In 2004, I interviewed my grandad, Dennis, who was born on 14 September 1924. He had just celebrated his 80th birthday. As a historian, I wanted my grandad to go into much more detail. As a grandson, I did not really want to know any more. When I read the notes he originally produced for me, one phrase stuck in my head:
'I have left out the gruesome bits. Best to be forgotten.'
I was one of seven brothers who were called up for active service. Two went in the RAF, and five went in the army. Three of my sisters were also involved:
Myself, Albert, Frank, and Ronnie served abroad.
Fred, Jim, and Eric served in the forces at home.
Phoebe and Peggy were in the Women's Land Army.
Eva was in the WAAF.
I enlisted in the army on 21 January 1943. I was a green grocer in South London at the time. I went into the Tyneside Scottish Regiment, 49th Polar Bear Division in 1944. The motto for the Tyneside Scottish regiment is 'Harder than Hammers.'
We sailed from Southampton in the very early hours of 12 June 1944, six days after D Day. We landed some distance from the beach at Normandy. I remember it was scattered with burnt out tanks. We waded through the water which was up to our necks until we reached high land. We pushed our way up to Le Havre and our mad major told us to charge. The Germans were lying in wait for us between the beach and the trees. The mad major was shot. This is where I first got wounded – a nine inch piece of shrapnel lodged in my leg.
I was taken back to Calais to a make-shift hospital in an airfield hangar – it also happened to be where one of my brothers was stationed, but unfortunately, I missed him. They patched me up and sent me back up the line again. It was now September and this time we were sent to Holland, where I caught my second lot…
Again, we were surrounded by German troops firing at us. Again, I got hit by shrapnel but this time it was worse - my hand, shoulder and most of my left-side were wounded. There was blood coming out of everywhere. I was helped by a comrade called Leicester. There were tanks still coming at us and we continued to be under heavy shelling. Leicester dropped into a fox-hole where he came across an officer studying a map. He told Leicester that he could not bring me down there. Leicester told him, in no uncertain terms, to get lost and he dragged me into the fox-hole! We waited there until the tanks passed.
I was later helped on to a carrier and taken back to the make-shift hospital at Calais – again I missed my brother.
Only Leicester and I survived. The other twelve members of our troop died during this attack in Holland.
I was then taken back to Southampton and onto a Red Cross train up to Birmingham. I was then taken to a hospital in Richmond, Surrey where I spent some time recovering from my injuries. It was a long while before I could hold a rifle again. I was then transported to Liverpool where I joined a troop ship heading for Africa. We were on the ship for three weeks and eventually reached our destination of Nairobi in Kenya. There we faced opposition from Italian forces.
I was a corporal in the army but on one occasion I was made a sergeant. Unfortunately, on the same day, I said something I shouldn't have done to a superior officer – I quickly became a corporal again!
One of my brothers was wounded in Italy. He was presumed dead. After eighteen months, we received a letter from the war office saying he was alive and in a hospital in Italy.
I have left out the gruesome bits – best to be forgotten.
Dennis Clark, Corporal, 14513934