Transcribed from original handwritten script by David and Dominica Jones
Jack Tear - Recollections of War Service
I was a member of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Regiment, a unit specially formed to give close artillery support to the Commandos and other assault troops as they went up the beaches. We were to go ashore at the same time as them in waterproofed tanks apparently in previous landings the only heavy guns to help keep the enemy’s heads down were from ships several miles away.
The tanks and their drivers had been seconded to the Marines from the Royal Armoured Corps, and the Marines formed the rest of the tank crews. We had spent months painting each nut, bolt and welding with special rubber paint to make the tanks waterproof, high extensions had been fitted to the exhausts so that the tanks could operate in water almost to the top of the turrets.
I was in the co-drivers position beside the driver, and when we entered the tank we drew a hatch to close us in. To make the hatches waterproof, our ammunition squad put long ‘candles’ of soft sealing asbestos wax round the edges and this worked well during underwater trials.
On June 4th 1944, the Sunday before D-Day, we left camp A18 near Havant, Hampshire in open topped trucks to go aboard our landing craft at Stokes Bay. The roads were crowded with vehicles crawling along bumper to bumper. Once when we stopped, local people who guessed what was happening, greeted us with “Good Luck, God Bless” and gave us each a rose saying “Here’s a bit of England to take with you.” It was very emotional.
The tanks were already chained to the deck of the landing craft when we went aboard. There were only two tanks on the tiny, flat-bottomed craft. We were told that they were made by a firm called KAISER, in America being shipped over in three parts and being joined together in Great Britain.
Discomfort and apprehension made sleep impossible and about 8 ‘o’clock on the morning of June 5th we set of for Normandy. What a journey it was too, there was a heavy swell and our flat bottomed craft went rhythmically up and down, up and down, but occasionally would catch the top of a wave and shudder as though it might break in two. We had all made our last will and testament two weeks earlier. Now between the bouts of nausea most of us wrote last letters to loved ones at home, JUST IN CASE.
There were about twenty-four persons aboard; five in each tank crew, six ammunition squad marines, and eight seamen, and most of them were seasick at least once. All through the day and night we endured this queasiness and then at daybreak on Tuesday 6th June we saw and marvelled at the magnitude of the invasion forces. As far as we could see each side and behind us were craft of every size imaginable, whilst overhead, bombers, fighters and transport planes towing two or three gliders each, were all moving in the same direction.
About two miles from the beach we took posts in the tanks and started firing our ninety-five millimetre guns, applying range and direction adjustments as instructed over the radio. At about 7.30 our craft struck the beach, our tank was unchained and we entered the water. As soon as we did this, water poured in on the driver and me. In the excitement our ammunition squad had forgotten to apply the sealing wax to the hatches. The intercom was put out of action so we removed our headphones, and all instructions had to be shouted above the roar of the engine. All the air to feed this great engine was coming through the open turret and without headphones on it was almost sucking our eardrums out, also, each time the gun was fired it felt as though someone was clapping both hands over our ears at the same time, and acrid fumes from the shells stung our throats and eyes.
We moved forward until the water stopped coming in, someone in the turret shouted “Our crafts been hit, they’re wading ashore.” One of our ammunition squad came by and shouted “Eric’s been killed, Smithy Davies and some sailors have been wounded” I felt numb; we had left the craft only a few minutes earlier. Eric Youngman was my special friend and was just twenty-three years old.
The other tank was still on the landing craft; marines and sailors had been sheltering behind it when a shell hit the superstructure behind it and shrapnel splattered down on them. We were now firing at gun emplacements and other selective targets, occasionally we could hear shrapnel pepper the tank as shells exploded nearby. There had been about thirty ninety-five-millimetre shells at my feet when we entered the water but most of those had been passed through the ‘escape hatch’ as those in the turret were used up. After the gun emplacements were taken by the assault troops we moved out of the water. Each tank was towing two ammunition holders called ‘Porpoises’. These were like river punts with covers on. Medical corps personnel who were giving first aid to casualties placed several of them on our porpoises and we carried them higher up the beach.
Tanks with revolving flails in front were moving forwards and backwards and occasionally would explode a mine hidden in the sand, whilst other tanks were laying wooden tracks from great rolls so that wheeled vehicles could move on the beach without sticking in the sand. Other tanks of our unit came ashore, we got out of the tanks to stretch our legs and replace the used shells from the porpoises and we learned very quickly to throw ourselves to the ground every time an enemy shell screamed close to us, and never seemed to get bruised by doing so. We examined our tank, pieces of red-hot shrapnel had welded themselves to it, great chunks of rubber had been gouged out of the track bogie wheels, and the storage compartments above the tracks were pitted like pepper pots. I looked around at the many casualties still being attended to on the beach, I thought of Eric and all the others who had died within the last few hours and mentally thanked God that I was not one of them.
We took posts in the tank again and moved off the beach to attack targets further inland. This time I was acting as gunner, doing direct and indirect fire at targets seen and unseen, in conjunction with other tanks. When it became dark we took our turns on guard duty with loaded Sten guns at the ready, keeping within the bounds of fluorescent yellow ribbons denoting the area cleared of mines. During this period pink tracer shells arced slowly across the sky, and occasionally a very-light shell would cause us to stop and stand like statues, until it burned itself out.
At the end of our guard duties - which we did in pairs - we crawled under the tank to sleep for the first time in two days. We stopped this practice after hearing of one tank, which had sunk down, almost touching them. The tank had to be driven off them to prevent their being crushed.
We moved on next day and ended up in a field dotted all over with thick posts, placed there to stop planes and gliders from landing there. We also found out that all the potential landing areas along the coast were staked out in this manner. We also learned that gliders were specially constructed for the wings to break off and leave the body more or less undamaged.
We made slow progress towards Caen, which was proving to be more difficult to overcome than previously anticipated. We attacked a strong point on a river island on a rota system with other tanks, so that shells were falling continuously for almost 2 days until the fort was taken.
One day we had a ‘dud’ shell and after the usual ‘Immediate Action’ discipline had been carried out, I was the lucky ‘so and so’ who had to run about 150 yards, carrying the shell. Scared every step that it might explode, I had to place it gently on the ground and leave it with maximum velocity! When I read about the special bomb disposal personnel who took time, sometimes hours, to defuse and make safe a bomb or landmine I remember how my hair stood on end after just a couple of minutes. I marvel at the cold courage of these men and feel they deserve the Victoria Cross and a Million Pound Pension! These are my memories of D-Day 60 years ago. I wasn’t a hero and I wasn’t a coward. But I was certainly scared most of the time. And I was lucky, very, very lucky.
Back from France
Eventually, after about a month after D-Day, Caen was captured. We, being assault troops, were withdrawn and came home, landing at Southampton and then on to Portsmouth. We had never heard of the German ‘Flying Bombs’ (‘Doodlebugs’), but soon got used to them coming over at half-hourly intervals. After a couple of days we went to Corsham, Wiltshire, where we enjoyed the luxury of clean clothes and a bath. We took part in a parade and gave a display of ‘square-bashing’ and rifle drill at Bath. After this we were sent on 17 days disembarkation leave. It was marvellous as our daughter Diane was just about 10 weeks old and I’d shared only 36 hours with her soon after her birth.
At the end of the leave I reported back to Corsham and a week later we were sent to Cupar, a small stone town, but the capital of Fifeshire, Scotland. They had not had Marines stationed there before and we were made a real fuss of! To create and maintain a good impression, we had to wear our best Blue Walking-Out Dress Suits each time we went out off duty. If it rained we were allowed to wear our best Battledress. We were sent there to help save a lot of fields of flax from becoming rotten. The usual ‘flax pullers’ were Irish labourers who had a fixed rate of pay per acre pulled. If they came to a field with a lot of thistles they just left it and moved on. These were the fields we had to pull! It was amazing! We could easily grab 2 handful of the flax, which stood up like corn, but it was impossible if we held 3 single stems and tried to break them. We were shown how to work in teams the pullers grabbed and pulled handfuls, turned round and laid them on the ground, seed heads all at one end and roots at the other. The heaps were then tied into bundles and ‘stooked’ into sheaves by other marines following on. We took turns at each different operation. We were told it was a vital wartime crop as the seed heads were used in cattle feed, the roots went towards making explosives and the stems were made into the finest linen. After we got used to this work we had a lot of fun and were given a small remuneration for each acre we saved. We could always get a late pass to attend the frequent dances where the locals took great pleasure in trying to teach us the intricacies of the ‘Eightsome Reels’ and the ‘Dashing White Sergeant’.
This was probably the happiest period of service life for most of us. We used to go into Edinburgh by train and maintained what we had been told was a tradition of throwing copper coins, pennies or halfpennies, out of the train window into the sea below for luck. All too soon we were sent back to Corsham where we had lots of ‘square-bashing’ and ‘bull’ to polish up the discipline which had diminished during our stay in Scotland.
Training for the Far East
A few weeks later we were shipped off to Burma Camp, to a small village called Llangwril in Merioneth, North Wales. What a contrast with Scotland! We did lots of ‘schemes’ 20 or 30 mile marches with full packs and heavy rifles and mock battles and skirmishes. ‘Defenders’ were sent ahead in trucks and lay in wait for us to find them and then attack. The going was very hard and there was little level ground. We would struggle up steep hills, leaning forward to keep our balance. Coming down was no easier as we had to walk with knees bent to stop us pitching forward. We also performed revised seamanship skills up the estuary at Barmouth. This included rowing heavy boats as well as powered craft. In between this we took part in what we considered to be Commando training. We must have been the fittest servicemen in the country!
The social side was also very different from that we’d enjoyed in Scotland. Where we got late passes to 1am merely for asking to be allowed to stay to the end of a dance. In Wales, when we went to a dance in Towyn, we had to leave the dance at 9.45pm in order to catch the last train back to Burma Camp. We had no complaints about the Welsh people who treated us well. Quite a crowd of us went to a New Year’s Eve dance at Towyn and Joe Duggan, a sergeant and a very nice chap said ‘Let’s see the New Year in. I’ll take care of the passes!’ These passes ended at 11.59pm and a few of us agreed to this offer and saw 1945 in with ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Immediately afterwards we started to walk back to Burma Camp, 8 miles along the railway track. This was a bit of a problem and very hard going as the railway sleepers were too close to step on each one, but too far apart to step on each second sleeper. So it was sleeper and space, sleeper and space, but we finally made it in 2 hours! Joe got our passes and we dispersed to our huts, getting up at 6am with all the other marines. We felt proud of our fitness when we recalled our journey to our mates.
One Saturday 3 truckloads of us went to Aberysthwyth to support our athletic teams competing against the University teams. As expected, our teams had a decisive victory! We had a rather unique experience after these sports when some of us got ‘wolf-whistled’ by some females in Woolworth’s! Later on, in a marvellous dance hall, when every dance was a ‘Ladies’ Excuse Me’ none of us grumbled!
Experiences in India
Some weeks later we went home on leave and then had to report back to Corsham for more spit and polish discipline drills. Suddenly we were sent off to Glasgow and boarded a transport ship at Greenock to go to India. This was just before the end of the war in Europe, and German submarine ‘Wolf Packs’
Were making last ditch attacks around the West Coast. Our ship sailed west for 2 days before heading south, to avoid the U-boats. This journey took 21 days and we landed in Bombay on 8th May 1945, V E Day, thus missing all the celebrations at home. A journey of several hours by train took us to a tented camp at Karachwasla, a few miles from Poona. We were housed in large, square tents, 4 beds or ‘charpoys’ to each one. Mosquito nets were strung on wires above each bed, and each bedpost was in a large tin of liquid, smelling of disinfectant, to stop ants and other creepy-crawlies getting into our bedclothes.
Channels measuring 2 foot six by 2 foot six were dug all around the camp and around each tent, these sloping down to a dried up brook 300 yards away. We were told they were ‘monsoon trenches’ and seemed ridiculously wide and deep to us then. However, a few weeks later, these trenches filled to overflowing after a minute or two when the monsoon came. During these monsoons you could almost see the grass and other vegetation growing and, at the end, the dried up brook became a 36-foot lake as marked on a map of the area.
I can’t remember much about the food, except that the bread was doughy and ‘sad’. However, little Indian children used to call at the camp after every mealtime to collect scraps of food that the marines had left. They would pick up pieces of bread and cake even if it had been trodden into the ground. We used to go into Poona by truck but half the streets were out of bounds to military personnel. However, there were 2 fine servicemen’s clubs where we were made welcome. These were the Willingden Club and Lady Lumley’s. There, we usually had fried steak and onions, the steak being grey rather than the red colour we get here. I suppose it was from the huge water buffalo, which were used as workhorses. Fortunately, it tasted better than it looked!
We had a good football team, with 2 football league players in it. Our team often played some really good India teams, the best of which was Tata Sports. Tata was one of India’s largest companies, employing thousands in its multifarious business activities. We were most surprised to see a lot of the Indians playing barefoot and shuddered as we watched them challenge for the ball against our players wearing heavy leather football boots.
After some weeks in Karachwasla we moved to a vast camp at Madh Island, where we renewed our acquaintance with our tanks. We began practising beach landings for a future assault on Japanese territory a daunting prospect that we accepted philosophically. The preparation and training were vastly different from that for the D-Day landings. All the tanks had their turrets removed and the usual flat bar tracks had been replaced by ones with a vertical bar at right angles across the middle. This reduced the speed of the tanks on land, but compensated for this by enabling them to move at around 5 miles an hour in the water, In effect, the tanks were steel boats, and our organisation’s title was changed from ‘Armoured Support Regiment’ to ‘Amphibian Support Regiment’. Some tanks were fitted with flame-throwers at the front, capable of shooting flames 50-60 feet, backed up by marines who were trained to use mobile flame-throwers. These looked like thick wheel inner tubes when strapped to the marine’s backs. Other tanks were fitted out as emergency ambulance theatres with all sorts of medical equipment, to land with the other assault troops. Most tanks would be used as armoured personnel carriers with the ability to carry on up the beaches, impervious to all but the heavy field guns. It was expected that most of the Japanese defences would be lighter than the massive German fortifications along the whole of Western Europe. We would practice beach landings with varying manoeuvres once we got ashore. It never failed to amaze us how the heavy tanks could go along the beach, turn into the sea and act as a slow boat, turn round and proceed to the land and up the beach, without stopping until reaching the designated assembly area.
We were having lectures on how to survive in the jungle and were taking a yellow mepacrin tablet at morning parade each day to prevent malaria. Anyone who failed to take these and contracted malaria whilst on active duty would be put on a serious charge of dereliction of duty. Many servicemen, de-mobbed after serving in the Far East, went down with malaria a long time after returning home, unaware that the disease was in their blood. We were told never to drink water from streams or ponds, but to suck the juice from the many vines hanging from trees. Also, never to cut or pull leeches from any part of the body as this would leave the suckers behind to go septic in the flesh. The best way to remove them was to touch the leech with a lighted cigarette, causing it to wriggle off. Although the daytime dress was shorts and short-sleeved shirts we wore long trousers and long-sleeved shirts at night when the malaria-carrying mosquitoes came out. It was known that marines out in Bombay after dark with sleeves rolled up were made to pull their sleeves down by naval patrols in white shorts and short-sleeved shirts! I wonder how many of those naval patrol members ended up with malaria?! It would appear that discipline was always that bit more severe with the Marines than with most other military organisations. We spent a lot of time at Madh Island keeping fit with lots of P.E., football, and other activities. We also spent an unusual Christmastide thinking of loved ones as we lounged around in the sun.
As the weeks passed we knew, and accepted the fact, that we would soon be putting all that training into action against the Japanese. It was a sobering thought at the back of our minds, accepted philosophically as inevitable and with no expectation that it wouldn’t happen. And then, suddenly, the use of the atom bombs on Japan ended the Japanese resistance - and the war in the Far East. The future looked brighter, and safer, with the knowledge that we would soon be on our way home. I was among the older personnel and therefore amongst the first to be repatriated. And so, after some postponements and fond farewells to friends we had lived and worked with for several years, we sailed home from Bombay, arriving home in February 1946.
I know that I was lucky, having lived through two World Wars, the first as a baby, the second as an adult combatant. I kept in touch by letter with some of my closest ‘Oppos’ for many years, and now all but one have passed on, except Rab Murray, a Scotsman, with whom I share 12page letters twice a year. I am a member of the Royal Marines 34th Amphibian and Armoured Support Regiments Association and have attended many annual meetings at the Union Jack Club in London. I’ve also taken part in in the 50th Anniversary of the end of the war parade in London and many of the National Armistice Day Parades there.
We have a saying ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine’, and this is very true. I am very proud to have served as a member of that most elite of the armed forces, The Royal Marines.