboth brewers dray drivers. Big John went out in style with six magnifi-cent black horses wiearing plumes. Although they had been told howlong they had to live, they went with out a whimper. Bill has attendedso many Funerals and cremations, he feels he should have season ticket. 120
  • 115. Number three son Peter had a terrible accident. On his way to workfrom his house in Oxted, Surrey he was involved in nasty crash. He wasdriving his Brother Willie’s Mercedes to work when the car spun outof control and rolled down an embankment on Titsey Hill. His righthand was severed at the wrist. He wound down the window of the car,climbed out of the window holding the severed hand, and bleedingheavily clambered up the steep embankment. Here he lay in the roaduntil a motorist stopped and called an ambulance. Quick thinking theambulance driver stopped at a Pub and got several packets of frozenfood and packed his arm with the hand in ice. This act was possiblythe main factor in saving Peter’s arm. Peter was then rushed to theEast Surrey hospital that carried out emergency surgery. Poor Clemwas almost prostrate with grief when the hospital informed her. JosieFrith was a great comfort to her telling her of the miracles modernday surgeons could perform. The Doctor at the East Surrey Hospitaltold Bill that they had done all they could and transferred Peter to theQueen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead in Sussex. This was wherethe famed Surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe pioneered his plastic sur-gery on the Service men that suffered horrendous burns in combat.The doctors who were to carry out the surgery on Peter’s arm, toldBill and Clem to go home as it was going to be at least twelve hoursof micro-surgery. When it was over Peter was in so much pain thateven the sedation of the Morphine was ineffective. He in fact had tobe placed in isolation. The car was a virtual write off, and unfortu-nately Peter was driving on a Third Party Insurance Policy so was notcovered. Bill spoke to Sergeant in the East Surrey traffic and Accidentcontrol. who was mystified as to how it had happened. Peter had notbeen drinking. There had been no rain. Neither was he speeding, butan independent survey found a fault in the Camber of the road. Twice 121
  • 116. more he underwent the agonies of the operating table, and on thetenth anniversary of that black day six Doctors spent a further ninehours joining severed arteries and tendons and cosmetic surgery torestore almost full use of his hand. A little over fifty years ago Peterwould have been an amputee wearing an artificial limb. To the Doctorsand their team Clem, Bill and Peter owe a debt of gratitude that cannever be repaid. Who dares say our wonderful National Health Serviceis no good. Praise must be given to Peter for his courage in under goingthese excruciating operations and his determination to keep working.Bill and Clem now have five grandsons. Jack whose Mum and Dad areLin and Joe. Matthew and Daniel who Bill loves to watch play cricket,these two by number two son and Lorraine. These three Grandsonsare waiting for University places . Last but not least come Michaeland Paul. All the apple of Bill and Clem’s eye. One member of theStoneman family must rate a mention. Not Bill hastens to add of hu-man stock. His name ‘Raglan’. He was a hunting hound, and was amember of the Edenbridge Hunt in Kent who hunted Mink. Raglanwas huge in size, but a great big softy at heart. He had the long floppyears of his breed and had the brain-power of Walt Disney’s hound‘Goofy’ The reason he was to be put down was that he would notfollow the scent or keep up with the other dogs. Plus the Spartan ex-istence of a Hunt dogs kennel life. He used to keep the rest of thepack awake all night with his crying. They were not fit for hunting thenext day. Much like a Disney character in cartoons. One night whennumber two Son Willy was having a drink with the head Kennel man,he was told Raglan was due for the knacker’s yard. Willy thought thiswas a terrible fate for such a beautiful animal, so he offered to buy him.Willy was warned that Raglans breed would not make good pets, but 122
  • 117. he took the risk and bought the dog. ‘Raggy’ (as he was affectionatelyknown), was a great lummox of an animal, but very good with the kids.His appetite was enormous; his food bill outstripped the money it costto feed his two boys. Every week a huge sack of tripe was delivered totheir house, and bags of dog biscuits. His hairs were everywhere, andhis method of a greeting was to knock you over in his joy to see you.The Veterinary Surgeon’s bill was quite high too. He was knocked overby a big Bentley motor car, and was severely injured, but the car costquite a few bob to repair. Among the many duties Bill and Clem werecalled upon to perform apart from babysitting was dog minding. Thistask meant Bill had one arm longer than the other. Bill maintains thatRaglan was a virgin, so gormless with a member of the opposite sex.When he was lodging with Bill (Willy and his family were on holiday)he would be placed in the car and transported to the local park. It wasthen Bill’s suspicions were aroused. A magnificent German Sheep dogwas chasing a ball her owner was throwing. and it was obvious she wasin season. Raggy retrieved the ball and dropped it at her feet, leavingone very disappointed Bitch. It was said that this breed of dog did notlive to great age, Raggy did he was nearly 14years when he died, muchmissed and much mourned. It takes all sorts so the saying goes, and the Addington British Legionhad them all. It would take another book to name them all, but al-though they are fast diminishing in numbers they were and are charac-ters. Many times Chairman of the Alwyn Social Club was big RobbieSpain who for years was a United Dairies milk rounds man. DerekSavage who was always citing his ‘Old Granny’, Kenny Dixon, TommyWhite, Lennie Lamb and others too numerous to mention. The Butler Brothers Norman and Tony must be on Bill’s list. Tonywas without a doubt ‘Poacher turned Game keeper’. He was one of 123
  • 118. life’s ‘Mr Fixit’. Yet when Tommy White handed him the Treasurer’sjob, he handled their funds with zeal of a Scrooge. His Brother playeda big part in raising money for charity in organising a Dartathon anda walk to Brighton. This last was more of a pub-crawl. Nevertheless,they raised almost £2000. Dennis Hands was a dustman turned minicab driver and he could turn the air blue when he spoke, but a manof high principle. He never worked his cab Bank holidays because themini cabs charged double bubble, i.e. double fare. A feature of theClub was the rapid turnover in Stewards, and some were quite goodat their job. Fireman Bill called the club ‘The Stewards graveyard’.The best of the lot strangely enough was a woman, Norman Butler’swife Sharon, very efficient indeed. Two regular faces at the bar of theLegion were ‘Railway Bill’ and ‘Railway Charlie’. These were two longservice Train drivers of the old school. Not for them the luxury of driv-ing a car to work in their early days, they used to cycle to work in allkinds of weather, and absenteeism was a dirty word to them. Bill saysof all the diabolical mistakes the Tories made when they were in power,privatising the railways was the biggest. Another quote from Les Wood‘The biggest balls up since Mons. It was always a puzzle to Bill the lackof recognition given to those who gave so much time in organising andrunning the Branch and the Club. One outstanding example of thiswas the Branch Secretary and who for years acted as Club Secretary,Reg Francis. He was all of 16 stone in his socks, and a member of theLegion Golf Society. Still today a crater on the local golf course, causedby a German bomb is called ‘Reg’s Divot. Sadly Reg recently died fromthe accursed cancer. Still, as Bill says,unrecognised by the powers thatbe in Pall Mall, the Headquarters of the Royal British Legion. Theblack shadow of the Cancer curse was ever present, and it hit the fam-ily of one of Bill’s best friends. He is Jimmy Nielson, a Scot who lost 124
  • 119. his young daughter Ailsa at the age of 11 yrs. His lovely wife Jean wasthen stricken twice and succumbed to the disease. Finally Jim himselfwas diagnosed as having Cancer of the bowel. Jim is and was one of thebravest men Bill has met who handled his cruel illness with fortitude.Bill often wonders why the fates have been so cruel to the membersof the Royal British Legion in New Addington. – Someone up theresurely doesn’t like them. Two more of Bill’s friends were George andEileen Kirby. George served in the 51st Highland Division in the BlackWatch during WW2 with distinction. George was an asphalt layer bytrade working on the Motorways. After his retirement he suffered along painful illness with severe Thrombosis that led to having his legamputated suffering from Gangrene. He attended Roehampton hos-pital where he was fitted with a false leg. He bore his disability and thepain that went with it like the old soldier he was and became a featurein the British Legion sitting near the gangway in the Club sinking nu-merous quantities of beer. Who could blame him, the pain of the amputation even with themorphine he was given was excruciating. He always got a kiss fromthe Ladies as they passed him. Bill never heard one word of complaintfrom him. One thing Bill noted was the fact that he was never allowedto drive his electric wheel chair home. Had he done so, he must surelyget a ticket for being drunk whilst in charge! His wife Eileen did agreat job as ‘Poppy organiser’; she worked tirelessly, without a lot ofrecognition. She was out in all weathers selling Poppies, and she washerself a very sick lady. She still gave George all her care and attention.As the time drew near for his Cremation Eileen heard to her horrorthat George’s body had been sent to the wrong Chapel of rest, insteadof him being in Croydon his body was sent to Camberwell, causingEileen and her family acute distress. She finally did what George had 125
  • 120. pleaded with her to do, namely give up the onerous task of ‘Poppy Organizer’. Of all the friends Bill made in his long life, and this does not include his mates he had in the services, these will be dealt with later in his story. Bill numbers Jack Regan along side Jimmy Sweeney, Tom Beegan, Jock McKenzie and Bill Penfold as having been friendships of pure gold. Jack (nicknamed Jack the Gas) worked for the Gas Company man and boy for 47 years. He took early retirement at the age of 59 years. Jack was a caring man that visits eve-Jack Regan on the memorial bench ryone that falls sick, whether they aredonated by his ‘Penny Fund’ in hospital or at home. Always giving a helping hand when it is needed. TheCharity ‘The Jack Regan Penny Fund’ bears his name, and has to datehanded to various charities the magnificent sum of £16,000. Jack doesnot solicit or ask for money in any way, and people from all walks oflife (pensioners, school children, bring bags and jars of silver and cop-pers. Quite a lot of money comes from other friends of Jack’s and hehas many friends. Bill never tires of telling the contributors to his fundthat they are the best of the best, and that if there were a league tablefor generosity the Legion would be top of the list, not only for Jack’sFund but other charitable projects. Bill knows these facts to be truebecause he is the Fund Treasurer. Jack, in spite of his age and suffer-ing from a chronic chest complaint, (he has to use a Nebulizer con-stantly to help with his breathing) is an active member of the Service 126
  • 121. Committees serving along another great worker Liz Collard who it hasbeen mentioned do a great job. She herself is not a well lady. For yearsJack stayed with his very good friends Jack and Eileen Arch, until hisill health gave cause for concern. They were worried he might be takenill whilst they were on holiday. Through the efforts of Michael Lyons,Chair of the New Addington Legion, Jack was allocated old personsflat. Here he gets the best of attention, with a hot meal every day, hisroom is cleaned once a week, and who is more deserving than he? Jackis a Naval veteran of WW2 and served on the Russian Convoy run,which no doubt left its mark and contributed in part to his ill health.He served on HMS Rodmill, that was torpedoed in the Irish Sea withthe loss of 50 crewmen. He was interned until the end of the war. Billsays Jack is one of the finest men he has known, and it is an honourand a privilege to have known him. He is in fact a modern day GoodSamaritan. 127
  • 122. Apart from relating how compulsory Sunday School had been hisintroduction to religion, Bill’s interest completely waned as he grewolder, and throughout his life he became an agnostic towards religion.No matter what trials and difficulties he faced in ill health, in timesof danger such as the time on Hill 170 when he described his goingback to his forward position to spend the loneliest night of his life,Bill never resorted to prayer. He could not find comfort in that way.Besides, he would not be a hypocrite. Bill would rather clean the heads(toilets) than attend Church Parade, and it was many years after hiswar service had ended that he went into a church. Bill’s philosophy wasthat his way of life was better than that of a Christian. Throughout hislife he spoke to many men of the cloth, Catholic, Church of England,Methodist, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist in his search to find a faith. The horrendous loss of young lives in two world wars and the tollamongst his friends and family from the ravages of cancer resulted inBill not being able to believe in any God. He asks himself after he hasattended the many funerals of his family and friends, the burial serv-ice asks the good Lord to take them into his loving care. Bill says ‘Henever took much care of them when they were on earth suffering fromthe terrible agonies of cancer’. 128
  • 123. OLD COMRADES REUNITED One thing Bill swore whilst in the service was that he would not join the proverbial Christmas Club, and it was in fact many years later that he made contact with any of his war-time mates. The first of these was Les Wood whose next door neighbour Charlie Bishop told Les he knew Bill was an ex Marine Commando. Although Les was a member of ‘Y’ Troop he knew Bill by reputation. They subsequently met and became firm friends. The next one was Buddy Homan. He had en- quired from Croydon Council whether they had a WR Stoneman on their electoral roll. They in turn gave him two names, Bill’s No 2 Son Willy received a letter with a stamped and addressed envelope, and saying was he the man that had served in 42 RM Cdo with him? The next day Bill received a similar letter from Buddy who lived in Dorset. Being on holiday at the time Bill with his wife arrived on Buddy’s doorstep. He was employed as a postman in nearby Bournemouth, and years of close friendship followed. This meant numerous reunions with the Army Cdo Association, at which they met many old mates. In August 1955 a 3Cdo Brigade reunion was held in the old Eastney Barracks now the site of the Royal Marine Museum. Here many old friendships were renewed. Major Frank Taylor, Lt Bud Kater, Bill’s old platoon commander. Buddy, Vince Cutting, C/sgts Ginger Budd; George Atkins; Major Hiram Wynn Potts; QMS Bill Dowse to name but a few. It became tin hat time as old battles were fought. This led to further re-unions at the Cdo memorial at Spean Bridge near Achnacarry where all WW2 Cdo’s trained for their Green berets. Their numbers are diminishing, but Bill still sees Les Wood, Tug Wilson, George Fradd, Bill Dowse and Chuck Ball. Bill, Les and Tug always visit their old mates, and when they shuffle off to the great HQ in the sky, these three are always there to see them off and make up the Honour guard. The more recent mates they 129
  • 124. have said farewell to are Buddy Homan, Vince Cutting (Bill saw himin The Greater Manchester Hospital), and Les Tug and Bill saw Buddywhen he was in Hospital in Dorset. They were with Ginger Budd inSouthampton in his last hours. Bill has always sent their obituariesfor publication in the Regimental magazine The Globe and Laurel andwonders sometimes who will write his. Bill ends this chapter by quot-ing the late Major Frank Taylor’s words to him at an Army Cdo reun-ion ‘When I see all these grey heads around me. I know I am lookingat the bravest of the brave’. For many years now the Commando Association have met at Fort William to attend the November Memorial Service at Achnarry to honour their wartime dead comrades. The monument was a gift from the Scottish people and it shows thehigh regard they have for all Commando’s. Time has taken its toll andthe veterans of WW2 are dwindling in numbers, but they still march upthe hill to the skirl of the pipes of the Lochaber School’s band, Bill turnsLes Wood’s phrase Anno Domini into a jocular ‘Annies Dominoes’. The memorial was unveiled by the late Queen Mother in 1952 andlast year the Duke of Edinburgh attended the 5oth anniversary of itsexistence. Hon Commando Padre, The Reverend D A MacQuarrytakes the Service and although Bill has said religion is not his ‘cup oftea’ he has to admit his old style hell-fire brand of preaching impressedhim a lot. He is an outstanding orator. 130
  • 125. On the Sunday morning of ArmisticeDay the Cdo’s march down the HighStreet where the Laird Camerontakes the salute from the march past,and the streets are lined with the folkof Lochaber, such is their high regardand esteem for the Cdo’s. The paradehalts at the stone cenotaph in frontof Rev. MacQuarrie’s church, herewreaths are laid and a service held.Bill’s three sons, who sometimes ac-company him on this pilgrimage,are in awe of the wonderful feelingof friendship that goes with the occa-sion. Added to that the glorious beau-ty of the Highland scenery. In 1993 Bill with sons (L toR)the Cdo’s were awarded the Freedom Bill Jnr, Joe,and Peterof Lochaber District Council, and itwas with a real sense of pride they marched behind the Band of theRoyal Marines to receive this accolade. After all these years the folk ofFort William still retain a feeling of deep respect for anyone that wearsthe green beret, and greet them with a smile and a friendly word. Everyyear the Secretary of the London Branch, ex CDO Vic Ralph, presentsan award to the Lochaber Girl’s School’s leading pupil as recognitionfor their supplying the Pipe Band when the Commandos march to theMonument at Achnacarry. 131
  • 126. CONCORDE TRIP Before the advent of television Bill had a wish to see five major sport- ing events namely The Derby, The Grand National, the FA Cup Final at Wembley, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and England vs Australia Cricket Test Match and after the war he saw all of these. His final ambition was to get a flight aboard that wonderful supersonic aircraft, Concorde. The unforgettable moment came when, accompanied by Clem and his sons, he arrived at the Concorde Departure Lounge at Heathrow. Bill and Clem were overwhelmed by its sleek shimmering beauty, it looked like some pre-historic bird. Bill always said it outshone all the other aircraft made in the World. Not even the Russians with their unique technology could copy or match it with their version named Concordski. Concorde was, in fact, banned from flying over or land- ing on many American airports because of the noise it made when it passed through the sound barrier. Once aboard the aircraft (which resembled a huge cigar with seats), the passengers were served with coffee and sandwiches or Champagne. An elderly lady seated behind Bill was celebrating her 90th birthday and being tee-total, passed the bottle of wine to Bill, with which he drank her health. 132
  • 127. Cruising high in the stratosphere, the powerful engines, even at fullthrottle were so quiet. Bill says he has had bumpier coach rides. Clem was extremely nerv- ous and her nails dug into Bill’s hands, but when the plane went from cruis- ing speed to Mach2, thus breaking the sound barrier, the champagne glasses nev- er trembled.Truly a day to remember. An Anglo-French project. It was one of therare times the French were on good terms with us. 133
  • 128. Researching the Local Studies department of Croydon Public Library forinformation on the late Harry Mills and why his name was not on Croydon’sRoll of Honour, Bill noticed Lt Knowlands VC had been a pupil of ElmwoodRoad School. Along with Micheal Lyons, the chairman of New AddingtonRoyal British Legion they paid a visit to the school. There on the wall by theside entrance was a tiny Plaque, about the size of a letter box. To the minds ofMick and Bill this was hardly worthy of a man who had died in service of hisCountry and been awarded it’s highest decoration for Valour. They met theHead teacher Mrs Heather Jones, and she was delighted when Mick offeredto supply a more fitting tribute to Lt Knowland’s memory. In conjunctionwith the No 1 Branch of the Commando Assc a new plaque was unveiled byCountess Mountbatten at a ceremony attended by, The Lord Lt. of Surrey,The Mayor of Croydon, representatives from the Commando Association,the Royal Marine Association and The Royal British Legion. The ceremonywas attended by some four hundred pupils of Elmwood School who sanga hymn along with Henry Brown. Bill was impressed by the the children,whose behaviour was impeccable. Afterwards the Veterans met and chattedto the children, who asked many and varied questions… ‘ How many mendid you kill?’, ‘what are your medals for?’ What indeed Bill asks? The Battle of Kangaw Day is now an annual event at the School – TheSecretary of the London Branch of the Army Cdo also presents certificatesof merit to pupils that were considered to have put in the most good workin their school year. Among the various ventures Bill took part in was the Legion FootballClub, and was duly entered by Bill in the Croydon Sunday Football LeagueLeague. This was one of the Premier Croydon Leagues, run by a lnan wellinto his eighties named Les Wame. He ruled with an iron hand, and woe 134
  • 129. betide the man that used foul and abusive language. The team which hadincluded Paul Swan, Willy and Peter, two of Bill’s Sons, Roy Jordesson andMickey Rumsey. The team along with these consisted of Johnny Frith,Nicky Garrad, David Latter, Mick and Geoffrey Laws, Trevor Muller, MarkHarris, Paul Martin, David Latter, Gordon Brooker, Scouse Steve Smith,and Kevin Ashby, Bill as Club secretary was ably supported in turn by threeManagers, Jimmy Jordosson, the late Charlie Bishop, and Ron Harris, whoamong other trials of Managership suffered the indignity of a punch on thenose from a player that resented Ron’s caustic comments on his play. Thatpunch earned the player an outright expulsion from the football club, theLeague and the Legion. The team was Bill’s pride and joy, and the side metwith some success, winning the League and becoming Runners up twice.One thing for sure what his team may have lacked in the skills of soccer wasmore than compensated in their 100 per cent effort. Two tragic events in theClub’s history was the loss of Roy Jordosson who contacted an unknownvirus and died. Whilst Mick Rumsey after suffering an amputation of a legsuccumbed to Cancer. Two very popular boys. Brave Mickey attended Roy’sfuneral wearing his newly fitted false leg. When Mickey passed away a benefit was presented in the Royal BritishLegion hall by the Hole in the Head Band. The use of the word ‘Band’ leftthose that performed in it (for want of a better word) unmusical, and totallytone deaf. The instruments used and abused were trombone, sax, trumpet,piano and Billy Lennox on the drums. The Guitarist and drummer werethe only members that could lay claim to being music wise. The bobby soxreception from the young females in the audience was near to being hys-terical. To call the end result of their efforts cacophonic would have beencomplimentary. Guest singers that night were Bill’s late Brother Jack andhis son Mark. The maximum tickets allowed to be sold was 100 at ThreePounds per ticket. These went like hot cakes, and had there been more room 135
  • 130. in the hall they could have sold twice that number. Had the law been in at-tendance the whole gang would have been arrested for crimes to Humanityand for impersonating muscians. Hereby placed on record are the names ofthose Murderers of Music The Huxley twins Bob and Phil. Hoogli Hughes,Chris Amba, Willy and Peter Stoneman, Steve Collard and Dino Bentley.With the proceeds of the raffle over three hundred pounds was raised forMick’s Widow. Bill’s two younger sons Willy and Peter spent some timeworking in the United States of America in their youth and made manyfriends, and they remain so to this day, and still pay visits to them when inEngland. Their absence made Bill’s wife Clem worry about them, to this Billhad a stock answer ‘They are doing what they want to do! One stock replyPeter used when being told off for his prolifigate life style, was ‘ Mother tellMickey Rumsey and Roy about the value of money, life’s too short to worry’a philosophy to which Bill can relate. 136
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  • 132. EPILOGUE Writing this in his 84th year, with what he says is one foot in Mitcham Road (cemetery), Bill can look back on the good things in life. Where, he wonders have gone the hopscotch grids that used to be marked out in chalk in the school playgrounds, and on the street pavements? What has happened to the skipping ropes that were a feature of every school playground? What has happened to the errand boys riding those big heavy cycles with a huge steel carrier in front, tunelessly whistling the current tunes? Where too has the Doctor with the bedside manner gone? We have come a long way in the life of Bill and people of his age group. The wonderful friends he has met, the love and care of his wife Clem, who nursed him through the many grave illnesses he endured, the love that he himself never knew now received from his three Sons and five grandsons, and the partners of his three Sons of whom Bill says ‘If I had them for daughters I could not be more proud of them’. Bill can do no better than to quote the words of the song sung by the late Louis Armstrong ‘What a Wonderful World’ . Born as he was in the starkest poverty, and seeing his lifestyle change to an unbelievable standard, he ends with these words ‘Nothing will wipe the scars of poverty from his memory from those bad old, good old days’. Bill says he is grateful for his own ‘wonderful life’ The love he has from his wife and sons, not forgetting his grandsons, who are now grown up and go- ing to University. The ‘gold’ of his many, many friendships.The good times and the bad times, for all of these things Bill says ‘thankyou’. 139
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  • 134. AFTERWORD I first met Bill when I married his niece Lyn in 1985, when I was a young marine. His open- ing line to me was, “well, are you a green beret or dark blue?” Once I told Bill that I was a green beret he immediately began to tell a tale of when he was in Kangaw and recounted a part when he and his mates were walking through a swamp and had to walk over crocodiles to get to the other side. The other members of the family sat with gaping mouths as this tale unfolded, for he hadn’t told it before. Already we were brothers in arms. More recently, while helping him with this, he told me that one of his sons had asked him how it felt to be in action. His reply was that he ‘felt nothing’, a little scared maybe, but he remembered quite vividly that the mosquitoes were busy that day, the only difficulty with them was that they were wearing lead jackets! In combat your training takes over and there is little time to think about much apart from what you are going to do next and to look after yourself and your mates, generally the feelings come afterwards. It is extremely difficult to explain the confusion and noise relating to being in action but you never forget the whip and crack of the sonic boom as the rounds pass close by. I recently had the honour of walking Bill round the Commando Training Centre as it is today. On one section of assault course, which we call the Tarzan Course, set high in the trees, Bill remarked that he would not have been able to do what we do now in his day. I replied with, ‘Bill, what the young lads do today takes nine months to achieve, you passed out of Achnacarry in six weeks’. Make no mistake, Achnacarry was a truly fearsome pace, the training was unbelievably difficult and they used live ammunition and explosives while training, accidents were accepted and conditions were dreadful. On top of that those who passed through went off to fight for their country and for freedom. Joey, Bill and Peter, when your dad asked if I could help him write his story I was de- lighted to help. This story is for you and the future generations of your family. Bill is a special man and always a marine.‘ Per Mare Per Terram’ Major Stuart Tulloch 141
  • 135. Bill says thank you to Major Stuart Tulloch for inspiring him to write this tale.Bill also gives his gratitude to Tommy White’s wife, Carole, for the work she putinto printing his story. To be sure Bill could not have done this tale without herinvaluable help. HuRtWOOD PReSS . Pete StOneMan