The Wartime Memories Project - France




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Trace your family's war heros now!

World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

My brother Leonard Grace was sent to France at the beginning of the war, he had a rifle but no ammunition. He was caught in Dunkirk and was picked up by the ship the 'Lancastria'. It was badly hit and my brother was very fortunate to have a life jacket, he was wounded from shrapnel and someone threw him into the sea and he was quite dazed, he was in the water about two hours before he was picked up, a lot of his comrades were killed, it was a terrible time for all of his family but especially for him. He is one of the few that is still alive and will be 88 this September, he lives in Canterbury. He was one of the bravest man I knew, but of course there were so many others

Mary Gair.



Lapugnoy after the bombing

Coal miners houses in Lapugnoy after the bombing.

Wartime Lapugnoy

An english truck on the mainplace of Lapugnoy.

Lapugnoy after the bombing

Lapugnoy after the bombing

The bombing of an important distribution center of coal in Lapugnoy.

English soldiers in Labeuvriere

Some English soldiers at Labeuvriere (near Lapugnoy). Do you recognise any of these men?

I live in north of France and I'm preparing a work on the World War II I'm searching all pictures or war photographs showing soldiers in my village LAPUGNOY (Pas de Calais). I've seen 2 photographs (from Keystone agency) of scottish soldiers in Lapugnoy (from a publication named '20 years after"), Can you help me?

Best salutations from Raymond Lancial



I served in the Bulge as an infantry replacement. I write of this after 58 years has elapsed but I remember. I entered the U.S. Army in July of 1944 at age 18 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Our destination was Camp Roberts, CA, a replacement center for infantry.

In Nov, 1944 we shipped to Ft. Dix, J.J. and landed in Scotland, went to France and was assigned to the 3rd Army, 90th Div, 359 Inf.Reg.1st Bn. My Regiment had landed D-Day in support of the 4th Div. Ten of us G.I.'s, last names all started with letter H, were sent to the 1st Platoon. The Ardennes Campaign started in Dec. 44, cold, snow, everything frozen, including the dirt and the D-bars. It was a killing ground but we stayed and we kept it. On Feb 4 and 5, 1945, the 90th attacked the Seigfried Line and our platoon was reduced to 7 men, the rest killed or wounded.

On the 5th I tood a head wound and the medics gave me first aid and I was moved to a large hospital in Luxemburg City. They stitched me up, took out my tonsils and said I had pneumonia. The hospital was filled with wounded G I's.

My Sgt. came the next day and I went back to my unit with him. We were together across Germany and in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. I can write this today because of the advice of my Platoon Sgt. Marlin L. McMahon, the complete soldier who had landed D-Day and survived 5 Campaigns. Back in France he had said, "do what I do", and I did.

From that winter on I have appreciated warm food, hot showers and clean clothes. That winter changed my life forever. God bless those men who served in that awful winter. May their memories be kind to them.

Walter C. Harris

Walter C. Harris, Springfield,IL.USA



    Leaving Tilly,and all the carnage behind us-to other poor sods to sort out -and to separate that which had to be buried -and that had not-in other words the twisted metal and rubble as opposed to the 'Cindered '' remains of what once had been living creatures we moved on to the first major city of Caen, where the cream of Hitler's Panzar Divisions waited for us . As you will understand it was our first real battle of any greatness, and when I tell you that when finally we were able to enter Caen-10 days later !! our battalion alone had lost 35 tanks out of 52.-with the resultant deaths and wounded.

It was there that I lost my first Tank-on the 9th. day with the loss of my first driver-a lovely little lad from London !! I wrote to his family-most of us carried letters in our pockets-already addressed to home-to be sent in the event of 'not making it'-and in fact I did keep up a correspondence with then for a while after the war,but like all contacts after a while it gets less and less and finally stops all together!! The rest of us were all OK-'cept that we were in a daze for about 24 hours-after the 'first time' -it gets easier and it doesn't effect you as much-(I lost three tanks all together-and two more crew-but more of that later)

I am now to relate another reason why I shouldn't be sitting here writing this, 50 years on!! One evening when we had come back in for a rest-another lot had relieved us- I picked up a strange object in a trench that was shaped like 'Funnel that could be used to pour liquid from one container-to another'..it had a 'double skin' and three magnets on the base. We assumed that this was some sort of base for a 'radio mast' and that the magnets would hold it in place.

My driver asked me to take our the inner skin and then he could use it to re-fuel our Tank a lot easier. This I did with a chisel and hammer,as I did so white powder came pouring out-which I assumed to be the 'innsulation'-bear in mind that I was sat by an open fire-that we had cooked on. The driver was more than pleased!

A few days later we were taken to see a selection of German Mines so that we would know what to look for,and on the shelf -YES ! there ' IT ' was looking down at us !! This conversation followed...........

"Oh Sergeant-that's not a mine on the top shelf-is it?" "Oh yes my son-that is the latest anti-tank mine-they creep up and clamp them on the side with the magnets on the base"

I went cold and looking at my driver-I thought that he was going to pass out!... So I said to the Sergeant,..."What was the white stuff inside then?" and he replied.."Oh that was the explosive!!!!" And then he said "Hang on-how do you know there is white stuff inside??"...so I told him what I had done ! It was then HIS turn to go white !!.I always remember his words to me.....

"You are telling me that you opened up an anti-tank mine with a hammer and chisel-tipped all the explosive out onto the ground alongside an open fire ????-my Son that is just not POSSIBLE-and live!!! I am sure that he relates that story to this day-if he 'made it back'!

It taught us all a lesson-...."If you don't know what it is -leave it alone !!!" and I did -I didn't want to 'push my luck'-again !

'Calais' has an abundance of memories for me,as it was our first big battle,and it lasted almost two weeks before we could claim it as being 'in our hands' The most poignant memory is still with me to this day,in as much that I lost another member of my crew on the very last day ! Before I explain what happened I have to explain something that I am sure no 'uninvolved person' has ever thought about and does not make very pleasant reading!

It involves 'natural functions' of the body during battle...(Well you don't say-"excuse me could you please stop shooting at me because I need to go the toilet??) Basically empty shell -cases were used for Urine-and then thrown out the top of the Tank-sometimes to the curses of Infantry Soldiers that happened to be passing by !

The 'other function'-was carried out in empty ammunition boxes-that conveniently had snap on air-tight lids-which didn't always work,and consequently the 'stench' could be with you for hours on end,especially that when in actual combat everything was 'closed down' and we had to operate by 'Periscopes'-there were fans to take away the 'cordite fumes'-but like every thing else -it didn't always work !! Having explained all this-and I do apologise for doing so - but it is relevant as to how I lost a 'crew member'.... When we were not engaged in battle,we would have to dig holes as and where necessary-like animals-(come to think of it-we weren't much less-were we?)..and the common saying was.".I'm taking the shovel for a walk "

So whilst we were stationary in a captured village and my wireless operator 'felt the need'-he thought that he would do it in comfort -for a change-and whilst he had the chance Finding a lavatory that seemed quite undamaged in one of the burnt-out cottages-he pulled the chain, through force of habit-.'......AND BLEW HIMSELF UP !!!!!....the water cistern had been 'booby-trapped' by the retreating German troops. Therefore no-one ever touched anything after that !-they would even 'booby-trap their dead comrades and leave a gold watch-or some other inviting object -to entice someone to try and take it !

Because I was a 'Tank Commander' AND a Radio Operator every night I had to be 'on watch' for FOUR hours,and so I was existing on about 2/3 hours 'cat-naps'-not even allowed to take off my boots (socks were more often than not -'fused to the feet'-and had to be removed in strips-)....this was always an 'outside operation-for obvious reasons !

One particular night I found an infantry man's disused trench-and as we had been pulled back and relieved by another unit -for 24 hours -I thought that I would take the advantage of being able to stretch out full length in this trench-instead of being curled up in a ball in the Tank turret! I placed some hay in the bottom of the trench,found a sheet of 'galvanised iron '-put some turfs of grass on top -to keep the wind from blowing it off!-and got in there for a 'good night's sleep'.

The only way I could get in was to wriggle in on my back-there was no room to turn-looking up the galvanise sheet was almost touching my nose-it felt like a 'coffin'- and so I decided to get out and spend the night with the rest of my crew in the Tank as usual!

Next morning my driver -after breakfast-felt the need to 'take the shovel for a walk' and came back looking quite ashen ! ...He wouldn't tell me what was wrong but told me to go and look at the trench where I WAS going to sleep that night!. ..in the night a Tank had gone over that trench-and pushed the galvanised sheet -DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE TRENCH !! Even after all these years-I STILL feel sick when I recall it.

I have to begin this with explaining basically how one is made a 'Tank Commander' ..........

First and foremost every man in the crew has to be able to do at least two jobs,so that whoever 'cops it' his job can be covered at once to enable the Tank to still function!-wether it means driving the Tank-loading and firing the guns-which in some cases can be as many as four different ones!-or operating the wireless -by voice and Morse code-and if the 'Commander ' is out of action then the senior soldier-must take over to command the Tank and the rest of the crew !!! The 'Commander ' himself has to be able to do ALL of the jobs in the Tank plus make descisions - navigate to positions given in all weather conditions-night and day ,and over all ,have full responsibility , for the wefare of his crew and MORE importantly the Tank-men are 'despensable'-Tanks are NOT !!! (thats how you are taught!) Consequently that is why it takes at least 2 years of intensive training to qualify as a 'Comander'

This next 'narration' took place outside a small village on the border of Holland... We had been travelling for about 30/40 miles this particular day,not meeting with much resistance at all,but we were praying that we would get orders to stop -to rest up -feed etc. You no doubt recall that I had 'lost' a driver and my new replacement was very good and a likeable lad from Scotland.

The day before he had received a 'Dear John' letter from his wife of only one year. Should you not know what that means-it was a letter that many guys had to say - - for various reasons - that their wife 'had found someone else'-quite a few were captivated by the 'charm' money and gifts from the thousands of 'GI Soldiers over here-I have to say that the Canadian Guys were no way like that and were perfect gentlemen where women were concerned-and new how to treat them! The GI's around here were always attempting to pester Dorrie but she never went anywhere without her dog !!! That reminds me I had a sort of 'Dear John' from my Grandmother to ask me if I 'knew that Dorrie was carrying on with a Airforce Pilot ??'.....

I KNEW that could not ever be so,and I was cross with my 'Gran'-in fact in my next letter from Dorrie she told me she had seen my Grandmother in town whilst she WAS walking around the shops with an Airforce Pilot and he was carrying her shopping bag. (Oh Dear Grandma-what a scandal !!!) It was an old school chum-home on leave - that she had known all her life-and they -bumped into each other in town-and he was her brothers best mate !!!-and in those day's when 'chivalry was not yet dead' he carried her shopping.

I have gone off at a tangent here-anyway my new driver was 'gutted' at the news,and so to give him a 'bit of support'-I told him to get up in the turrett- there was no signs of fighting- and I would give him a turn at driving-at least he could see all around and get some fresh air !!! All went well and finally we stopped outside this village-sent a couple of tanks in to see what was in there-they came back and said that they had been reassured that 'all was safe the local people hadn't seen any enemy for over a week-as they had all retreated- Great ! we all got down from our Tanks -starting to refuel -replenish ammunition etc. and started to think about getting some food in the 'stew-pot'-whilst we had the chance!

Bear in mind that I had just left the driving seat ! The driver went back into his seat to get his cigarettes-and seemed to be gone along time-so I went to tell him that the food was ready-he was still in the seat-as I thought fast asleep-I shouted but he didn't hear me and so I put my hand on his shoulder to rouse him-he fell forward against my arm-with a bullethole between his eyes !

It seems that there was a German sniper in a church tower that saw him moving about looking for his cigarettes ( -15 minutes before ' I ' was sat in that seat ) Needless to say that we 'pounded that village to rubble' in a 15 minute barrage of shells-rightly -or wrongly-we couldn't take anymore chances

This is to be very traumatic I warn you -but you are the one that said that you did not want me to 'pull any punches'! and basically it deals with survival-and the extreme measures that we had to do-to keep food in our bellies!!!

Luckily this happened only once as normally rations were delivered to us weekly,but this particular time there weren't any -communication lines had been cut-and we had fallen back on 'emergencey rations which were now exhausted.!!When I hear the expression "I'm starving " it makes me smile because not many know the real meaning of the word !!! Starving is when you actually feel giddy and bilious you cant sleep at night because of the knawing pain in your belly keeps you awake-you drink a lot of water-chew grass-dig with your hands in ploughed fields hoping to find a odd potato or sweede left behind etc.-even search dead bodies for any signs of food or a bit of chocolate.

This particular time we had done all of those things-without success-and when we arrived at a bombed-out farm house our luck changed?? There was no food at all as they had taken all with them,but in the back of a barn was a PET Rabbit-a beautiful white Angora-with the biggest pink eyes you had ever seen. None of us wanted to kill it-but we all wanted to survive-and we all knew that it was basically 'meat'-and so we 'drew straws'...Yes I LOST ! I knew what to do and how to prepare it from my living in the country,and had done it hundreds of times-but a TAME one ????? O.k. so to cut a long story short -we didn't roast didn't stewed it and that way we had some 'soup ' for the next day!!...but the day after that we were back to square one again !! (For a long time I could still see those pink eyes looking at me-as I picked it up to kill it !!)-I don't like looking at 'Angoras' even these days: bad memory !

Then I had a brilliant idea!!!! First of all you must know that when tanks are of no more use-burned out -blown up etc. They are put into one big field-which we called 'Tank Graveyards'. Now emergency rations are carried on each tank in air tight compartments-mainly tins of biscuits -cheese-stew-and such like,and so off we go to find a 'graveyard' to look for any rations that may still be there We were lucky? and found one quite quickly-raising our hopes for supper that night !

Finding the first one I climbed to the turret,forced open the top and recoiled in horror,at first I thought that it was a little monkey looking at me from the commander's seat,then I realised that it was indeed the cindered remains of a Tank Commander -you cant imagine the smell because thank God he has spared you from it! I took a deep breath and tore of the 'ID Tags' from what was left of him -to hand in -as soon as I was able,but what upset me was the fact that this tank had been dumped without being searched properly ! God Almighty this was someone`s Son Father-or whoever that had been reported 'missing in action'-giving false hopes to a relative that maybe? he was still alive and a prisoner of War !!-tho'thinking back on that -perhaps it was a kindness to give them hope to cling onto-if only a false one

Anyway back to the story-after the 'gorey find' we moved on to another tank and low and behold there was 12 tins of biscuits-5 tins of cheese-and 15 tins of soup!...you know the first thing we did?-no we didn`t open up one and start eating-we just hung onto each other-in one big hug and -and sobbed our hearts out-in relief-we had about a week's supply 'if we were careful! The parting memory of that episode -and the end of this transmission- was that the floor of the Tank was about 2/3inches deep in burnt ashes,which I assumed was the ashes of the burnt interior of the Tank-but not all of it was !!! for as I pulled away some of the ashes to open the food locker-I felt some sort of lump beneath my hand -pulling if free from the ashes-I looked at it and I remember screaming -just like a woman-it was a perfectly formed-but soot-covered Hand ! I don`t remember much else as we must have scrabbled back through those ashes to get back out with our 'food hoard'-wondering what else that those ashes were hiding from us,and when I reported on what we had found at a much later date-after 'communications 'were restored,and I handed in the 'dog tag from the Tank Commander I was told that ..Having found that 'Hand' I should have made a 'search for anymore 'dog tags' that may have been in the ashes-that might have established the identity of the owner !'....can you believe it ????-they weren't bloody well there were they! Though in retrospect they were right !!-it might have meant something to a relative-eh?-and I didn't have the GUTS -did I ???-I keep saying that given those times all over again-I know -for a fact- that I could have -and would have done somethings differently!

I had 'lost' my third Tank-and another driver,and as no 'replacement was going to be delivered for 7/10 days,and already having had training -in the past-as a 'Medic' I was put in charge of a 'half-track vehicle' that was set up for recovery of 'Casualties ' and given 6 stretcher-bearers.

One one of our recovery trips,we were loading up wounded and bodies of dead,when I heard the sound of tank tracks coming towards us-I new at once that it was a 'Tiger' tank one of the German's most feared-we didn't have the fire power on our tanks to stop them until months afterwards! So I started to hurry my lads up-leave the dead-load the wounded !!and as we did so they started to scream and shout for us to leave them alone-they were in horrific pain-(I will-THIS-time-spare you any description of their wounds!!!) ...but they were screaming when we arrived-and before we touched them-;;;so what the hell !!! as always-and as trained-we closed our ears to any pleas that came from their tormented bodies-including one guy that 'begged us for a bullet' !!!!!-and that wasn't the first time we had heard that cry !!!-and of course ignored it. I do know of two cases where casualties were ' knocked senseless '-to give them respite-if only tempory- from their unbearable suffering!!! Before we could finish loading - ,this 'Tiger' tank came towards us,and didn't stop-just went on by !!!! we couldn't believe that we hadn't been seen-on the grass verge!!! We started to virtually drag the wounded onto the stretchers-not being able to believe our luck ! Within minutes the tank returned and again ignored us and went on around the corner !

By this time we were panicking,trying to get the loaded vehicle out from the grass verge,but with all the extra weight we were having trouble to get back onto the road !

Finally we did and.........Yes!!!! the tank came back around the corner again-(it was as if he was playing -cat and mouse-with us! ) But this time he stopped and swung right across the front of us ! I recall-quite clearly-thinking well this is the end of the War for me-and wondered which prisoner of war camp I was going to be in-I'd heard some horrific stories of some of them-

We just stood there with our hands in the air-waiting for whatever,and then. The Commander of this massive German Tank leaned out of the top and making a gesture off cutting his throat with two fingers,said -in almost perfect English. "Zeese ist Tree times I ze you here-Four times I ze you-you are Kaput (Dead)...and drove off once again !! We could not believe our luck-needless to say -screaming wounded -or not we got the hell out of there-before there there WAS a "Four times" !!!

Thinking back on it afterwards-it wasn`t so strange as it seemed -for two reasons- Firstly we were wearing 'red cross' arm bands-were un-armed and so no threat to him. Secondly-what could he have done with us-he could not have carried 7 medics + 6 wounded on the back of his tank-could he ? Mind you in retrospect he could have shot the lot of us-it was done quite often -red cross -or not !

This next episode,concerns a job I was given to do on my own,which could have been dangerous-but luckily wasn't !!

It involved a report that a German in a tiny little village has bludgeoned to death an English pilot that came down in his parachute,and I was sent to arrest him and bring him in to the Authorities. The village was occupied by us and so there were not any enemy troops there.

AS I arrived at the house,I asked his wife where her husband was and was told that .."Herr ist nicht hier !!!" and when I asked where he was ..."Ich viece nicht"......... In other words ...he wasn't there and she did not know where he was. So I started to search the house,and when I went upstairs and into one of the bedrooms there was a young girl cowering on her bed,and as I came in she started screaming her head off ! I did my very best to tell her -in German - that she was in no danger-but she didn`t either understand me or believe me !!-and so I came back out and called her Mother up to pacify her-and tell her that I was not going to even touch her !! It appears that the Nazi Propaganda had told everyone that British troops were going around 'raping' young girls

AS long as I live I shall never forget the look of terror on that young girl's face as I burst into her bedroom-poor love-I sometimes wonder where she is now-if alive-and that 'horrific memory '-must still be with her. Dear God ! War is so bloody and cruel-and not only destroys bodies-but peoples minds as well,and as I think back I am beginning to think that I don't feel at all proud that I had to take part in it!

Anyway to continue-coming down the stairs I noticed that the woman kept looking at a cupboard under the stairs-I tried it and it was locked ! I asked her for the key but she said she couldn`t find it-so I pulled out my revolver to blow the lock away ! but she pulled out the key from her pocket and unlocked the door. As she did so her husband came out with his hands over his head-and despite her screaming and pleading I marched him out thro' the village with my revolver in his back-knowing full well that if he 'made a run for it'-I would have to shoot him-if only in the legs-if I was that accurate -if not -and I killed him-what the hell-if he could have got my gun -he would have killed me for sure-and no way 'in the legs'! I handed him over to the prisoner compound and that was that BUT The next day when I thought it was about time that I had cleaned my revolver-I went into deep shock!! I went to remove the bullets-prior to cleaning-AND THERE WERE'NT ANY IN THERE! the revolver was EMPTY !

Thinking about what I had done the day before-with an empty gun-made my blood run cold-O.K. he didn`t know that it was empty !!!but if he had made a run for it -or worse still attacked me ! I couldn`t have done anything about it -and maybe I wouldn't be doing this now. I don't know to this day why that revolver was not loaded-I could only think that I had not re loaded it when I cleaned it last...and that must have been 2/3/4/ days before-and during that period I definitely 'was walking around on borrowed time'

A week later I had to return to that village-I cant remember why-and whilst I was there I thought that I would call and see how the Woman-and especially her young daughter-were handling things-without the Man I had taken away

I Knocked the door -and then stood back in shock and grabbed my revolver (loaded this time)-for who was stood there was the man I had arrested

To end this story it seems that he had been before a 'military tribunal' -and found 'not guilty'-thro' lack of evidence and had been given a letter to carry with him-to prove it. After I read it-I was so disgusted -that I said no more and turned to walk away, as I did so he called after me-in English "Thank you English soldier-for not harming my wife-or daughter and may God go with you!"

and I did something then that I never ever thought that I would do-and don't understand to this day WHY I did!!-but I turned around ,went back and extended my hand towards him-which he took-as the tears ran down his face...and then before I could move away-his young daughter came from behind him,grabbed one of my hands lifted up to her face and kissed it !!! ....and then I had to go -for tears were filling my eyes as well.!!!

Looking back I like to think that somehow I had made them realise that English soldiers were human beings and not the 'beasts' that they had been led to believe !!!

Cliff Billen

Cliff Billen



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