William Diment's War Years

My one lasting memory.

By William Diment

My one lasting memory was not actually of events during the war but as a result of a wartime action and which may have altered my life.

At the beginning of the war as I had not yet received any national service papers, I decided to enlist and went to the recruiting office in Romford one morning where I signed on and was in fact sent to a unit at Gravesend on the same day.  

However, the forms that I signed on enlistment were for 'the duration of the war'. Sometime later into my service I received a memo which said-" re.your attestation papers , please delete duration of war and insert duration of emergency.  

This meant very little to me until years later after VE day and VJ day in 1945 demobilisation started with firstly the time expired regulars and the longer serving national service, as it was considered I had signed for duration of emergency, I didn't get my demobilisatiopn papers until late 1946 and on my return to England I found the euphoria of VE day had vanished and all the best jobs gone. Also it seemed to be that a section of the people believed that the eighth army were a dissolute and infected rabble. Perhaps I should have waited for call up.

This page was added by William Diment on 03/10/2011.
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Waking up this morning, 07/05/12 , apart from being a bank holiday it appeared to be just another day, when I remembered that exactly 67 years ago the 7th Armoured had just crossed the Alps and had arrived on the banks of the Magdelansee in Villach Austria . Our advance had been unopposed, as Field Marshall Kesselring's forces in Italy had surrendered 2 days before. We then heard on our radios that the German forces in the rest of Europe had surrendered. Strangely enough, there was no extreme reaction and that day was also just another day, although we heard of the wild euphoria it produced in Britain .

Looking back it does seem that our dreams of a glorious future have not come to fruition only that our fight for survival is now to overcome an economic crisis and not a military one.

 

By W.H.Diment
On 08/05/2012

John Bathurst recalls his father bringing home newspapers from the war, these were without a doubt the Eight Army News and the Union Jack although the American Fifth had the own paper The Stars and Stripes. He also comments that his father considered himself lucky to have visited places he might never have seen. I must agree as from being a Laindon boy only ranged to places to which I could cycle and I was fortunate to visit many historic places including the great pyramids and the valley temple at Giza, The church of the Holy Sepulchre and the "Church of Agony" in the garden of Gethsemane with the 2,000 year old cedars where Jesus sat awaiting his arrest and the tomb of the Virgin Mary just outside its walls, the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. I have crossed the Jordan valley and up into Baghdad often called the birthplace of civilisation and then west into Damascus and over the mountains into Beirut thence travelling by a railway which no longer exists down the coast of the Mediterranean through the Gaza strip into the Canal Zone. Sometime later I was able to see an opera in the San Carlo in Naples and drinking tea in the Royal palace which was used as a NAAFI. In Rome I was able to see St. Peters and the Vatican and the Coliseum and listen to performances by Beniamino Gigli in the Alexander Club. Further north I visited the church and the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Marks in Venice then over the Alps to the Magdalensee in Villach. Then back down into Greece to see the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus and the war cemetery in Salonika where 6,000 British soldiers from the WW1 Dardanelles battle are buried, many of them having succumbed to malaria. In common with John's father I did get a leave back home for Christmas in 1945 under a scheme called Lilop which entailed a journey by train over the Swiss alps in the depth of winter in carriages with wooden seats and no windows, I did have to return which was a story of its own and on which I was accompanied by two other Laindon boys named Vicky Findlay and Walter Richer

By W.H.Diment
On 27/10/2011

Bill Diment’s reciting of the 8th Army’s humorous response to Lady Astor’s remarks about “D-Day Dodgers” is a reminder that when Stan Bathurst was granted home leave at, or around, VE day, he brought home amongst his souvenirs some editions of the newspapers that the 8th had produced for “in house” distribution during its campaigns in North Africa, the Middle East, Scilly and Italy. I remember reading these and being struck by how often the grim purpose of the war in which they were engaged was keyed up by a humour that was often directed against themselves. Clearly, Bill’s quotation illustrated the point. Regrettably, although some of Dad’s souvenirs from his being conscripted into the Signals Regiment (later the Royal Corps of Signals) are still to hand, the old newspapers mentioned do not. Only two examples are retained in my memory from reading them.

The first, in the North African campaign, underlines the fact that the North African desert was not necessarily a place that could be relied upon to be warm and cosy! At night the temperature fell very low and the tale is told, in the aforesaid newspaper, that this unit, on standby, were catching up on their much-needed sleep when they were reawakened by one of their numbered, screaming “A snake! A snake!” When the rest of the rudely awakened unit managed to shine a light on their noisy colleague, they found him sitting up, fear on his face, clutching his left arm about the wrist with his right hand. What had happened was that, in his sleep, his left arm having become uncovered by the blanket during the night had become numbed by the cold and, as its owner turned in his sleep, it had fallen heavily across his chest, with the consequences that followed for his no so amused mates.

The second story relates to the momentous battle of Monte Cassino where it was said that if the German defenders called for air support then the British attackers ducked and if the British called for air support, then the Germans ducked. However, if it was the US air force that was seen to be giving the “Air Support”, then every bugger ducked! 

Stan Bathurst always considered himself to be lucky in being in a support arm with the Eighth army, because, as it turned out for him, he visited places and met peoples of different nationalities he would never have experienced otherwise. He even considered that during the race westward through Libya, when, after El Alamein, the Eighth were pursuing the retreating Germans, his particular Signals Group were actually in front of everybody else! This was because, being attached to the Royal Artillery who, at the time relied more on fixed land telephones than on wireless, his unit had to payout from the backs of their trucks miles of cable to be attached to hurriedly erected poles out of the way of the tracks of following vehicles. While performing this task, his unit was strafed, with poor results as is so happened, by a lone German aircraft. This was, apparently, the only time Stan considered himself to have experienced “a shot fired in anger”, as the saying goes

By John Bathurst
On 27/10/2011

It was said that these words were attributed to Lady Astor who referrred to the 8th Army as D.Day Dodgers despite the fact that battles in Italy such as Monte Cassino resulted in 22,000 dead before D.Day. The 8th. were not at all upset by this description adopted it as their theme tune with their own words set to the tune of Lily Marlene. For those interested it ran as follows. verse 1

We're the DDay Dodgers out in Italy---Drinking all the vino always on the spree---8th army skivers and some yanks---we walk round Rome dressed up like swanks---for we're the DDay dodgers out in Italy. 

verse 2

We landed at Salerno a holiday with--Jerry brought the bands out to cheer us on our way---Showed us the sigths and gave us tea--we all sang songs and beer was free-- for we're the DDay dodgers out in Italy. 

verse 3 is omitted as it has lewd references to lady Astor

last verse Up and down the mountains in the mud and rain---stand rows and rows of crosses many bear no name---misery and suffering all are gone, the boys beneath just slumber on---for they're the DDay dodgers we'll leave in Italy.

By William Diment
On 24/10/2011

Hello William; I have just read your article, the last sentence (dissolute and infected rabble), who were these people who said this and where were they coming from, because of this here is my little offering in defence of the 8th army. 1942 in North Africa the 8th army defeated Rommel in the 2nd battle of El Alamein. In 1944 the 8th army broke into central Italy and continued to fight Northward to take Florence. I quote about the following about the 8th army, but sorry William don't know by who wrote it "Its advance from El Alamein to Tunisia was one of the greatest military logistical feats of all time and it has distinguished itself fighting under difficult conditions during the campaign in Italy".

This was deserved praise indeed William, I for 1one am very proud of you as a fellow Laindoner.

By Gloria Sewell
On 19/10/2011