Percy Vere (H.V.Smith) (b.1913) War and Memory Part 2

I was returning from one of these trips across Dartmoor when I was tailed by a Red Cap. He said ‘Pull in’; I replied ‘I was only doing 40 mph. He said ‘I know, but you are smoking in a WD vehicle. I said, ‘I’m not smoking.’ He said ‘You have a pipe in your mouth.’ I said ‘I have my boots on but I am not walking’. And I got away with it. (Vere, 10)

Sherman tank crossing a Bailey Bridge over the River Santerno. Similar to the bridges Percy would have helped build

While Percy was still in Plymouth, his wife and son came to visit him. ‘I found lodgings for them as by then the bombing was mostly over, not much else to bomb!’ (Vere, 11) Soon after they left, Percy transferred to 147. Bridge Co RASC. At Stourbridge, where he was to drive specially built pontoon carriers which enabled Bailey Bridge Building. While there, he passed a mechanics course, something that remained more of a burden for Percy. He was to drive the last vehicle in the convoy, picking up broken down vehicles and getting them running again. He complains of changing tyres in the rain and wet weather and details how the vehicles had to be waterproofed, ready for the invasion of France. They went to a convoy in Newland Corner, Guilford, Surrey to practice Baily Bridge Building, and ensure the waterproofing was tight. Moving on to Oxted, Surrey to await the invasion date.

 

Although instructed not to leave the town of Oxted, Percy sneaked home to see his wife and son with little difficulty. ‘On the railway platform was an Army Officer but nothing was said, because I suppose he knew that I knew that he was not allowed out. No MPs spotted him or me. A few days later it was D day.’ (Vere, 12) Percy, and the Army Officer he saw on the railway platform, returned just in time. Put into convoy order, they drove down to the coast at 5am. They travelled across the water and only found out a later date that they had landed on Gold Beach, Arromanches, France. He mentions the ‘lovely sandy beach’ and the noise that made everyone feel ‘rather nervy and apprehensive.’ He declares, ‘Now we know what war is all about’ (Vere, 13) Driving eastwards towards Caen, Percy and his convoy drove over and not through the towns, as they were in complete ruins.

A British soldiers carries a little girl through the devastation of Caen, 10 July 1944

Around this time, he made a very good friend, named George. They shared everything and travelled many miles together. After ferried through France, Belgium and Holland building bridges. Once being diverted to go north in Holland, specifically to build a railway bridge at place called Deventer. In 1963, Percy and his wife were invited back there to commemorate its 20 years of use, something that the locals were very proud. The bridge was demolished and replaced in 1983 and Percy and his wife were again invited, but they had to reluctantly refuse due to Percy’s poor health. Percy recalls also building another large bridge, remembering its name to be The Churchill Bridge. He believes that this must have been near or over the German border, but is unsure of his location at that time. As Michael Roper discusses in ‘Re-rembering the Soldier Hero’ ,‘the memory of a single event can change dramatically with age.’ (Roper, 183) What events Percy depicts in his memoir, are only as accurate as his memory of the event.

Devnenter railway bridge was bombed and destroyed twice during the World War. Still to this day, bombs are found around the bridge.

Percy and George both had to go through medical selecting to see if they were fit to go the Japanese War. It was discovered that George had flat feet and was told he should never have been in the services, after six years of service. Percy did not pass his medical either, but was posted to GHQ to be a Staff Car Driver to a Captain Black. ‘He wanted me to stay in the Army. Had I not been happily married with a song I think I might have done. I’ll soon get you three stripes, No thanks, I said, I had other plans.’ (Vere, 17) When Percy’s demob number came up, he was sent to Guilford, he handed over his equipment and caught the bus home to Croydon. His time in the services were finished.

To read more stories of working-class experiences of the war, follow this link http://www.writinglives.org/category/warandmemory

 

Works cited:

Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783

Roper, Michael. Re-remembering the Soldier Hero: The Psychic and Social Construction of Memory in Personal Narratives of the Great War. History Workshop Journal. 50.3 (2000): 181-204

 

Images:

Bailey Bridge: Netdna-cdn.com  http://u0v052dm9wl3gxo0y3lx0u44wz.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/A-heavily-camouflaged-Sherman-tank-crosses-a-Bailey-bridge-over-the-River-Santerno-near-Imola-12-April-1945.jpg Last accessed: 28th March 2017

British Soldier and girl in Caen: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/93/08/c5/9308c501a06f12c3cf74b17c8c082cc7.jpg Last accessed: 27th March 2017

Deventer Railway Bridge: ARS Wesbite. http://www.saak.nl/battlefield%20tour/2015%20deventer/deventer%20(17).jp. Last accessed: 28th March

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