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August 2019
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British Army

I was with the 49th Royal Tank Regiment, in the Ardennes.

 
 I was with the 49th Royal Tank Regiment,
 in the Ardennes.
 
We left Fontenay on the 31st October and by evening reached Rouen where we spent the night in the University, converted by the Germans into a barracks.  In the morning we made an early start, travelled via Amiens, Arras (passing Vimy and Cambrai memorials) Brussels to Vilvoorde, arriving at 23.30 hours.  We had a week at Vilvoorde, the highlight of our visit to the continent so far, abundance of life, scores of cafes with music and friendly people in all and only one shortage - MONEY.  
 
During this week we were equipped with our new vehicles, Kangaroo's, aptly described by one newspaper as a "Tank with the turret sawn off".  These had to be equipped and prepared for action, so we had plenty of work during the day.  
 
By the 8th November we were ready to move up to the forward areas and travelled via Louvain, Bourg Leopold, across the Dutch frontier at mid-day Eindhoven to Boekel, our first billet in Holland.  After four days pleasant stay here, we went through Helmond to Heeze, where we prepared for our first operation.  
 
For this we were attached to the 53rd Welsh Division.  We were able to cross the canal on the 18th, and moved to an area near De Heibloem where we harboured to await our next task.  Kangaroos were little known at this time and the demand was not as heavy as in the latter stages of the campaign.  This series of attacks was making for the river Maas and the ultimate objective was obviously to be Blerick, the Western half of Venlo.  
 
On the 29th we moved to an area a little further on to be located with our friends in the final attack on Blerick.  
 
On December 8th we moved south to the Maastricht area and stationed at Nuth, in preparation for a drive up the east side of the Maas, with limited objectives.  But the weather was unfavourable for cross country work and the attack was postponed and eventually cancelled.  But while at Nuth the enemy launched his renowned Ardennes attack, and this, although a good way from our location, rather unsettled us.  
 
On the night of December 22nd we were warned that enemy paratroops had and were being dropped in our area, and that day we had presumable been photographed by the enemy jet-propelled reconnaissance plane that flew over at tree-top level.  Late that night I watched Americans connecting up large charges to the fine road-bridge over the railway, everyone was stopped in the streets for questioning, and it was obvious that this counter attack was a serious matter.  
 
So on the 23rd we cancelled all our arrangements for a Happy Christmas, and left our friends with whom we had stayed for two weeks -- an unusually long stay. We moved off to take up defensive positions in Belgium and travelled via Sc hinnlinshiede, Geleen, Burg to Waterschei, where we stayed the night in the Casino. Early next morning we loaded onto transporters and travelled via Diest, Louvain, Overijse to Genval.  
 
This was the evening of the 24th, and we hoped to settle in for Christmas Day, but in this land of welcome all was confusion with the unit, billets were provided for only a few, and no one knew what was happening.  
 
But the men found themselves billets. Christmas rations were issued for the following day, tinned turkey, Christmas puddings etc., and then we went out to enjoy ourselves, with no money for our cash was all in Dutch currency.  However, by selling cigarettes, chocolate, or our socks etc., most of us managed to visit the dance or a cafe and find an evenings amusement. [The bloody officers never got to bed at all on Xmas eve -- leaving a dance at 1245 am they were summoned immediately to an "0" Group, whilst the men slept] 
 
Christmas morning gave us a rude awakening -- we were called about 0330 hours, and told to prepare to move off almost immediately.  It was bitterly cold and we had no time for breakfast, so most of resorted to an attack on the Christmas whisky issue.  Christmas morning was cold, and there was a biting wind blowing which blew about the very small amount of fine snow that had fallen and little could have looked more cheerless than this bleak flat countryside out of Genval.  After a short run we halted and made breakfast before the infantry mounted.  This time we were carrying the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. We had a long distance to cover for they were to take up positions in the American Ardennes sector on the river Meuse, particularly the defence of certain important bridges towards which the enemy warn now pushing with great vigour.  [We crossed the plains of Waterloo about 7 in the morning]  Although such a cold drive, it was enjoyable for the sun came through, and these people of Belgium were afraid the Germans may get through to their areas -- there was already a penetration into one part of Belgium -- and the sight of a column of armoured vehicles loaded with infantry and racing towards the front gave them fresh cheer.  [We were the first British they had seen.  They had seen Americans who were now retreating and in whom they had completely lost faith.  The British were now regarded as their saviours.] 
 
They came out and lined all of the roads even in the cold, shouted, cheered, waved, showered us with apples, and wherever we happened to halt, even if only for a minute or so, many eager hands thrust cups of hot coffee up to us. In the evening we halted at Morville where the infantry dismounted and left us to prepare a hurried meal.  This was Christmas night, cold and cheerless; we found accommodation in a hayloft for the night.  The following afternoon the Squadron moved off to various harbours, my own party to a lovely village called Yves-Gomezee where for some reason unknown to all we were billeted in a very fine house.  In a large room with a great log fire my troop decided that this was the occasion for our Christmas celebrations and we mustered sufficient refreshments to make it very enjoyable.  
 
The following day the 27th, we asked a local woman to cook our Christmas dinner, and she was very pleased to do so, she laid necessary tables in her home and with some helpful neighbours gave us a first class dinner which we appreciated and enjoyed very much.  These people had suffered much from the Germans who, just prior to leaving, had shot four local men by placing revolvers in their mouths to fire them.  
 
Every man had offers of accommodation from these people who were so pleased to have us with them.  
 
The next day, however, we moved off again to pick up our friends the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire at Cubin (?) for a drive Northwards to Namur.  But the roads were icy and very treacherous and at Mettet the task was abandoned, the infantry dismounted and we turned back for Yves-Gomezee again.  This time the whole squadron went together, billeting was not good and eventually most of us made our own arrangements.  Unfortunately once again our stay was only for two days which did not permit us to take full advantage of the hospitality offered.  A very early reveille was necessary on 30th December to meet the 13th Paratroops Battalion of the 6th Airborne Division to whom we were now attached and with them onboard we crossed the Meuse and took up our station at the famous Hotel Chateau d'Ardenne.  This grand hotel is situated in marvellous scenery and is normally a resort for Europe's very elite.  Hot and cold water, electric light, bathrooms attached to many bedrooms, these are a few of the luxuries with which we found ourselves blessed.  
 
On January 3rd 1945, after a couple of days of this luxury we moved off again to pick up the Devons (Airborne) for an attack.  But the roads were impossible and it took the Squadron six hours to reach the bottom of the great winding hill which drops from the Chateau to Houyet, the village below which can be reached on foot inside half an hour.  Even then we had to have labour parties to throw earth and sand on the road in an attempt to give the steel tracks a grip.  We were tackling an impossible task with great enthusiasm, for the fighting was not far away now, and at last the enemy were being slowed down if not held.  A bloody struggle had reached a climax and although it had been extremely costly to our American Allies it now offered possibilities of a great kill.  But the task was eventually cancelled and we stayed the night at Houyet, making the tedious return journey back to the chateau in daylight the following morning. 
 
This time we prepared for a reasonable stay because weather had made movement impossible.  We settled down after the 6th when the squadron divided, Administration and half of the tanks moving to nearby Beauraing with half a Squadron of Kangaroos, while half of our Kangaroos remained attached to "A" Squadron. The weather became colder, fairly heavy falls of snow now made this fine country very picturesque and those of us who went for walks found this unusual scenery of great interest. Some made trips to Dinant, beautiful town on the Meuse with its fortress mounted high above on the rocks which dominated the district.  
 
During this stay at the Chateau the vehicles were overhauled and a fair amount of refitting was carried out in preparation for whatever lay before us.  "A" Squadron produced a really first class concert and it was also at this time that the squadrons conducted the famous ballots for United Kingdom Leave.  For three weeks we enjoyed the comforts of this splendid hotel and when, on January 22nd we had to leave, the weather was still extremely cold and the roads unsafe for heavy tracked vehicles.  However, my half of the squadron made the tedious journey to Givet where transporters awaited us.  After loading we stayed the night and made an early start next morning.  This day's journey was one of the finest we have made, travelling up the Meuse Valley, and I am sure no river could show more magnificent scenery.  
 
Through Dinant, Namur and so many other riverside resorts of the scenery lover, the rock cliffs were a glorious sight as they hung their massive chandeliers of icicles of those mystic shapes that ice alone can form.  The river itself was frozen over lower down but later as the current became faster it was a swirling mass of ice blocks.  Here and there American engineers were trying to lift parts of wrecked bridges with mobile cranes under conditions anything but favourable.  That evening we reached Louvain early and with a few hours were able to have a pleasant evening, like Brussels, this city provides plenty to interest British troops.  
 
'The following day the journey was completed via Diest, across into Holland again, Eindhoven to Eersel, our destination, where we met up with the rest of the squadron. 
 
Sgt Jimmy PARKER

"C" Squadron

49th Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment

Campaigns:

Battle of the Ardennes,

Belgium