George's Army career
When war with Germany was declared in September 1939, George’s previous army service combined with his civilian knowledge of heavy goods vehicles were in high demand. He was enlisted as a driver in the transport division of the Royal Army Service Corps, (RASC), currently known as the Royal Logistics Corps.
The part of his life that would be recorded for posterity under the service number T/60512 was about to commence.
George in africa
We have established that he was a driver in the Transport Division of RASC which made up part of XXX Corps. Exactly when George arrived in Africa is difficult to say but the fact he is in possession of the “Africa Star” narrows the time frame somewhat. This particular medal was only awarded to men who had served in North Africa between 10th June, 1940 and 12th May, 1943, inclusive plus 1 day. (i.e. 2 years, 11 months and 3 days).
The addition of the clasp bearing 8th Army further confirms that served during the Battle of Alamein in 1942. The 8th Army was founded in Africa in September 1941 and at its inception was comprised of XXX Corps and the 7th Armoured Division, of which I know a little from previous research.
His full account can be read here: - http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/54/a2336654.shtml
“…- Carried rifle with bayonet and a revolver.
- Visited many central and large stores, which were placed in open desert areas.
- Had many night journeys done and behind enemy lines - very dangerous - came into contact with many troops.
- Hundreds of snakes in the open deserts.
- Many thunderstorms, with the lightning dancing over the sands.
- Strong winds and gales some of which completely blew our tents away.
- Mosquito nets very difficult to fit in high winds.
- There were many wells in the open desert, but all had been poisoned by the Germans.
- Many sulphur springs in the desert.
- Many deserts including Sahara, Libyan and Western.
- Often drove 30 ton vehicles and trailer to carry up to three tanks. The vehicles had central twin tiller bar steering, and twin gearboxes.
- The German dive bombers presented real problems - you just could not see them coming from behind - I lost many pals.
- The heat was bad for most of a year.
- We always stopped work from 12 noon until 2 pm.
- Different case in late afternoon you had to wear greatcoats from 4 pm, on a charge if you did not.
- The Germans had similar plans most days.
Most of the journeys were very long, hundreds of miles. There were very few roads - mostly sand.
We carried hundreds of cardboard and plywood imitation tanks, mostly at night to a position between Benghazi and Marsa Matruh. It all really fooled the Germans and helped to end the Middle East war….”
The Thomson’s War in Europe
The Thomson family have no personal recollections to refer to about his time in Italy, that George served in Italy is evident from his “Italy Star” but as this could refer to any period of service from 11 June 1943 and the 8th May 1945 it is impossible to be certain when. He may have been with the XXX Corps that made up the invasion force of Sicily in July 1943 which then returned to Britain in September to re-group and prepare for the Normandy landings. Then again he may not!
What is imperative to remember at this point is that George was not able to make it home to Edinburgh to see his wife and daughter at any point during the war.
France & 21st Army Group
The 21st Army Group had been formed in 1943 and in 1944:-
“it was assigned to Operation Overlord, the Western Allied invasion of Europe, and was an important Allied force in the European Theatre. The 21st Army Group operated in Northern France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany from June 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in 1945, after which it was redesignated the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR)….. Commanded by General (later Field Marshal) Sir Bernard Montgomery, 21st Army Group initially controlled all ground forces in Operation Overlord…..”
The company in which George served is not yet known, but looking at the RASC Companies attached to XXX Corps together with his personal recollections, his knowledge of lorries and heavy plant, the most likely contender would have been the 310th Armoured Brigade Company (RASC), between June 1944 and May 1945.
VE Day and The Return Home
“It’s funny that a simple letter,
can hold the secret to all my Happiness,
But that’s the way it is – the way I am-
The reason isn’t very hard to guess,
For I am coming home to you again
and it will be lovely as before,
and all the weary loneliness and pain,
will vanish as I smile to you again
I pray for this and wish that it was June,
I know that I will never let you go
That we can look to many a happy year
When laughter and contentment fill our days
And peace on earth is not an idle phrase.
I love you Darling
I love you true
There is no-one else for me – just you
So please remember that this is true
As I will prove, when I get home to you
Having been separated from her father for six years during the War, Sheila was still unable to be reunited with him. His frequent stays in hospital meant he was unable to look after her, so she remained in the care of her paternal grandmother Euphemia, at the farm of Lempitlaw. Sheila remembers a particular hospital visit at the time of his lung operation. It remains a vivid memory, as the hospital regulations at the time stated she needed to be 16 years old, and she was two years too young at just 14. This problem was soon overcome by her Aunt Ella, George’s sister, with the aid of some rouge and a touch of lipstick! It must have felt like quite an adventure!
The favourite story he would often tell his granddaughters was about his old watering hole “The Dundee Arms” on the corner of Dundee Street in Edinburgh where he would share a pint or two with his old pal Joseph Connery.
The odd time they would be joined by Joseph’s son “Big Tam” who also happened to be George’s milkman, before he went off to join the Navy in 1948.
I wonder if “Big Tam” remembers “Dode Thomson” his father’s pal from the old days in Dundee Street?
Links & Sources of INFo
The Pegasus Archive http://www.pegasusarchive.org/arnhem/order_xxx.htm
There is a particular set of records deposited at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, Kings College London that I would love to read. They are the papers belonging to the late Brigadier Eric William Townsend Darlow, who was also heavily involved with the training school and was inextricably linked with the RASC and the Army transport column throughout the duration of the war. http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=405&inst_id=21