Soldier X | Part 10, Walking Tall

Soldier X | Part 10, Walking Tall

    Walking Tall     It is hard now to remember what life was like back then I believed them when they told me I was alone in the world and that this place and time were invincible. They left us to walk those troubled streets as strangers But the stories we were told about ourselves and our place in the world stopped making sense and so we walked . . . but we listened to other voices, the voices of our cult.         The names of roads and pubs that bisect estates and shopfronts have become a shorthand for memories. The Linnet and  Cpl. M telling us to move forward, his face, menacingly ebullient as was his way. We were told that anyone giving us lip or anyone who so much as spoke to soldiers was to be arrested. We carried a round in the breach at all times and usually we would wait until we got out into the street to cock our weapons as the noise let everyone nearby know we meant business. On some estates we never went in the road, we kept to the back gardens, hard-targets. They would often dump shopping trollies and barbed wire in their gardens to make life difficult for us. Of all the people in Belfast it’s difficult to find anyone more anti-British than those living on some estates. Huge gun battles raged there. Many houses have had their roofs virtually ripped off by machine-gun fire and the schools even have bullet holes in their front doors. There is always one particular place on a...
Soldier X | Part 9, Berlin

Soldier X | Part 9, Berlin

  Berlin     He adjusts his jacket, sits and adjusts his trouser legs, tics, opens his book, pause. Stillness for a few moments. Speaks After the war, I was in Berlin and an extra duty we had was train guard. This meant going to Magdeburg in the Russian Zone, picking up about 3000 German prisoners and taking them to Munster about 300 miles away. Not long you may think, especially by train. It used to take us about a week for the return trip. No priority for POW’s on the railway then. The trains were made up of three pack wagons like guard vans and the rest were coal trucks. The wagons that carried the prisoners were terrible with no heating at all, some died. Later the ‘powers that be’ decided to put a small stove in each of the pack wagons and it was ok. It was a mad rush at Magdeburg picking up the POW’s and getting them all packed into the trucks. Then we issued them with a loaf of bread and a tin of bully beef this was to last them for the 3 or 4 day journey but it was all gone in the first half an hour. Poor sods were starving. Unfortunately they all had dysentery so every time the train stopped on the way a lot would jump out and crouch by the track. We had the job of shoving them back into the wagons and then getting into our own because the driver never waited. When the winter got too bad we never bothered to get them back in the...
Soldier X | Part 8, Belfast

Soldier X | Part 8, Belfast

  Belfast   I was sitting there watching Smithy smoke a joint as he lay on his pit. I got the dope from a girl back home. She sent me dope and my father sent me the local newspaper. ‘Leisure centre hosts flower arranging debacle’ that kind of thing. We even used to read it sometimes. I suppose it was comforting to know that the world, however meaningless, carried on, even if we weren’t in it! The smoke was drifting and curling and we philosophised as the night wore on. We ain’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too, But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you; An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints, Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;   In the weeks before we went to Belfast we had lost three soldiers to accidents, suicide and stupidity. Archer had stolen a land-rover and driven it into a lake when he was drunk, another lad whose name I cannot remember was found dead at the bottom of some backstreet steps in the city and a lad named Brooker when coming home drunk one night decided he wanted a snack. That’s what killed him, not the snack but his attempt to get one. He climbed down the stainless steel flue of a little food stand that sold burgers and hot dogs. When he got inside and turned on the gas he found he had no matches so climbed out again and asked a passer-by for a light. He climbed back inside, lit the match and blew the whole...

Soldier X | Part 7, Germany 1945

Germany 1945   He is in an armchair and takes off his reading glasses, tics, lays his book in his lap; Bronowski’s, ‘The Ascent of Man’, and tells me about Germany 1945. There sit I, his luckless double, and listen again to the silence between his nonchalance. I was on my way back to the regiment and when we got as far as Soltau we stopped for lunch on rising ground and watched a British unit about 5 miles away mopping up some SS Hitler Youth troops who were in a small wood. They were doing it with crocodile tanks that have flame throwers – didn’t half bring the buggers out of the wood a bit sharpish. There was a railway line nearby with some burnt out wagons on it. I went for a leak and had a look into one of them and saw a British sixpenny piece inside. Then I saw a line of stakes going into the woods. Following them I came upon a big circle marked out in more wooden stakes, it was about 10yards across. The soil was fairly loose over the circle and all of a sudden I noticed a boot with a foot inside sticking out and then I found another. I yelled out and some of the others came over, among them a RSM. I told him about the sixpenny piece and we went and found it. The RSM got on the wireless to the camp at Venlo on the Dutch border. An SIB (Army detectives) unit caught up with us at the next place we stopped. They took statements from...
Soldier X | Part Six, Normandy

Soldier X | Part Six, Normandy

Normandy This is where I began; after my father died. It’s a beautiful part of France and the beaches that stretch along the coastline as you pass through the towns of Ouistreham, Luc-sur-Mer, Lyon-sur-Mer, Arromanches, Colleville, Veirville and Le Madeleine are clean and inviting. I rode a motorcycle, got wet and hot in equal measure. Took my time. The beach at Arromanche and the remains of the Mulberry’ harbour in the bay I swam at some of the beaches especially Sword beach, venue of the British attacks at a place called Lyon-sur-Mer and listened to the Garry Owen playing on my heaphones. My dad was a cavalryman and it seemed an appropriately memorable and comic piece of music to play at his funeral as the coffin descended. I felt that he would have approved somehow. So I stood in the sea looking towards the town of Lyon-sur-Mer which is in the area designated as Sword Beach and I thought about what it was like, advancing up the beach. I imagined the whistle of shells followed by explosions. The tranquillity was now only disturbed by early morning joggers, walkers, cyclists, gulls and me, the solitary swimmer. My father was due to land with the 11th Hussars on D-Day + 9 but on 6th June, as the Allies were landing in France he was helping to pull the pontoons of a floating bridge out of the ground when one came loose a bit quicker than expected and broke his leg. He spent the next few weeks recovering which is when he met my mother so but for that stroke of fate, I may...