Wednesday 9 January 2013

3rd December, 1946 - In which Ron leaves London and arrives in France...

Tuesday, 3rd December, 1946
Leaving my lodgings at “Egremont” I said farewell to Miss Wilson who had prepared for me an excellent breakfast.  I walked along the road I now knew so well to Warlingham Village carrying my heavy suitcase suitably labelled for the journey I was about to undertake.

At the village green I waited for the Green Line bus that was to take me to London.  It eventually came and after travelling in it for an hour I alighted at Vauxhall Bridge.  Another ten minutes walk along the Millbank brought me to the offices of the Crown Agents for the Colonies.  Some ten earlier arrivals were waiting outside, all with heavy suitcases and probably the same feeling deep inside them for the future which held for us we knew not what.  Always before when I had visited the offices I had had to climb flights of stairs to a reception desk on the second floor.  Today we all entered by a rear entrance and found ourselves in a form of store room.  Here we were joined by other chaps all making the same journey.  Soon we numbered sixty, far larger a party than I had expected to find.  As our names were called out we went forward to collect our first issue kit.  This consisted of a kit bag containing our uniform, eating utensils and other accoutrement and a great coat tied on the outside.  We also received our passports on examination of which we found that we would pass through Egypt.  Up to this point we had no inkling as to what route we would take.
When we had all received our kit and had signed in triplicate for it we boarded, kit in hand, two double decker buses which took us to Victoria Station.

After fighting through a mêlée of E.N.S.A. representatives and Army Officers returning to the continent after leave, we [boarded] the train for Dover.  Last minute farewells were sobbed by parents who had come as far as the Station.  I felt glad my parting had been so short at home for although mother knew I was going, she could be brave as she would put it until I had left the front gate.

We were more than a little cramped on the train for not only had we our private kit but also our newly issued kit.  Many chaps even though cramped could not refrain from opening their bags and revealing for general criticism some of the topmost articles.  There was a buffet on the train organised by the N.A.A.F.I.  We were soon climbing along the kit laden corridor to satisfy the hunger we all had after our early breakfast.  The chocolate was a special treat, off any ration system.

Speeding along through the fields and towns we were too busy getting to know one another, & before we realised it we were pulling into Dover Station.  The members of our compartment had already become well enough acquainted to have formed a plan of leaving the train.  Two were told off to commandeer platform trolleys while the rest of us piled our baggage out onto the platform.  The scheme worked well and in comparative ease we transferred our property to the Customs Department.  We queued up and passed through without having to open our cases.  Our identity cards were stamped to say we had left the country but we were allowed to retain them.

Passing out of the customs we found ourselves on the
sea front with a small Trans Channel boat waiting to take us on board.   We went below deck while other people such as officers and civilians were detailed off to other parts of the boat and were to be allowed the dubious privilege of staying above decks.  I watched the white cliffs of Dover recede beyond the view offered by the port holes on ‘B’ Deck where we were installed.  The boat rolled quite violently I thought though as I have never travelled by sea before I am no judge as to whether the Sea was rough or not.  We all made the crossing which took an hour and a quarter without mishap although I thought several reached France with paled faces and I must admit
there was a sensation in the pit of my stomach which I had not known before.

The coast of France was very low as we approached it, with no picturesque and memory feeding cliffs.  Our first impressions, which in my case were soon displaced by better ones, were very poor.  The Quay of Calais was very desolate, surround[ed] by sand dunes and remains of pill boxes and other machines of war.  We did not enter the town proper, but walked a short distance along an open and muddy road to a military transit camp.  On the way along this road loudspeakers gave us instructions as to the procedure we would follow on entering the camp.

The first thing we did was to change our money into the plastic coins and notes used by British Occupation Forces.  This money can only be used inside army camps.  We also received a perforated card composed of slips which were to be detached and handed over for anything obtained while we were in the camp.  A cooked meal was awaiting us but as our kit bags and cases had been taken on a truck to the station we had no cutlery.  We had to borrow spoons from the military camp.  After the meal which I judged as being typical army food, wholesome with no fancy touches, we were given a free issue of fifty cigarettes, two boxes

of matches and a tablet of unscented soap.  In the N.A.A.F.I we obtained, on surrendering a slip from the card, a packet of sweets.  Greatly refreshed by this meal we were called out to the barrack square where we lined up and walked to the station nearby where after collecting our individual cases we boarded a large Pullman train at 7pm.  At one time this train had no doubt been a 1st class but the ravages of war had greatly lowered its grading.  Although it was reasonably comfortable while we were awake and fresh, it became very cramped and the padding hard when we wanted to settle down to sleep.  I tossed and turned all night and only managed to get an hour’s sleep and a temporary stiff neck.  It rained nearly all night and froze into the bargain.  As there was no heating of any sort in the coach we had to get up periodically to stamp the cold from our legs and feet.  The Great Coats soon became detached from our kit bags in the luggage compartment and these helped to stave off the otherwise intense cold.

1 comment:

  1. I read this with Dad as I was going to bed.
    It was really exiting to hear about my great grand father who was also called Frederick, just like me!
    By Freddie Baldwin, Ron's grandson, aged 7.