Army history of cadet Ensign Margaret Pratt and Sergeant Charles Ward

BWardCWWardCWv1.pdf

Title

Army history of cadet Ensign Margaret Pratt and Sergeant Charles Ward

Description

Memoir and diary covering Charles Ward's call up to the Army and early training. Mentions that he applied to transfer to the Royal Air Force and although accepted, all transfers were cancelled due to imminent operations. Describes in detail fighting in Tunisia. Explains that after North African campaign was over, he was transferred to secret work as a cipher operator in the Special Operations Executive. Describes how he met his future wife Margaret a wireless operator and some details of Special Operation Executive activities.

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IBCC Digital Archive

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David Bloomfield

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

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Eight typewritten pages

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BWardCWWardCWv1

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Conforms To

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ARMY HISTORY OF CADET ENSIGN MARGARET PRATT & SERGEANT CHARLES WARD

As the war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939 the government decided that as a precaution young men aged 20 would be called up for six months to train as a reserve for the armed forces. My call up papers arrived telling me I was to report on Salisbury Plain to train in the Royal Artillery.

However, before the due date arrived war was declared and I was switched from the Artillery to the London Irish Rifles and on October 18th I was to report to one of the main London railway stations from where we were taken on the underground railway, our destination being Southfields station, SW18.
On disembarking we were marched down Wimbledon Park Road to Barkers Sports Ground which was next to Wimbledon Tennis Courts. There we were kitted out with our Army uniforms, part of which were puttees which, I suspect, were left over from the First World War.

Training began, often in the tennis court grounds and on Wimbledon Common, which included marching, rifle and Bren Gun training. Once proficient we were moved around the country doing guard duty in various places including the [underlined] Air Force Records Office in London and Tangmere Airport. [/underlined]

This was followed by a stint in the south which included Chichester and Goodwood race course during which time we were engaged in erecting Danet Wire defences on the beaches against an expected invasion. We were somewhat alarmed one day when we encountered a small party of army personnel with mine detectors sweeping the sand who said that the previous day they had lifted three mines.

We then had quite a few more moves which included spells at Gorleston, Thetford where we were employed in harvesting sugar beet, Altrincham, London Colney, Knutsford, Malvern, Haverfordwest, and Tenby. During most of this time I was engaged in the training of new recruits, mainly from London, who, once up to the required standard, were posted on to other units.

The repetitive nature of this training routine began to [underlined]pall so when volunteers were called for as pilots in the RAF I decided to volunteer. [/underlined] This entailed a day in London where med1cal and educational tests were earned out and I emerged with a document which I was [underlined]told to present to the CO on arrival at my first RAF station. [/underlined]

However, this was not to be as our unit was immediately posted to Cumnock, Scotland, to be part of a new special Brigade of tanks and infantry which [underlined]meant all transfers to the RAF were stopped. [/underlined]

This was my first time in Scotland, we were under canvas in a field that had quite a slope to it and the rain went on and on and on. The rainwater was constantly running under the duckboards of the tents and the field was a quagmire. Going out in the evenings meant carrying a clean pair of boots under one's arm to be changed into once we reached the road, the mud coated pair to be left under a hedge and changed back into on our return to camp. Eventually the Brigadier came to inspect and immediately ordered billet accommodation to be found.

[underlined]We were then shipped to North Africa as part of the 151 Army invasion landing at Algiers. [/underlined] From there we were moved by train up the coast towards Tunisia. The train, of course, was all cattle trucks and there was a dearth of fuel for the engine so quite a few stops were required to gather wood, though that wasn't our worry.

Our worry was liquid refreshment and during one of the fuel stops we managed to find a sheet of metal which we placed on the floor of the cattle truck so that we could light a fire and make tea. This only happened once as the heat from the fire set light to the floor of the truck.

Arriving at our destination we disembarked and dispersed into an orchard which gave us good cover, especially from the air. After this I began to keep a brief diary of events which follows.

Dec. 7th, 1942
Travelled in TCVs [troop carrying vehicles] over high mountain range from hide out area. Crossed into Tunisia. Slept in open.

Dec. 8th.
Woke up wet through. Raining like hell. All trucks bogged down and had to be pushed onto road. Eventually moved off still miserable and wet. Stopped the night on side of road. Slept, or attempted to in TCVs. No wash or shave.

Dec. 9th.
Still raining but managed morning cup of gunpowder. Continuing our nomadic existence we dished up breakfast on the move. Stopped for a couple of hours and made dinner. TCVs left us and we started to march. Still no wash or shave. Took up defence position on knoll in range of mountains. No food. Rained all night. Slept with greatcoat and gas cape among rocks. Worse than last night. Fell half-way down cliff face in dark.

Dec. 10th.
Still raining. Clouds all around hill top. Made shelter to sleep in. Had to carry food etc up to knoll. Everything still wet through but stopped raining in evening. Still no wash or shave.

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Friday Dec. 11th.
Fine morning except for mist. Stand to. Breakfast. Had quite a good night's sleep. Everybody washed and shaved. Carried all ammunition up. Laid tele[telephone] line from 15 pi to us. Sent out patrol up mountain track for about 5 miles. Did guard. Fine night except for short shower of rain.

Saturday Dec. 12th.
Very good morning with few clouds and sun out. Most things were dried out. Made shelter for all section. Sent out another patrol about 10 miles through mountains to El Agula. Good night's sleep.

Sunday Dec 13th.
Another fine morning but a little cold. Very fine day. Nothing unusual so far. Called out to stand to at 20.10 hrs. Stood down at 21.30 hrs.

Monday Dec 14th.
Another quiet day with everything normal.

Tuesday Dec 15th.
Same as yesterday. NAAFI supplies came up so we had a few extra cigarettes, soap etc.

Wednesday Dec 16th.
Reached the ripe old age of 24. I am getting old. First air mail letter card issued to us. Guaranteed to reach home for Christmas.

Thursday Dec 17th.
Plenty of air activity this morning. Constant rumble heard in distance all round.

Friday Dec 18th.
Best day yet. Saw three dive bombers but long way off.

Saturday Dec 19th.
Cloudy today with occasional showers. Warned to move off at dusk. Moved about 9 miles back to rest of btn. [battalion]

Sunday Dec. 20th.
Settling down in new position. Cold and showery. Orders to pack up ready to move again at 11.30. Took up fresh positions and dug in.

Monday Dec 21st
Moved again after breakfast nearer road. Stayed there rest of day and moved up towards Medjez-el-Bab in evening. Stayed night in farm. Slept in haystack.

Tuesday Dec 22nd
More air activity. Moved into building. Good sleeping quarters. Rained like hell during night.

Wednesday Dec 23'd.
Still bad weather holding up attack.

Thursday Dec 24th.
Still raining. Warned to move up and stop Germans taking Skins (Enniskillen Fusiliers) prisoners. Averaging eight a night. Moved up into position after dark. No sign of enemy at all. Dug in. Rained hard all night.

Friday Dec 25th.
Still occupying positions in hills. Still no sign of enemy. Suspected to be occupying farm. Attacking tonight.

Saturday Dec 26th.
Moved forward in early hours and attacked farm but enemy had evacuated. Rest of day spent resting. More rain. Moved back to coy. [company] position. Very cold.

Sunday Dec 27th.
Quiet all night. Rested all day. Attacked another farm at dusk still without success.

Monday Dec. 28th.
Called out in early hours but false alarm. Weather turning very nice again. Evacuated position at dusk.

Tuesday Dec 29th.
Took up position guarding AT [anti-tank] guns on hill. Weather fine but very windy. Letters arrived, five for me. Village in valley shelled and taken by enemy.

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Wednesday Dec 30th
Orders to be ready to move within one hour. Travelling south to Sfax and Souse. Outlying farms shelled from village. Quite a good day, warm sun.

Thursday Dec 31st.
Not moved yet. Artillery duel going on in valley. Convoy shelled. Move cancelled.

Friday Jan 1st 1943.
More shelling today. NAAFI supplies arrived. Went out on standing patrol all night. Extremely cold.

Saturday Jan 2nd.
Came back from patrol and slept morning. Increased air activity. One plane shot down. More shelling in Goubellat.

Sunday Jan 3rd.
Went out on day patrol visiting farms on Goubellat plain. Nothing doing. More mail.

Monday Jan 4th.
Hell of a wind and rain during night. Still windy in morning but no rain. More air activity.

Tuesday Jan 5th
Nothing much today. More shelling and air activity. Capt. Grant, Sgt Silverman, Rflm [rifleman] Scanlon and Sherrif failed to return from patrol.

Wednesday Jan 6th.
Smashing day so far. Wind dropped and sun very warm. Nothing doing.

Thursday Jan 7th.
Took over 13 platoon position for day while they did patrol.

Friday Jan 8th.
Dug dugouts for section, now sleeping below ground level. Quite dry.

Saturday Jan 9th
Strong wind got up during night and slight rain. Improved trenches in morning. Compulsory rest in afternoon as whole coy [company] on patrol at night. Went out on patrol but nothing doing. Took over rest of platoon as pi com [picket commander] and sgt [sic] patrol out.

Sunday Jan 10th.
Rested all day after night patrol. Rained like hell all day and night.

Monday Jan 11th.
Rain stopped during night but still a bit cloudy. Tank battle in progress on Goubellat Plain. Enemy tanks ran but ground very bad and tanks getting bogged. H Coy sent out to capture anti-tank gun in farm. Took position but suffered casualties. Two sgts [sic] and two riflemen dead and some wounded. We in reserve were to go and cover bogged tanks until LAD [light aid detachment] got them out but they managed to get out themselves before dusk. Two tanks were knocked out, one burned all night. Plan altered, 14 pi [picket] to go out and help H Coy in. Got there but H Coy had started back on different route. We came back and met them on road. Got back to camp at approx. 01.30 hrs. hot soup, cup of tea and a small nip of rum very welcome. Good show by H Coy and supporting groups which included mortars, machine guns and artillery plus the tanks. Enemy abandoned guns and ran. Stuff captured included bottles of champagne, boxes of cigars, rations, guns, rifles, pistols etc.

Tuesday Jan 12th
Slept during day getting over long trek last night. Artillery again active firing onto plain. Bombs dropped by plane just behind our position.

Wednesday Jan 13th.
Went out on standing patrol on road junction. Too confident of position and wound up in Goubellat. Got 3 tins of beef and one carrot which we ate when we got back to the road junction. Stan went out on patrol at night and laid mines. Bumped enemy and got machine gunned but no casualties. 15 platoon came back from all-day patrol had been mortared. Two very slight casualties.

Thursday Jan 14th.
Nothing doing today. Terry went out on all-night patrol. NAAFI supplies up again. Rumours of mail again.

Friday Jan 15th
Orders to be ready to move at dusk. Busy packing during day. Moved at 01.30 hrs Sat. morning.

Saturday Jan 16th.
Northants regiment took over position in early hrs. One of first Battns [battalions] to land. Got within nine miles of Tunis before they knew big push was off. Had with them one prisoner who had run of Bttn [sic] [battalion]. Ate, slept and went into action with them bringing back wounded and dead. Helped generally all round. Moved by TCV to harbour near El Arrouser where we slept all day. Moved off in early morning into farm.

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Sunday Jan 17th.
Stayed in farm all day. Everything quiet.

Monday Jan 18th.
Big battle raging this morning. Took up position and dug in. Rumoured seven enemy tanks knocked out and they're on the run but still plenty of firing going on. Dive bombed on road. One JU 88 shot down and burst into flames. Good show. Bags of low level bombing on roads and Bou Arada. Got one shot off at one plane. Ten spits escorting bombers came over. Saw one plane go down in distance and nine spits came back, looks as if one lost. RAP bombed and evacuated to our farm. Skins reported to be doing well. Plenty of artillery going. Truck going forward all day with ammo. Misinformed - all Spits returned, must have been enemy plane shot down making two on this plain. Moved up left of Bou Arada, took up position from RB. Res [Royal Engineers] blew up enemy tank during night near our position.

Tuesday Jan 19th.
Orders to move at 11.30 to take up position near Skins. Moved onto plain through Bou Arada and got mortared to hell. Managed to dive into wadi but one landed right in and Stan got hit bad. Don't think he'll pull through. Connery and Ted also hit but will survive. Mr Hardwick hit but made his own way out. Continued and took up position on hill. Dug in.

Wednesday Jan 20th.
Went in to take hill in early hours. Moved forward with 13 and 15 forward, 14 in reserve. First hill clear. Second hill clear. Third hill all hell let loose. 14 platoon and a few odds and ends drew back into hollow. Moved out to help other coy take hill. Reached top but driven back by tanks into hollow. Mortared in hollow for hours. One dropped in own mortar pit. Cpl Howe and three others caught it. Another dropped near and Blair got a piece in his back. Major went back for MO [medical officer]. FOO took over (Capt [sic] Atkins). Hell of a man. Cool as a cucumber. Got injured out. Got artillery to lay smoke screen then all dashed out back to wadi. Checked up on strength of approx. 30 men left in coy. Got food up, blankets etc. and other coys went forward to hold position on first hill. Our coy slept in wadi.

Thursday Jan 21st
00.300 hrs. Hell let loose again. Attacked by tanks supported by infantry. Caught entirely by surprise and scattered. I made off with Terry in direction of Bou Arada. Machine gun fire all along top of wadi. Got out and crossed road into ploughed field and ran like hell. Tracer flying everywhere especially to our right and left into farms where 25 pounders were. Got right away to farm where we first came to and met Les. Walked along road (met Boe?) to El Arousa and picked up by water truck and arrived at A echelon. Had good breakfast and got down to sleep about 10.30. woke up at 11.45 and told we had to go back by truck with rations. Got nearly up there and mortars started in front of leading truck. About turned and went back to El Arousa. Stayed there until dark then went half way up by truck and walked the other half. Got to carriers position and had food and slept there all night. Reported back to battalion and coy was less than a platoon strong.

ELABORATION OF BRIEF DIARY ENTRY

lt was described to us as the final squeeze on Rommel's army with our objective the capture of Medjez el Bab, the gateway to Tunis. My company of the London Irish Rifles were in the hills on the right of a gap to the Goubelat Plain but were to launch our offensive from the hills on the left of the gap. This was on Wednesday, Jan 20th (see diary).

lt was decided to move us across the gap in broad daylight, which meant we were a sitting target in full view of the enemy through the gap until reaching the cover of the hills on that left hand side. Sure enough they allowed us to get into the middle and then opened up with everything they had.

We moved as quickly as possible between the stops we had to make going to ground when the sound of incoming shells were heard. We eventually reached a wadi which we thankfully dropped into and began moving in comparative safety towards our final position.

As a down to earth Yorkshireman I don't think I imagine things but from where I do not know I suddenly heard one word which brooked no argument, Run. Calling to my section to run I set off at high speed along the wadi and had just rounded a bend when I heard a shell explode behind me. I quickly returned and found that the shell had fallen right in the wadi on the spot from where I had started to run. Whether they had not heard me or whether they were slow off the mark I have no idea but the end of my section had been hit and two of my men (Lance Corporal Ted Gant and Rifleman Connery) and Corporal Stan (I think his surname was Meager) the leader of the following section were lying badly wounded. I patched them up as best I could and stayed with them until the medical corps personnel came and evacuated them.

I have checked on the Commonwealth Graves Commission web and found all three died of their wounds, Stan Seager and Connery are buried at Medjez el Bab and Ted Gant at the Thibar cemetery. I have written complaining to the War Graves Commission that their records list all the London Irish casualties as being members of the Royal Ulster Rifles yet all the gravestones give the London Irish Rifles, which could be most confusing.

The next morning we launched our attack which turned out quite a disaster and the remains of our company were holed up in a large depression in the ground being constantly shelled. With us was the Ras [royal artillery’s] forward observation officer and his wireless operator. He ordered me to go to the top of the depression to locate the source of the constant shelling. At the top I found a small hollow in the ground, and I thought at the time it was about the size of a grave. From there I saw the shells were coming from a farm house on the plain. Returning to the depression I discovered that a shell had fallen in the place where I had been lying and others who had been with me were injured.

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The officer decided that our position was much too dangerous and sent a message to the guns to lay down a smoke screen and under that cover we all rapidly retreated to a wadi which gave us much better protection.

DIARY CONTINUED

Friday Jan 22nd.
Btn [battalion] in terrible state, only about 300 strong but people rolling up all day. Took up defensive position on hill at night. Everything quiet tonight except for a bit of artillery duel.

Saturday Jan 23rd.
Came down from hill for day and got a little organised. Three letters from Elsie but lot missing. Weather beautiful lately.

Sunday Jan 24th.
Nothing much today. A little shelling but no air activity. Reinforcements arrived.

Monday Jan 25th.
Same as yesterday but spits put in an appearance. They got Paddy Ward and a L/Cpl [lance corporal] from F. One of the boys suggest we stay awake tonight and watch the Eighth army go by. Took over one of H Coy's [companies] position as two of their platoons have gone on jobs. Mail up again. Five letters.

Tuesday Jan 26th.
Little shelling by us today but no reply so far. Capt Atkins the FOO [forward observation officer] with us in the hole reported killed today by enemy patrol in OP[operation] at Mosque Hill. NAAFI supplies up today. 100 cigs, 2 bars choc and bottle of beer. Poles reported to be giving themselves up.

Wednesday Jan 27th.
Rain today. Ground in terrible state. Pay. Preparations for moving out destination unknown. Heavy shelling by our guns. One or two shots fired in reply. Two spits just gone over. Aircraft from both sides very scarce these days. Moved out at dusk. Took us practically all night to move four miles.

Thursday Jan 28th
Looks like rain but it's kept off so far. Artillery still banging away. Rumours we're taking over that memorable hill 268 from the Guards. Spits over again this morning.

Friday Jan 29th.
Moved out at 05.00 hrs. Relieved by RBs. Went back about four miles into olive grove for rest and reorganisation.
Saturday Jan 30th.
Good night's sleep. Not much work during day. Everything quiet.

Sunday Jan 31st.
Other coys sending small numbers back to A echelon for 48 hrs complete rest. Managed to get a much needed hair cut. Still quiet.

Monday Feb 1st
Marvellous bath today, first since we arrived. Went about fifteen miles for it but was worth it. Some of the lads saw Stan and Connery's graves.

Tuesday Feb 2nd.
Bags of rumours but nothing definite yet. Moving out at dusk to take over from RBs on road junction. Five from platoon went back for 48 hrs. NAAFI up again. Bottles of beer, bags of fags, no wonder they're scarce in England, soap, blades, envelopes, paper etc. Everything now packed ready for move. Sent home £15 today. Moved up and took over from RBs.

Wednesday Feb 3rd.
Fairly quiet day. Some shelling by us and a little by them. Two planes came down and machine gunned on plain. Dive bombers on other side of plain.

Thursday Feb 4th.
A few planes over this morning. New Coy [company] Com [commander] took over this morning. Stukas over at tea time again. About 15 dropped bombs behind hills other side of Bou Arada. One shot down in flames.

Friday Feb 5th.
Nothing much today. A little shelling by us but only three shots in reply. Mail up, 6 this time.

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Saturday Feb 6th.
Very cold today. Rain in afternoon. We're sending one or two shells over just to let them know we're still here. Rumour we're going out of front line for refit. Hope it's true. Wrote five letters. Terry accidentally shot himself in leg.

Sunday Feb. 7th.
Rain during night but not too bad now. More mail 5 this time. Patrol went out but found nothing.

Monday Feb 8th.
Cold this morning. Stukas over plain just after breakfast. Too close to be comfortable. Hurricane Bombers with Spit escort over Goubellat plain. Rumoured they were after tanks.
Tuesday Feb 9th.
Shelled this morning, couldn't expect much else gulley looks like a car park. We replied but don't think they've got him. Quietened him a bit though. Stukas over plain again.

Wednesday Feb 10th.
Nothing much again today. F Coy patrol had clash last night. Two casualties. He dropped another two shells pretty close today. No damage though. Rained like hell in evening and all night.

Thursday Feb 11th.
Rain off but still dull. Knee-deep in mud. Good news. Communications cut between Tunis and Bizerta. Bebe and five warned for patrol tonight.

Friday Feb. 12th.
Nothing much today. Few shells very close. Still too bad for aircraft. Guns 48 hrs silence.

Saturday Feb 13th.
Fine day. Fighter bombers over at tea time dropped shower just over the hill. Thought he was after us for a minute. Guns broke silence plastered Jerry digging in on hill.

Sunday Feb 14th.
Another good day. Few NAAFI supplies up. Lot of activity at night near Skins position, guns blazing away practically all night.

Monday Feb 15th.
Haze over both plains today. Guns still bashing away at intervals. Planes over plain, 1 down.

Tuesday Feb16th.
Moved section over to new day-time position. Name submitted as compositor for First Army newspaper. Shells dropped three hundred yards away. Advised pi. com. position was no good and moved back to old place.

Wednesday Feb 17th.
Fairly quiet today. Spits over. Put up tents. Got new suit and boots. Look good enough to go to a dance.

Thursday Feb 18th.
Quiet day today. Very misty.

Friday Feb 19th.
Went to Gafour for a bath. Spent day there, quite a change. Rained in evening.

Saturday Feb 20th.
Nothing today. Haze over plain again.

Sunday Feb 21 51.
72 guns moved up and some Churchill tanks. Think the 11th Armoured are relieving us soon. Went for information on the PIAT. Earmarked as instructor for NCO's cadre when Batt. comes out of front line.

Monday Feb. 22nd.
Nothing in morning. Stukas over twice in afternoon, bombs dropped 400 yards away. Few shells over too.

Tuesday Feb 23rd.
Quiet today, four shells about four. Few shells again after Skins put on a small show. Killed about thirty, took eight prisoners.

Wednesday Feb 24th.
More shells and Stukas over again on Skins position. Left in evening for 48 hrs rest at A Echelon.

Thursday Feb 25th.
Went to Gafour for a bath. Baths moved. Returned to camp for dinner to find tanks and lorry borne infantry had broken through at Tally Ho corner. Rumoured F Coy surrounded. Two tanks knocked out and one surrounded. Action still going on.

Friday Feb 26th.
Full night's sleep. Everything seems to be under control this morning.

END OF DIARY
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At the end of hostilities in Tunisia we had a time of relaxation and on the touchline at a football match our CO found me and said he had received a communication which meant he had to ask me, as I had earlier been accepted to be trained as a pilot, if I was prepared now to volunteer as a glider pilot. I had no hesitation in saying I would much rather have an engine to rely on as a pilot. It was also suggested I be given a Field Commission but I felt it prudent not to accept as the German snipers were taking a heavy toll of officers in the area.

We subsequently did a training exercise which entailed quite a long march, followed by a mock attack practising house clearing, then a march back to base. I got a knock on the knee during this which aggravated an old injury I had earlier sustained playing football which left me with a swollen knee and a pronounced limp. On the march back the CO, going by in his vehicle spotted this and stopped to ask what the trouble was. He ordered me onto a truck and said I must report sick on arrival at base.
This eventually resulted in concentrated treatment of hot and cold compresses, which didn't do very much for the situation so I attended a medical assessment panel and was regraded A2 on 23rd July 1943. I was sent back to a transit camp at Philippville, which was a very boring time - no reading matter, and walking anywhere was impossible, just eating and sleeping. After some time I was transferred to the transit camp near Algiers- back to where I had first set foot in North Africa. But still the same routine until one day I espied on the [underlined] notice board an announcement that an educational unit would be coming to the camp and requesting volunteers to undergo tests with the object [/underlined] of finding suitable work for them. Mine - was the first name on the list.

We spent a morning doing maths and English papers. During the assessment of these in the afternoon there was a mechanical aptitude test. Then an interview to discuss which kind of employment would be suitable. I had previously applied for employment as a compositor on the Stars and Stripes newspaper which we had heard was to be started in Algiers so suggested this as a possibility. The [underlined] officer didn't hold out much hope of that materialising and suggested I would good cipher operator. I welcomed this and waited patiently for the outcome. [/underlined]

A week or so later I was called into the office where I was given a moving order for six people. Quickly scanning through to see where we were going I couldn't find a destination so returned to the office only to be told we were to be picked up by truck. When the truck arrived I asked the driver where we were going. Much to my surprise the answer was "I'm not allowed to tell you.

I wondered what I had let myself in for and was even more puzzled when we arrived at a camp gate with armed guards and everything enclosed in barbed wire. On entering the camp I was even more surprised to find it occupied by Army, Navy, Air Force, civilians and girls (members of the FANY, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). There were also a number of other nationalities.

[underlined] This was Massingham, a wireless station sending and receiving messages to [/underlined] and from agents dropped into southern France and Italy. It consisted of a number of holiday villas right on the beach of the Mediterranean. As all the villas were fully occupied we were directed to a tent as our accommodation.

We then embarked on our training as cipher operators. This meant serious concentration working on squared paper doing double transposition. One mistake and the message wound up gibberish. Once up to the required standard we were then assigned to a team, alongside FANY coders and wireless operators working in shifts to cover 24 hours. If we ran out of current wireless traffic we then tackled the indecipherable messages.

[underlined] My only meeting with Colonel Gubbins was a surprise.[/underlined] On duty one evening the telephone went and on answering a voice said come down to villa ? (I don't remember the number) and collect a message for London. I replied that I would send someone down immediately. Back came a rather impatient "You'll come yourself” and the caller rang off. Somewhat aggrieved I hastened down fully intending to have words with this man only to discover it was Colonel Gubbins, I didn't even know he was in the camp.

[underlined] Margaret and I met at Massingham. She was a Cadet Ensign in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (EANY). [/underlined] We worked shifts covering 24 hours sending and receiving messages from the agents, all of whom had a particular time for contacting base.
Leisure time was non-existent outside the camp so the sergeants' Mess decided to organise a few dinner dances to which the FANYs were invited. Over a number of these Margaret and I became dancing partners. This came to an end when a number of us got a moving order to join a group being sent into Yugoslavia. We were to fly to Bari in Southern Italy to-join them.

Margaret and I exchanged addresses with the suggestion that if ever either of us were in the vicinity of the other we would endeavour to make contact.

On the night we were due to fly out we had the most violent thunderstorm so the flight was postponed until the following night, We took off in a Dakota to fly directly to Bari but half way there one of the plane's engines began to misfire. The pilot decided there was no possibility of getting over the mountains to Bari so we made an emergency landing at Naples.

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After this further delay we eventually arrived at Bari and were taken just down the coast to Torre-a-Mare only to find that the group we were to join had been assembled at Monopoly ready for entry into Yugoslavia and the numbers had been made up from personnel at Torre-a-Mare and we then had to take their place Torre.

Margaret and I corresponded between Massingham and Torre until some weeks later I deciphered a message from Massingham with a list of names of FANYs who were being sent to join our unit. By this time I was beginning to realise how much I had been missing Margaret and quickly scanned the list to see if she was one of those joining us. Imagine how excited I was to discover that her name was there.

I quickly made contact with her and resumed our friendship. Our love for each other blossomed and we spent much time together in our off duty periods. We also managed to get a wonderful week's leave in Rome together with two friends, Joyce and John. The two girls stayed in a hotel which had been taken over by the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association], and john and I stayed at a nearby house owned by a very pro British Polish Countess who stipulated "no vino and no signoritas”. [sic] She was very happy to learn of Margaret and Joyce at the YWCA.

We got engaged on 28th February 1945 sitting on the rocks by the sea at Torre-a-Mare but we kept it under wraps as two of our friends had been married in Bari, I was best man, and they had been posted apart shortly after the wedding.

In May 1945 I was granted one month's home leave under the LIAP scheme and we began writing to each other every day we were apart.

Eventually Margaret was sent up to Sienna from where she got leave and hitch-hiked almost the length of Italy to spend time with me at Torre.

When she was posted back home I got some leave and hitch-hiked up to Sienna to see her before she sailed. I managed to get a lift on the baggage truck carrying the kit of the party gong home and we had a last evening together in Naples.
I returned to Torre-a-Mare and was then transferred to The Royal Corps of Signals. There I was trained to operate Type X cipher machines.

Along with a wireless operator I was then posted to an Italian -division which was supposed to be based at Rimini. Disembarking from the train we went into the RTO's [rail transport officer] office to find where the division was only to be told it was at Lake Como.

After a night in Rimini we caught a train up to Lake Como which, on arrival, looked an ideal place to spend the rest of our time until demob.

However, we soon found out that was not to be as it was just a training unit. The division was at Verazze on the coast west of Genoa. To get there we had to first get a train to Milan then another from Milan to Genoa. We managed to eke out our stay in Milan for a few days before getting the train for Genoa.

This was a single carriage train and I found myself placed technically in charge even though I had no knowledge of the workings of a railway, let alone an Italian one. The journey through the mountains was very enjoyable and the scenery through the mountains breathtaking.

At Verazze we were billeted in a hotel right on the beach so most of our time was spent swimming and sunbathing as the only work we had consisted of enciphering and sending to HQ a weekly message to report that we had passed no groups of traffic during the previous week.

This holiday lifestyle eventually came to an end and I was transferred to Athens from where I was demobbed. We sailed from Pireas to Taranto but on arrival the sea was too rough for us to dock so we anchored in the bay until such time as the rough sea abated. Washing and shaving on deck in the morning was quite a feat as one had to continually grab the bowl of water before it slid out of reach.

From Southern Italy we then journeyed by train in stages across Europe to the channel port before crossing to England and being demobbed at Aldershot.

I then journeyed to Wimbledon Park station and walked down Wimbledon Park Road to No. 50 where Margaret's parents lived so I began and finished my war service in the same road, a place I had not heard of before. We married soon after in march [sic] 1946 and are still very happy after 65 wonderful years together.
Recently we were clearing out our loft and discovered the letters we wrote to each other and have spent some interesting evenings re-reading them.

8




Citation

Charles Ward, “Army history of cadet Ensign Margaret Pratt and Sergeant Charles Ward,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 19, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/2481.

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