TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW WITH JOHN “JACK” PARROTT 22 MAY 2017 FOR WARGEN.ORG (Interviewer: Christopher Moriarty)
CM: So Jack, can you tell us your name, rank and serial number?
JP: Yes, Driver John F Parrott T/4977452
CM: Marvellous. When and where were you born Sir?
JP: I was born in 42 Woodseats Road Sheffield in 1921.
CM: You were born at home then?
JP: Yes. Incidentally, the house where I was born isn’t there anymore. It took a direct hit from a phosphorous bomb and was burnt out.
CM: Really… what year was that?
JP: Well I don’t really know. That was when they bombed Sheffield a lot, in about 1943.
CM: And what about your parents? What did your father do?
JP: My father… when he left school he was offered a job in Sheffield as an apprentice scissor grinder of all things. He worked there until 1921, till the strike and became unemployed naturally. We lived at Woodseats Rd as I said before and there was a gentleman who lived opposite who had a business in Brimington as a window cleaner. And he offered Dad a job with him. So Dad went with him and for six years him and this guy cycled to Brimington and back. Over 12 miles every day for six days a week. Eventually he left him and set his own business up. And we left Sheffield when I was about 9 years old and we went to Dronfield. I went to school there and eventually we moved to Brimington where I finished school at 14, had two weeks off and started work at Staveley Works in what are called pipe shops and we were casting pipes vertically, in cast iron in those days. A dirty job. After a few months Dad said pack that in Jack and come work with me. I’ll give you more money. And I did. I was working with him when I was called up for the army.
CM: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
JP: Yes. Yes. I had three brothers and one sister and they are all still alive but for one. The one next to seniority in me, Bob, he died in 1998. The year before we came back from Canada.
CM: Can you remember the build up to the war?
JP: Well I have vague recollections of the Germans advancing into Poland and bombing the cities there. But otherwise I didn’t take much interest in it because I never thought anything would happen.
CM: And you remember the outbreak of war itself?
JP: Yes. Yes. I can remember we worked on Hollingwood, on Private Drive, and somebody came running out of one of the shops. “War has been declared” and then the next thing I heard was all army people will have to report this evening, today. (Break for Jack to have some water)
CM: What was the first manifestation you saw of war? Was it air raids presumably?
JP: Well we didn’t see anything really. As you know we were bombed in Sheffield in 1943 but we did hear planes come over every now and again but I was saying I was working with father and we agreed to work until later and then go home, have a bite to eat and then go down to the drill hall to sign on. I did that, signed on. Was sent back home and told to come back in the morning, be there for nine o’clock and report and after that I was in. I had signed up as a regular soldier as I was Territorial. In the second Sherwood Foresters at a drill hall on a road in Sheffield, but the name escapes me for now. From that point I was in.
CM: What made you choose the army?
JP: Well, a pal of mine, Bill Smith, we said we wouldn’t mind joining the TA and we joined the TA both together on 17th June 1939. I think what drew us to it more than anything else was that were going to get a free holiday in Holyhead! Which turned out to be quite an effort, the drilling and everything.
CM: So after you volunteered what happened in the call up process? After you signed up was there a gap between that event and you being told to report to an army base somewhere?
JP: No. I had to report to the drill hall in Chesterfield, Ashgate Road. And I used go every night for the first couple of weeks and then they stopped us going home and found us digs in Chesterfield. I was in a digs with two brothers from Manchester who were boxers. The Booth brothers. And they ran a boxing booth at an ice rink on Chesterfield Road.
CM: And your training developed how?
JP: Well, we were on parade on Chesterfield Rugby Football ground and we were marching about and then we were told to stop and stand at ease, and there was a sergeant and an officer, strangers to us, who came along and they asked us “Anyone got any interest in cooking or can cook then three paces forward?” Anyway, I was interested in cooking so I went three paces forward. A few days afterwards I was given a notification that I was to report to Nottingham and start cooking! And I went there of course, posted there. Very funny this…. It was tea time when I went so had a bite to eat then they found me some digs. Next morning I had to get down there for 6 o’clock for breakfast, to help cook breakfast. There was this guy supposed to be a cook, he had a square meat pan about three inches high, and he got it full of bacon. So I said what’s this? He said that’s how we cook bacon. I said no, it isn’t. You’re going to get half cooked bacon. So get it out of there and get it in a frying pan. So that’s what he did. I told him what to do. I’d never cooked before, I’d seen mother do it, that’s all you know. Anyway, it all went from there and eventually I went to Derby Road drill hall which was further up the road in Nottingham, on a fork road, and they had a beautiful cookhouse there, a range as big as this room and it was heaven to be able to cook and I’d asked mother one or two things and she guided me how to make things, pastry and how to cook potatoes and greens and such things as that.
CM: But cooking for a family is a bit different. How many soldiers were you cooking for?
JP: Thirty officers and men.
CM: Thirty altogether! So you had no trouble serving up…?
JP: Thirty. But actually, this would come in later on. It was CRASC, that was Commander Royal Army Service Corp. RASC, 139 Brigade Headquarters. Remember that, 139 Brigade Headquarters. And I was cooking for them. But every night we used to round the corner to a cafe where there was a jazz band playing, a five piece jazz band, every weekend they were playing. And we were devils for staying out and climbing back in through the guardroom window so the guard didn’t see us. One night I was the last one in, I went through the guardroom window and who should be waiting there but Sgt Coley, the camp Sgt. Right he said, I’ve caught you, you’ll be on a charge in the morning, be on parade for 8 o’clock and you’ll be in front of the officer. Anyway, it was 11 o’clock before I went in front of the officer and he said that he would have to discipline me as an example to the other men. So I was posted, I left my job as a cook, I was posted to Kedleston Hall as an immature. Now an immature was a person who was too young to be sent with his unit to France who were on the point of going. My unit, 2nd Sherwood Foresters, so I didn’t go. I finished up at Kedleston and they found me a job as an officers mess waiter.
CM: How old were you then?
JP: I was born in 1921 so I’d be 18, just turned 18. Anyway, I was a waiter in the officers mess which was quite interesting really as it taught me how to lay food out, lay places out, it taught me how to wait on, top class waiting. It was very interesting work.
CM: Was this within Kedleston Hall?
JP: Yes, yes it was.
CM: So it was taken over during the war was it?
JP: A part of it was. The cookhouse was a large place, similar to the one at the drill hall but slightly smaller. We did learn that in this cookhouse there was a big door, a big solid door and it was well bolted, well fastened up and we asked what it was. We were told that that was the house’s silver collection and that were thousands and thousands of pounds in there. And you can’t go in! Anyway, I finished up as a wine steward, down the bar serving wine. But every time they asked for a gin and it they told me to have one and put my name on their docket. They didn’t pay for it, they had dockets. Course, I was drunk by the time they’d finished. But the interesting part about this was that when they had finished in the ante-room we had to take the stuff into the ante-room, from the dining room into the ante-room, the bar was in the dining room, we used to have to go and clean up. And there were sofas like we have in our living room now, all leather sofas and chairs. And after two or three days we found out that there were a lot of muck getting down the back of the cushions, so we had to fetch them out and clean them. Lo and behold, treasure! Half crowns, five bob pieces, pennies, halfpennies, farthings, all sorts. My pockets were lined. We were sorry that came to an end believe me. That was good. Anyway the unit came back from there and I was in my billet when they came back and we welcomed them back and were glad to see them. Most of them came back, some were less fortunate. And then we started moving again. From there we went to a hall at Hucknall…
CM: Sorry Jack, when you say the unit came back, came back from France?
JP: From Dunkirk, yes.
CM: So your unit had gone as part of the British Expeditionary Force and presumably had been evacuated through Dunkirk. And most of your unit came back through there?
JP: Yes, they came back. They went to this hall between Hucknall and Nottingham. I can’t recall the name of this place. I’ve been there for lunch years and years ago cause I used to go to Hucknall quite a lot to see my nephew. Anyway, we went there, we were stationed there for I don’t know how long. And I can’t say for sure where we went from there. I really can’t remember it. But I think we went there, to Galashiels, that’s halfway up to Scotland. And from there we went to North Berwick and Dunbar on East Coast Defence, where we used to go out for drill and rifle practice and all that kind of thing. We stayed there for about six months.
CM: So after that your unit was sent to Doncaster?
JP: Yes, we went to Doncaster in a place I cannot remember. We use to parade on Doncaster rugby football ground. After several days doing this we were called to stop and a sergeant and an officer came on the scene and the sergeant brought us to attention and said” Right, I’m looking for drivers. Anybody interested in driving or has any idea about driving? Then three paces forward.” So I stepped three paces forward. “What’s your name”. Private Parrot I said. “Right, I’ll be in touch with you later”. I forgot all about it for about three months. We went back to Dunbar on East Coast Defence. Whilst we were there this sergeant came from the transport lines to the platoon I was with, I think it was A platoon, we were in a beach hut on the beach at Dunbar and he called me out saying come with me and jump in the back of this truck, with four more people. We picked another one up and drove to Princess Street in Edinburgh. Now I was the second or third man to get behind the wheel. And it’s very strange this, I cannot even believe it myself, that I drove, actually got in there, he says right drive this vehicle if you can. And I put my foot on the clutch, put the gear in, used the accelerator, turned the handbrake off and moved the vehicle. Biggest shock I had in my life!
CM: So you had no driving lessons and no driving license?
JP: I had an idea of driving because in my younger days at school, the guy next door in Brimington, he had two self hire taxis and every summer he would take us to the coast for the day cause we never went anywhere. Dad and mum weren’t very well off and we were a big family. So he used to pile us in this car, this Willys Overland Whippet, an American car it was and off we used to go to the seaside. And I used to watch what he did. I was interested in driving. Watch him put his foot on the clutch, the other foot there and then a foot on the brake and then take the handbrake off. So I followed that and was driving like that in Princess Street. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I drove about two or three hundred yards and he said stop. I thought O gosh I’ve failed. He can’t pass me on this. Anyway, he said before you go you only made one mistake. What’s that sergeant I said. He said you gripped the steering wheel too tight. Don’t grip it like that, you’ll not lose it! So, he says, go get in the van. We finished so went back to the transport lines in this farm on the Edinburgh Road leading from Berwick-on-Tweed to Edinburgh and he singled me out, right he said come with me. That’s your vehicle there.
CM: And what sort of vehicle was it Jack?
JP: A Ford ten hundred weight van. And there were no starter motors in those vehicles in those days. It was a very old one. You had to crank it up. I said right. He said now you’ve got an officer here, you’re going to be posted to the reserve platoon which is further up towards North Berwick at a seaside resort. There’s no name for this place, it was just a long drive with caravans down each side where people stayed, you’re going to be billeted there. And that’s where we went. But, I started this thing up, got in the thing, the officer got in with me, right, carry on he says. So we went out through the gates of this farmyard where the fields were loaded, full of vehicles. Turned right down the lane, got to the gate at the entrance to the main road, stopped to look for traffic, went out to the right and came to a fork, and I had to take the right fork to where we were going. So as I’m going round this corner, the right fork, I’ve cut it a bit fine. Who should be coming down the other side but the padre, in a Morris 8! I got a bit close to him and ripped his back bumper off. So we stopped, he got out and looked at me. I looked at him and said I’m sorry Sir, it’s the first time I’ve ever driven. Don’t worry he says. Pick it up, put it in the boot and I’ll take it to the transport lines and they’ll fix it up. And I never heard anymore about it! Anyway, I drove this vehicle for a couple of months running officers about, running materiel about. The last job I did with it if I can remember was taking an officer down to Edinburgh station to pick up a Bren gun carrier. Anyway, he got in this carrier and started it up, but he couldn’t make head nor tail of it. He could drive but he couldn’t drive that. So he asked if I could drive it. I said I don’t know but I’ll have a go at it. So he got in the van and I got in the Bren gun carrier and I were there, the steering was different, it was levers. So I followed him to the lines and showed them what to do. I didn’t know what to do as I had never driven one before!
CM: But you worked it out…..
JP: Yes, it was all up here (pointing to his head). It was amazing really how I knew all this.
CM: Did you ever get any training in driving at all Jack or it was just on the job training?
JP: No. I never had the slightest… I swear, I never had any training. I just got on with the job and drove as though I had been driving all my life. But a few days after I came back with this officer and the Bren carrier, I was going back to the transport lines to pick something up and all of a sudden bang bang bang bang…… So I thought what’s up with it. Anyway I kept driving and got to the transport lines with it, but as soon as I came in, whoa whoa whoa. Stop it! You’ve got a big end gone. You’ve run it short of oil. They lifted the bonnet up and all the exhaust was red hot. It was glowing red hot. So they said don’t worry about it, it happens, but remember to check the oil next time we give you one. So they gave me a Vauxhall 12/14, the one with the fluted bonnet. We went back down to England for a while, then back to Scotland. It was winter time when we got back to Scotland. We called at Galashiels, then up to Glasgow I think it was. Into a warehouse where we were bulled about doing nothing and then we had instructions one morning, late 1941, the temperature was about twelve degrees below up there, everything was freezing up and we were told that next day we would have to move back down to England. No antifreeze. So they instructed us, you’ll have to find a bit of cardboard and stick it at the bottom of the radiator, somehow fasten it there because that’s where the freezing starts. If you can protect that. So I did that. Anyway, I didn’t do it properly and we’d only gone about ten miles when it went bang bang bang bang……It had seized up again. So the officer said I can’t ride with you in that now, as you are going to have to be towed. So I was towed behind a fifteen hundredweight Bedford water tank, 300 gallon water tank. Now this car didn’t have electric windscreen wipers, they worked on a vacuum. And it was soft snow we were going over. The windscreen was getting spattered and I couldn’t see. So I had to keep dropping it into gear, smashing it into gear, as it was a synchromesh being a Vauxhall, leaving it for a few minutes to clear the windscreen. And it was like that all the way down to a place in Norfolk, an abbey. Wymondham Abbey. Course I lost it then, I didn’t get a truck at all. But while I was there, myself and another driver were instructed to go up to a layby that was in the hall grounds, where there were a load of big crates. And in those you will find some small miniature motorcycles that you’ve got to build up, and test, and run in to about three miles. There were about fifty of them!
CM: Miniature motorcycles?
JP: Miniature motorcycles, yes. And they were intended for the paratroops. To be dropped with the paras. So we did that. Quite an interesting job that was.
CM: You had to run in 50 miniature motorcycles for 3 miles?
CM: You had a lot of fun…?
JP: O, bet your life we did! Anyway, that came in good stead later because I was moved from there to East Dereham and another unit. Now then, there’s a tale here….. I was bad…. I hope they don’t clobber me for this! But I was given leave and then had to join this other unit after I had leave for a week. I had four weeks. I stopped away for four weeks. Went back and reported into the guard room at East Dereham. They said OK, give us your paperwork. I signed into this particular house to sleep there and never heard anymore about it. That was it, just stayed there. JP: Now then, from there, I was still in the infantry then, from there I was posted to Pudsey to join the Royal Army Service Corp and form a unit called the 290 Transport Company, RASC and we were posted there, for everyone to get together, for three to four weeks. And one day we were sent by train, a hundred of us, to Bulwell, Nottingham, where we found eighteen three ton Commers waiting for us to drive. We’d never seen a big truck like that before. You’re going in that, you’re going down to the south of England. They never told us exactly where, just you’re going to the south of England in a convoy. That’s what we did, went in a convoy, two day job down to Dover. Dover Castle. Where we unloaded these vehicles, the men unloaded them and inside were tower structures, for building towers up. We were told later that that was the first ever radar installation that went up. And then we went back to, drove back to, Edwinstowe, Sherwood Forest, where we were employed for six months moving ammunition into Sherwood Forest from Worksop Station.
CM: OK. So you were creating an ammunition dump in Nottingham?
JP: Nissan huts about head height, you had to stoop down to get into them. All low ones so they couldn’t be seen from the air. All camouflaged. We did that.
CM: Was this stockpiling for D-day presumably?
JP: Yes, that’s right.
CM: And this was with the 290 Transport Company?
JP: Yes, the 290. We were there as I say, for about six months and then all of a sudden we were moved to a hall just outside Doncaster, Snaith Hall, where we were trained, where we had six month commando training.
CM: So you went to start commando training Jack?
JP: That’s right, yes. Now there was no real efforts in this training, it was just basic training. There was no water to splash through, no ropes to hang on to, no big obstacles to climb over. It was mainly unarmed combat, which they were very keen on us doing. And also handling machetes, we had machetes. And we learned afterwards what that was for. Because after three months training, we were sent home on draft leave. Never knew where we were going until we got back from draft leave. We were supposed to go to Spanish Morocco but it’s been cancelled. We’d had draft leave for nothing! The Americans have gone in instead. Anyway, DDST, Deputy Director Supplies and Transport who were stationed in a hotel in Doncaster required a despatch rider who could ride a motorcycle. Straight away “Jack Parrot!” So I packed up and went there, went to a hotel, was shown to a room which was mine. They took me down and showed me the motorbike at the back of the hotel. That’s your machine and that’s your satchel to carry the messages in and you’ll start tomorrow morning. Get used to the machine… And I was a despatch rider then until we’d been in Normandy after D-Day for about six or seven weeks. And I rode all over the country, all over the place. We finished up from the hotel in Doncaster to Cusworth Hall, which was a hall on the outskirts of Doncaster. There I was put to good use as a clerk in the office and a despatch rider. And my job in the office, in the Colonel’s office, Colonel Dobbs, where he had an Ordnance Survey map, one inch to a mile, the big maps. And there were three of those joined up on a big wall to show the East Riding of Yorkshire and the whole of Lincolnshire and we were in charge of that area. We were in charge of all transport and troop movements through there and eventually Col Dobbs came over to me whilst I was putting pins in marking where troops had gone. He told me that he had put my name into the War Office to receive letters as he wasn’t able to deal with them as there far too many. As they were to do with troop movements I was sworn to the secrecy code now. Anything you say wrong, you’ll be in trouble. Disciplined.
CM: So was this before the Official Secrets Act came in? Was this a wartime secrecy law?
JP: This was between us. A gentleman’s understanding that was. Of course I had letters come to me then from executive directors in the War Office. Such and such a unit was moving from here using this route, going to such and such a place. It was my job to pinpoint where they were going. I had to make sure there were no bad bridges on the route. That was my job for three months. Eventually Col Dobbs was posted to America, to California to train troops and we all begged him to take us with him! He said sorry but he had to use the men over there. Lt Col Bright-Holmes took over then. He was a nice guy. He used to send me out for cigarettes for him. He smoked Kensitas. Now go see if you can find me some cigarettes he’d say, cause they were in short supply then during the war. I did quite a lot of work despatch riding. I used to ride out as far as Spurn Point, the other side of Hull which was a point on the Humber. All over the place. I even used to go to one near home. To Van Dyke’s House near Barlborough. I made that my last call for the day and went home for the night!
CM: Tell me Jack, what was food like in the time you were there. Did you ever end up going hungry?
JP: No. No. We had plenty of food. You’d get up in the morning and have a big mug of tea with as much sugar as you wanted in it. When you’d drunk that it was into PT kit and out doing PT. Some training, then on parade at nine o’clock for a bit of drill work. It was easy going. From time to time we went on the shooting ranges as we were classed as riflemen as well as transport in the RASC. And by the very fact that I had been a rifleman in the infantry stood me in good stead as I was a good shot. A very good shot. And from there we went to Scotland from Cusworth Hall. We went to Hamilton where we were berthed on the Hamilton racecourse. They’d converted all the horse stables into bunks for everyone. So we were berthed in stables. There I had lots of work to do as the maps had gone. I was despatch riding then. I was working hard on the bike. I had an unfortunate incident there after about three months. I was going round a corner in the racecourse, a blind corner pretty fast I’ll admit, and all of a sudden I saw this lorry coming towards me. Bang! It threw me in the air! And this is true, they said I turned three somersaults in the air and landed on my feet. They said I got up, then slumped down again. And I finished up with this leg (pointing at right leg) having a big balloon in it. I finished up in Stonehouse EMS, Emergency Medical Services.
CM: How long were you in there for?
JP: 20 days. Not 21. Had it been 21 I wouldn’t have been able to go back to my unit. If you were there 21 days or more you were put with a Pioneer Corp, something like that. And I knew that so I asked the doctor on the 20th day, I said look Sir, I explained what I wanted. So he told me to walk up the ward so I can have a look at your walking. So of course I walked trying not to limp. OK, you can go home he said! I’ll sign you off and I’ll get a vehicle to take you back to Hamilton. And that was that.
CM: Did you have to go straight back on the despatch riding?
JP: Yep. Went back on it the next morning.
CM: Did you have any idea of the types of messages you were carrying when you were a despatch rider?
JP: Well most of it was courts martial stuff. Then there were troop movements, exercises, cause we were headquarters remember, DDST RASC of course, all that kind of thing. It was no military benefit to anyone but they had to keep everybody occupied. All the troops were back, most of the troops were back from warzones, there were only those out in North Africa, there were none in Europe so they were all training for Normandy.
CM: What did you think of the commanders at headquarters? Did any of them stick out as being good, bad, competent, incompetent or just the same as any other group of men?
JP: We had some good chaps in the office. I think at that time it was Sgt Batterick. He was from York. Good chief clerk he was. And then we had a couple of clerks, Pvt Pinnock and Pvt Ollenshaw, both from Luton. And they were a very good team. We used to work together. As you know it was a Headquarters. And we had moved from Hamilton to the Hydro Hotel in Skelmorlie, Scotland on the Firth of Clyde. Near Largs where the Combined Services were, in a big house there where I used to have to go with despatches. We were in this place and motorcycling became part of my life there. I was out all the time and the staff in the office were excellent, absolutely excellent. And we used to have to go on the telephone exchange, take nights on the telephone exchange. Plugging the things in all over the place!
CM: So that was a military exchange then?
JP: That’s right, yes. We were there for about six months. It was during winter. We had a convoy to escort down to England and I helped police it. There was about 4 inches of snow on the floor. Imagine that on a motorbike. Having to stop to police a crossing then fly up to the front again. Only came off once and these guys in an army truck shouted to see if I was Ok. Fine I said. Thank you. Picked the bike up and rode off again. I managed anyway. I remember that we were in Scotland three times and all three times I was policing a convoy there. But I can’t remember them all. I can remember that one. I remember another one that went up to Hamilton I think. We weren’t staying there long and we went back and as we were going back there was me on the motorbike, four more RASC guys and we were all policing the convoy. And as we got further south, I think we were down Hereford way, we were struck with a problem. All of the despatch riders, their eyes were bunged up. Bunged up. We couldn’t see. And we had to stop overnight and bathe our eyes with cold water. It was just an infection. Where we went…… where… I think we went…. I can’t remember…
CM: But were you heading south in preparation for D-Day this time?
JP: No. No. Because we had to do Scotland again. That was the second time. We went up a third time to Scotland. Where we went I don’t know! Bearing in mind that it is 65 years ago, things get easy in your mind. I can only give you the general layout of what I did. I can’t be definite. I can’t fit it in properly. But I think we went down to a place in…..no, I can’t remember. Anyway then we went back to Scotland. And then back down again and the third time we went down to a place near Guildford, in Surrey. Can’t remember the name of the place now. And there I was given a green security card. I was sworn to secrecy by the Canadian security company running it. I had to go to London, an office in London. DDST was there. And it turned out that DDST, Col Bright-Holmes, he was actually given the job of planning for transport and services for the first ten days of the invasion. So we were involved in that. A very interesting thing happened there. I was doing a lot of despatches. But on this particular day I was sent to Oxford, to an American army HQ in Oxford. It was probably one or two o’clock in the afternoon when I went. SO I rode down the bike and delivered my despatch, came back down Western Avenue into London and as I was entering the outskirts of London…fog! Pea-souper. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. So what could I do? I couldn’t do anything else than get off the bike, turn the engine off, shut the petrol off to stop the engine flooding, put it in neutral and walk along the pavement. Anyway, I was lucky, I was really fortunate this mad night as I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself cause it was thick fog all the way into London. I ran into someone, didn’t I. “What the dickens are you doing?” I said I was trying to get into London. He said he was an officer and he lived close by, that I wouldn’t make London tonight. He took the handlebars of my bike and told me to push it from the back. He knew where he was and it wasn’t very far to his home. It wasn’t very long before we turned up this drive and then the lights of this big house appeared. He pushed my bike into a garage and parked it beside a Bentley! He came back and pushed the bell and a butler let us in. He explained to the butler what had happened and said I was staying for the night. And then instructed him to run me a bath and get me some civvies to wear, telling me to leave my uniform and boots outside the bedroom door, when you’ve finished your bath there will be clean clothes outside the door. So I did that, got dressed and the butler took me down to the kitchen to feed me. The lady cook gave me a slap-up meal. Don’t know how they did that in ration times but that’s what they did. Must have been on the black market… Anyway, after a while I had finished and drunk what I wanted and this officer came in checking I was OK. He then said he would introduce me to my host. I followed him into a big drawing room, a beautiful place, big roaring fire there, people sat around it in easy chairs and all they were doing was crosswords and listening to the radio. He took me to this gentleman, an old gentleman. I’m going to introduce you, can I have your name. I’m Driver Parrot I said. This gentleman is General Charteris. A little bit lateron this officer came to me and told me I was talking to a very important man there. He had been an intelligence officer for Lord Haig in the First World War. So I had the pleasure of being in a house with a notable gentleman for the night. And the next morning I went on my way. Anyway, before I went I broke my secrecy code and I didn’t realise I’d done it. The General asked me for the name of my commanding officer so he could ring him and tell him where I was. So I told him. Biggest mistake I made, well one of the biggest mistakes I made in my life that. I lost my job. Secrecy code gone. I’d told him the name of the man who was responsible for planning part of the invasion. I should have had more sense really. When I got back I was told to go back down to Cobham, we were in a big house there. I never went there again. My motorcycle was taken off me. Well, the day before of course, I had to take another guy to the office. An American. An American was taking over my job. I left my bike there and got a lift back.
CM: OK Jack, so you lost your job at DDST and then you were posted to Cobham. What happened there?
JP: I was posted to Cobham alright. It was bitterly cold. We were in this big house with just two or three blankets and a rucksack for a pillow. And no one bothered us there. There were no officers there only men. And we were just loose. Couldn’t do anything there as I’d lost my job. It was a modern house in that time but the military had taken it over because it was empty. Down in the basement there was a fireplace with a big stove with radiators running from it. We tried our best, there was anthracite there, coal wood sticks, every thing you wanted to get it going but we could not get it running. And we think that somewhere there was something electrical and some fans, or some dampers or something that we should pull out, but we never found them. So we had to leave it, we had to manage in the cold. Now, I cannot exactly remember what we did from there but as you say it was planning for the invasion and it wasn’t long after that that we were sent to Aldershot to form up with the rest of the outfit. We stayed there for a couple of weeks and then we were shipped to Tilsbury, where we were put in a warehouse waiting to go overseas. Anyway, whilst we were there, a little story….. The office truck was in this warehouse, it was a customs warehouse actually, and a couple of blokes in the early hours of the morning broke into the office wagon and pinched a bottle of whisky, which they drunk in about an hour. Well, the military police found them drunk, incapable. So they put them in a cage. Being a customs warehouse there were these cages. Anyway, next morning one man came out, the other one didn’t. So they went in to see what was the matter with him and he was dead.
CM: What happened?
JP: He choked on his own vomit…..choked to death.
CM: O really… o dear.
JP: The other one was put on courts martial and the other one was taken away. And then of course we had to wait there because at that time it wasn’t quite certain exactly which day we were going because of the weather pattern. Then all of a sudden they got the word that it was the 6th. We had another night in the warehouse and then we were taken to the boat, Landing Craft Tank, in Tilbury.
CM: Did you have any extra training whilst you were in Tilbury for D-Day?
JP: No. None at all. We were fully trained then. We knew what to do. I got my motorcycle back, fortunately……
CM: And can you remember which unit you were with at this point in Tilbury?
CM: You were still with DDST?
JP: Yes. I finished the war, no, up to October 1944, I was with DDST, up to that time. A few things happened in between that time. As I say, we landed, we finally sailed from Tilbury. We stood out in the estuary for a few hours waiting for the weather to calm down a little bit and then the boat sailed with us in it. I was in the back of a three ton Commer with a motorcycle. I don’t know where the Colonel or the staff was as it was only me in the back. I remember all the bumps and banging going on and then the boat landed, the ramp went down, I felt the truck go and we ran up the beach. I looked out and we were following a flail tank. The flails were hitting the beach, right up to the road.
CM: Do you know which beach that was Jack?
JP: It was Gold, Gold beach. And then the flail tank went, and we went down this lane, I think we were lead down this lane to a quarry. By the quarry there was a 6 foot tall railway embankment with a single track rail on top, with a field on the other side. On the fourth or fifth night there, we got down for the night, we couldn’t dig slit trenches as it was rock, so we’d found lumps of rock and stone and built parapets about three foot tall and we were down behind that. Good job we were because one night, about 11 o’clock, we’d just gone to sleep when there was a terrific bang. A double bang. And what had happened, somebody must have had a line because headquarters are carefree, they don’t give a darn, so a German plane had come over and dropped a landmine in the corner of the field. The padre’s 15 hundredweight Bedford was close to it. Anyway, we didn’t hear the landmine drop but we heard the bomb drop onto the railway line because it was a flash bomb. It had a flash detonator built into it. So it had to have flash to set it off. And that’s what happened. It blew lumps of railway line all over the place. We were lucky. We were really lucky. There was one piece of shrapnel, went over the top of the officers lorry, which the colonel was sleeping in and went into the quarry wall. Which he found the next morning and claimed as his souvenir.
CM: Was anybody injured then Jack?
JP: No. Not a soul. But the padre’s 15 hundredweight Bedford was blown over into the quarry landing right beside a parapet. All the tyres were ablaze.
CM: So the truck had been blown 50 yards?
JP: O yeah, that was astounding. It landed on all four wheels! I don’t know what happened to the stuff in it, the Padre’s bibles and things.
CM: So you were in the quarry, headquarters was based in this quarry, not far from Gold beach?
JP: But fancy…. would you have done that? Put a headquarters in a quarry where there is a railway line close to it. It practically ran through the quarry. They only had to follow those lines cause they shine from up there. That’s what happened and they bombed us out. Anyway, the next day we were out of there and they put us in an orchard.
CM: Did you move further inland away from the beach or was it…..
JP: No, it was only a couple of hundred yards back over the top of the quarry. Took us back a little bit to this farmyard, where we could dig slit trenches there. Anyway, I used to take despatches out from there. I used to cross the Pegasus Bridge to 6th Airborne Division, who were down in a farm. And they were lying on each side of this farmyard in slit trenches, these guys were. Once when I went down there they shouted at me “Oi, get off that bloody bike!” There was a Jerry overhead. Of course I heard it, lay the bike down and got into a slit trench. You know everyman was shooting at that aeroplane with revolvers, sten guns, rifles, anything they got. Anyway, I used to go to the Bayeux peninsula with despatches and my job was to go out at ten o’clock every night. Every night with a late despatch. Used to take me two hours to get there.
CM: How did you find your way around because this would be a strange country?
JP: Because I was miracle man….
CM: Miracle man…?
JP: I could read a map, I could read a map like the back of my own hand. I was amazing. That’s why I was given that job in the office, because I could read a map. I could understand the figures on it.
CM: Did you have any training in map reading or again was it just something you picked up through working in DDST?
JP: Yes. I picked it up. Every location had a map reference, so with that map reference I could chase it up on the map and pinpoint it. Anyway, this particular night I went to the American Army headquarters on the Bayeux peninsula and coming back I saw a redcap on a crossroads. He stopped me and warned me to be careful as enemy patrols had been out. I said thank you and continued on along this lane. Then all of a sudden my head jerked back! A wire was stretched across the road. But another one of my nine lives was used up; it broke before it snatched me back. It broke as I pushed against it. I got back to headquarters and the next morning the Colonel saw me and asked me what had happened to my eyes. There was a burn mark across my face where the wire had hit it. I told him what had happened and he told me that he thought I was ready for a rest. So he gave me a job driving a Major Bowers about. CRASC, Commander Royal Army Service Corp, 139 Brigade headquarters! I’d gone back to them. With them In Nottingham, now back with them under a different Commander.
CM: Can you remember how long after D-Day this was that you got posted back to 139 Brigade HQ?
JP: Well we were only there about three and a half months before moving up so it must have been nine or ten weeks. And then they posted me back to 139 Brigade HQ. I found them in a field. The lads were in German made bunkers. These guys were fabulous, the Germans. They’d built these bunkers out of solid earth, they’d dug down, then put timber supports all around. They had beautiful bunks in, and that’s where they were, in them. But there was one fault. One night a German plane came over, there was an ack-ack outfit just a bit further up the field. And they were shooting at this plane as it came in low, phosphorous rounds, and one went into a bunker through a slit and burnt two men to death.
CM: Friendly fire….. can you remember where this was Jack?
JP: It was close to a radio tower that even after all this time was still held by German troops, they were sticking it out. In fact, one day while we were there a red headed soldier, always remember his red hair, Jenkins I think his name was, he decided he was outing them. Unbeknown to anybody he took his tommy-gun and crawled up this lane toward the tower. And they spotted him. He was absolutely riddled with bullets, absolutely riddled. They couldn’t get them out as it was too dangerous, so they had the navy shell them. We could see the shells coming over. You could actually see shells coming over from the ships.
CM: It must have been the big calibre ones then….
JP: O… it was beautiful. What a sight. What a beautiful sight. Also, when we were moving up, we moved from that location and were put in a field and this field was hell on wheels! In the daytime, cause we used to eat jam, nothing but jam those days, we got bread then, after the hard rations. After three or four weeks we had a bakery come over so we ate jam on bread and it used to attract the wasps. It was alive with wasps. And as soon as they went, mosquitoes came. You could see them above the trees. A cone of mosquitoes, swirling around. As soon as the wasps went they came down and ate you to bits.
CM: You weren’t given anything to protect yourselves from mosquitoes?
JP: No, nothing. Thank God we were only there a few days.
CM: Where did you move to from that point?
JP: We started moving up country then. As you know I wasn’t on the bike then, I was driving Major Bowers. O, I forgot to tell you. When I was sent from DDST to CRASC they used to take drivers to a pool. And they used to take us to the harbour. And there were vehicles loaded up with ammunition there which we had to take to the front line. So the last one I did, we went over the Pegasus Bridge and the MPs pulled us up again on a crossroads and said we couldn’t go any further. They told us to spend the night there as enemy patrols had been out again. Far reaching these patrols, amazing people these Germans. Anyway, we slept in gliders! The gliders the men had landed in. Then we went down with these 25 pounders the next day and while we were there, another scare. They started mortars, started shelling us from over the ridge. They told us to scatter, to get away from the vehicles quick.
CM: Especially if they were ammunition trucks………
JP: Yes. So anyway, we shifted like and all of a sudden they got some shells and the battery opened fire across the ridge at the jerries. They floored them eventually. And that was the last one we did before we moved up.
CM: That was the last one of ammunition trucks across Pegasus Bridge.
CM: OK Jack, so you’re with 139 Brigade Headquarters, the tower has been blown up by the navy shelling, where did you go to then?
JP: We started moving north then, slowly moving north. We got stuck in one place, I think we were there for a couple of weeks, the delay was to do with the Falaise Gap. And during that time, Major Dobbs, the guy who I was driving, was given a job with 21 line of communication down in Nice. So he said I had to drive him down there. It was clear down there then. As you know we had been advancing down there. And I came back, stopping at Lille, at an army camp so I could fill up with gas and have a bite to eat. And that evening they went into Lille for a champagne party.
CM: A champagne party, in the middle of a war…….
JP: Yeah…. and when we got back, the first I knew of it, a Major Callan had taken over, a Scotsman. TA he was, TA. Shipping broker from Glasgow in civvy life. A great man, a wonderful fellow. You could spend your life with a man like that.
CM: Really… why?
JP: Amazing, an amazing fellow. Do everything and anything for you. Helped me out, he would do anything. A great guy. You alright for food, you alright for drinks, he would share his half bottle of whisky with his batman and me. A great fellow. Anyway, we started moving up again then. And we went to Le Havre which had just been liberated, two days before the Germans had been chased out. Major Callan heard about a warehouse that had a store of spirits in that had been left from Dunkirk days. So we found this place and you wouldn’t believe it, the stuff that was in there. Crates and crates of champagne, whisky, rum, everything you could mention.
CM: That had survived the five years from Dunkirk to ’44?
JP: Yeah, the jerries hadn’t touched it at all, They’d saved it for when they were victorious. Anyway, he got a case of whisky and I got a couple of bottles of vin rouge, red wine. I drunk one that night and I saved the other for VE day, but that came later. So we proceeded up there, proceeded north slowly, but we didn’t see any action at all. I was a bit despondent you know, because I had gone in to help the war effort but I didn’t help the war effort. I didn’t see any activity. We trundled up there, we came to this place, I think it was Bruges and we made to go through a tunnel under the water. But we were stopped, being told it was flooded. They’d blown it up inside. So we had to make a big detour of about 40 miles to get north. Finished up in, I think it was Breda. Breda in Holland, with the Polish, the Polish armoured brigade there, about that time. Of course, there were no Germans there, they were all in Germany. They were chasing them through Germany. While we were there Major Callan said Jack, as he always called me Jack, we are going down to the Rhine tonight on a recce party. We are crossing on boats and you are coming. Thank you very much I said. Anyway we went down there in this undergrowth and all of sudden this guy comes along and says it’s off. There’s a bit too many Germans on the other side so we went back home. So all these things are interesting but it never got me any action. Might have saved my life though……
CM: But somebody has to run the headquarters! So after Breda can you remember where you went then?
JP: Yes, yes we went to Kiev
JP: K. I. E. V. E.
CM: Ah… OK, Where’s that?
JP: Near Dortmund. And we were there in a sports field, bivouacked in a sports field. We had an interpreter with us, a right guy he was, a Dutchman, spoke all languages he did. One day he said ask the Colonel if we can use the car. I want to go somewhere and look at a farmyard. We think there’s a Nazi there. So we went and had a look but couldn’t find anybody. We knew they had some pigs there as we could hear them squealing. Two or three nights later he says come on, I’ve got permission to use the car again. We went to this farm again. He told me to turn the car around and wait. He got out and ran up to the farmyard and he got a little pig and carried back to the car. Right, we’ve got a good meal now. Anyway, we took it back and this damn pig was squealing in the car. We got it back to camp. Next day the military police came demanding to know where the pig was. Major Callan asked me where it was so I told him the interpreter had it. The Major said it had to go back. No action. No action. He was like that. And then he was made Lieutenant-Colonel. Bit more money in my pocket he said!
CM: And still part of 139 Brigade HQ.
JP: Yes. He was still CRASC, Commander Royal Army Service Corp. And we were there a long time in Kieve, and it was while we there that the war finished. We heard about it round about early evening and that evening I thought that’s it. I sat in my bivouac and downed this bottle of vin rouge. All the ruddy lot! I didn’t remember anymore till I woke up the next morning. Silly to do it as you can choke yourself. You shouldn’t do it but that’s how you are when you’re young.
CM: Absolutely, absolutely…..
JP: I was only about 24 then.
CM: So when the war ended were there many Germans around to surrender to you or was that basically front line infantry taking those surrenders?
JP: I never saw a German soldier. Only dead ones. As we were advancing we went through a village and there were German tanks on each side of the road. We had bombed them and they had turned over and there were Germans lying half under and half out, cut in two, all blackened. We went to this ferry, the Americans had rigged this ferry up, sort of a boat thing, a barge with a boat fastened to the side of it. A speedboat. And they were taking vehicles across on this thing. I was scared to death because it was a fast flowing river and if you started here you went across at an angle. And that’s how we advanced. We ended up in Munster barracks, Westphalia. I wasn’t demobbed from there but the Colonel was. This is true, what I’m going to tell you now. He told me to take him to the station. He said he was sorry to be leaving me and the men behind and I said I was too. At the station he asked me to wait while he said goodbye to his fellow officers. He came back and said a very surprising thing to me. He asked if I would sign on for another seven years. I said I didn’t think so and asked him why. He said that he could get me an immediate commission, no questions asked. I can get you an instant commission. But I turned it down. And do you know, a few months after, I near kicked myself to death. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my life. He said you will make an officer. I know you. You’re the same type. He said they are urgently wanting officers for military government in Germany. No need to be trained. Only in exactly what to do with the Germans, in law and all that kind of thing. You’ll be trained in law and that kind of stuff. As an officer you’ll have that training. Intellectual training. But I turned it down. Biggest error, what a fool….
CM: 20/20 hindsight is something different Jack, I shouldn’t worry about that.
JP: After having seven years in the forces and being confined to something that was against your best interests, you know, you wanted to be free. To get out and be free again was wonderful. But I still did say to myself you’re a fool for not doing it. Too late then. Had I been able to contact him I might have been able to do it then, but they won’t let you. You’ve got to go through the War Office if you want to contact an officer. You have a hell of a job getting through, I found that out.
CM: So where were you demobbed from? Were you sent back to England?
JP: Strensall Barracks.
CM: How long after the war ended was that?
JP: The war ended in May 1945 and I was demobbed in July 1946. So I had seven years. I joined up in ’39, June ’39 and demobbed in July ’46. I did enquire if I was eligible for a pension but the answer was no.
CM: So then you returned home after being demobbed?
JP: Yes, I returned home and had a few weeks off, I didn’t do a great lot. I had a couple of weeks in Blackpool and I had one or two jobs. I was going from job to job to job. I couldn’t settle, I was absolutely restless, couldn’t do anything you know. I just couldn’t stop at one job. I just had to do something, get moving. And I think that was with being in the army. Eventually I said to myself, right, Jack, you’ve got to stop this. You’ve got to find something that you want to do. And I thought what did I do in the army? I drove. So get driving then. So I did. I went truck driving. And I did that till late 1979, after we had been to Canada to see my youngest son. Before that I worked at Stavely works loading pipes on railway wagons, I had two years with Pearl Assurance Company as a salesman and an agent, I had a year and a half selling Mothers Pride bread, I had another six months on a coal lorry, form the gas sites, I went back to Mothers Pride for another eighteen months, in between that I worked for shop and a baker in Bolsover for a few months, then I worked for three years for another firm driving an eight wheeled tanker and then I worked for Trebor Sweets on a van with a van lad, going to Scotland, the South of England, all over the place. And while I was there, I used to park up in Birkin Lane, in a coal yard as I knew the men there, so I’d park it up at night. When I was passing there a saw there was a little transport company down Birkin Lane and I went to see them and asked for a job as I was fed up with the long distances. He asked me who I worked for and I said Trebor. He said he wouldn’t give me a job as he had seen me flying down the road in the van! I said there were two of us going down there, not only me! So he thought about it, asked when I wanted to start, I said I had to give a weeks notice, so he said do that. He then told me he had a brand new truck coming, an Albion Reiver. And he wanted me to go on tarmac, as they were just starting the motorway then, between Chesterfield and Sheffield. So I was working on that for seven or eight months, till they run out of tarmac at Stavely. Eventually we went into general haulage, the main job was running pipes and fittings to Water Board and Gas Board depots all over the country. In those days they weren’t centralised. Every village and town, a village would have one, a town might have half a dozen different sites, scattered all over the place and that’s what we were doing, feeding them. I did that for seventeen years. And then this tachometer job came out. So I said that’s it. I can’t do a day’s work with that in my cab so I quit. I told Ted. He said I don’t blame you. I’m packing up he said. I went to drive a twelve ton Coles hydraulic crane. I did that until late 1984 then I said that’s it I’m quitting. The boss told me to go to his office before I left. I went to see him, he shook my hand, gave me a cheque for a hundred pounds and a few months after that we were in Canada, working in Canada. I got a job as a residential manager. In a paper we saw an advert for training for managers, 300 dollars each. So I went to see this guy and he was a Londoner. O, I’ll do you both for 300 dollars he said! So we had 21 hours in the classroom, 21 hours of homework. And I passed 95% and my wife passed 84%. So we ended up managing a building. Our first salary was 900 a month. By the time we finished we were getting nearly 4000 a month.
CM: And you were in Canada for 15 years…?
JP: 15 years, yes. I had to come back because the Canadian government would not recognise me.
CM: So I think on that note Jack we will conclude the interview.