George Flint - War memories

My name is George Flint and I was born in Leicester in the West End area, on August 8th 1916. After I left school I was in the shoe trade, designing ladies` shoes and I hated it. I went into the Army in November 1939 because it so happened that I belonged to a motor-cycle club called The Query Club. One member that I knew very well was Mr Newman who had been a construction engineer in Leicester. Then he joined the Army and formed the 726 Artisan Works Company of Leicester, Royal Engineers, a construction company which had all sorts of people from the different trades - brick-layers and carpenters, that type of thing. One day he rang me up and he said, ` You`re a great motor cyclist, what about coming into the Army?` I said,` Not on your life!` `Well`, he said, `You`ll have to come in sometime, you`ll be called up`. Anyway we met up and had a drink or two and talked it over, and I didn`t like my job so and I ended up being his dispatch rider. When I told my parents, they thought I had lost my marbles and I probably had!

I was about 23 years of age and free. And that`s how I went into the Army. I had to report to Chatham and a fortnight later I was in Caen in France. In those days we hadn`t even got proper uniforms. You`d have a battledress and ordinary trousers or vice versa, but not both. We were in a battle at the river at Caen and it was dreadful because we were trying to get over the bridge. I didn`t like that bit because somebody was shooting at me! I had become a dispatch rider and I ended up at Lord Gort`s headquarters at Arras. There were twenty of us and we were sent off all over the country delivering these dispatches. Eventually we had to retreat and we finished up in Dunkirk. I had ridden my motorbike there, but as I was on the outskirts of Dunkirk a bomb went off in front of me and my motorbike crashed down a bomb crater. I crawled out looking a bit tattered. On the beach things were organised by regiments. The men lined up and went in orderly fashion down to the sea and were taken off by boats, but for odd-bods like me who had lost touch with their regiment, no-one wanted to know, they were busy looking after their own. There were quite a lot of people who were from different units like me from GHQ Arras who were left to wander around. You had to do what you could; it was every man for himself really. I sheltered in the sand dunes and then came out whenever there was a chance of getting into a boat, walking right into the sea as deep as I could.

Then when I didn`t get on I would have go back, wet through, to try to have a sleep in the dunes. You would dig a hole in the sand dunes and try to sleep and then come out when you thought you could get away. This went on for two or three days but eventually a trawler picked me up. We were being bombed and machine-gunned all the time; it was like Hell let lose. ell let lose.I was damned glad to get away, I can tell you. When I got back to England we landed at Tilbury and the people there were very good to us, giving us cups of tea and so on. Then we went into a transit camp and then we were shipped down to Devizes to the Queen`s Unit. They didn`t like us because we were old soldiers compared to them, we had seen action. I wanted to get leave because my sister had been taken into hospital for a major operation. I queued up to see the Officer Commanding to ask for leave but it was refused. So I deserted along with another chap from Dutton Basset. On the way home, the people who helped us the most were the Police by getting us lifts on all kinds of things. They were very kind. Of course they did not know we were deserters. We had the British Expeditionary Force flashes on our uniforms so they knew we had just got back from France so they helped us. Eventually we got home and my sister was recovering well. After a short time, my father said I should be getting back. I had a Ford Popular car at that time which had cost me 100 (and which I sold after the war at a profit). My brother-in-law and some friends all rallied round by contributing petrol coupons and, together with the other chap from Dutton Basset, I was taken back to Devizes in my own car driven by my brother-in-law. When we got back, nobody cared a damn about us going off. The Sergeant Major knew that we had deserted, but nothing happened so that was that.

I was then posted up to Scotland to a unit of the Royal Engineers where we started building aerodromes. I was still in transport and became a transport corporal. I remember we built a dam at Troon in Ayrshire and we flooded the valley to provide water for the American troops that had come Gairloch Head. Gairloch Head was a submarine base. The Canadians were there as well, we were truly multi-national. The advantage for me was that the Americans could get hold of anything quite easily whereas if I wanted say, an engine, we were supposed to go through convoluted channels back to the Chilwell depot, near Nottingham. We were using American Chevrolet trucks so I would just go down to their NAAFI, have a few drinks with them and get an engine from them. We would bury the old engine and put in the new one. My job was to keep the transport going, and that`s how I did it. Just before the invasion of Europe started, I went with an expeditionary force of about 20 engineers by plane from Southampton. We went to blow up a radio station near Caen in France. We used a delayed action charge. We never saw it go up but we heard it! We were supposed to get picked up off one of the beaches, but we never made it. We had to go by train-ferry to Jersey instead. The Germans had threatened to blow Jersey out of the water and when we got there the civilians had a choice and most of them decided to leave by ferry to Southampton. I can remember them going on board this ferry loaded with cases and packages and bundles, leaving their cars on the quay. I have never seen so many cars in my life. They had to be left. Everything had to be left, including pets. of course we went with them. I went back to France on D-Day +3 attached to the 2nd Canadians. We probably landed on Juno Beach, I can`t quite remember.

As we went down the ramps I was yelling at the lorry drivers to keep their feet on the accelerators. It was not easy to do that as the sea rose up in the cab. As the water crept up say, right to your chest, unless you kept your foot down the engine stopped and you were stuck. I was dashing from one lorry to another shouting at them. I know that we managed to drive up the beach but whereas the others turned right, we turned left! As the armies were pushing their way through France and into Belgium, we followed up supplying the barges for river crossings and anything else they required. I drove the trucks and also I was on motorbikes sometimes. We finished up in Ostend completely exhausted with battle fatigue. We weren`t fit to go on so we were left there to recover for a while. The Germans had evacuated the town and had left numerous booby traps and bombs around. We had some instruction on how to lift these booby-traps and so we went round making the place safe. I took over a school in Ostend so that I could use the school yard to park the lorries. The headmistress, Jose Warni, was not too pleased though. She lived in Neiver Stradt and cared for the two younger children, George and Clare. The parents were in the Belgian Congo. The Warni family were very kind to me and I am trying to organise a trip with my nephew to go to Ostend to see if I can find them. During the war one of my best friends was Joe Halstad and I would like to get in touch with him again as well. The war was about finished but there were pockets of resistance. We went out on reccy trips and reported any of these pockets to our troops who went out and dealt with them. I had a bottle of whisky with me that I had carried carefully wrapped all the way wherever we went. We (six of us) were trying to find our way back one day from one of these surveys when we heard over the radio that the war had ended so we celebrated by drinking this whisky.

I was transferred to the transport staff in Hamburg and we had the job of taking trucks to Marseille ready to be transported by ship to the Far East for the war on Japan. We had to prepare the trucks for the voyage. We took them by convoy and all the drivers, seven of them, would come back in one truck ready for the next convoy. It was a lot of driving right down past Switzerland to Marseilles. We were billeted in Admiral Darlan`s house, he had been the head of the French Navy. I suppose he had been arrested; anyway we stayed in this very nice house swimming in his swimming pool and drinking all his wine. It is amazing how a bottle of wine for breakfast gives life a rosier hue. However I began to think it was time for me to go home. The Japanese war ended in August 1945 and I had had enough of the Army by this time. All I wanted to do was to go home and see my sister and family. I hadn`t seen them for three years. So I was demobbed from Chatham. Every soldier was given a demob suit and mine was grey with a red stripe, very smart. I went back home and I had been in the shoe trade and my job had been kept open for me, as jobs had been kept open for thousands of servicemen. I went back to see them at Smith-Westcliffe`s where I had worked because my father said it was time to go back and get on with it. So off I went and had a word with the boss and saw many of the colleagues I had worked with before the war. Mr Baxter, the boss, said, `Well George, it`s all over now. Your board is there, and I want you to start on Monday`. I daren`t say what I told him. I couldn`t handle the idea of getting stuck in a job I didn`t like. So I never went back.

I had 83 demob money (my gratuity) and I found out that there was a plant nursery with a greenhouse to let on Jimson Road so I made enquiries. I loved gardening so I went to ask if I could rent the land. It belonged to a Catholic Church and they agreed that I could rent it and run it as a gardening concern. I asked a friend of mine who was a real old-fashioned gardener to come in with me. He agreed and we were off! We did landscape gardening - digging away, pricking out plants and cutting things in half - I loved it. After living with my sister for a while at Glenfield I moved into this nearby hotel. Then I found out that a lady was running this hotel so I married her. I was 42 at the time and her name was Frances. So I was helping run both the hotel and the gardening project. At one time we bought an orchard at Kirby Mellors near Melton Mowbray as an investment but when the garage next door to the hotel wanted to expand and made us a good offer for the hotel, we decided to sell the businesses and build ourselves a villa on this land. By the time we had built it we were broke. I remember saying that I would cut the old trees down at the back of the house and landscape the garden. Fran agreed that that would be great except for one thing I had forgotten - we hadn`t even got a carpet yet! I said we have spent all our money on the house, paying cash. I had never borrowed money but Fran said, `Well you`d better start now!' So I had to borrow over a thousand pounds to carpet this forty foot lounge!

My next job was salesman for a firm, the Bolton Gate Company, selling big industrial doors for large factories or aircraft hangers. My area was Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire had always been known as a duff area to sell things in but, by some strange stroke of fortune, business really took off in Lincolnshire and I did very well. My boss called me in one day and told me he wanted me to move to take over the whole of Scotland. He said I should find somewhere nice to live and the firm would pay all the expenses. I dashed all the way from Bolton to tell Fran the good news. As she was Scottish I thought she would be pleased. But she said, `I`ll tell you what, George. Why don`t you go on your own? No way am I moving to Scotland!` I was amazed! So we stayed. When at last I retired from work, we looked round for another place to live. We had looked at 42 houses and bungalows before we arrived in Colsterworth to look at two bungalows on Chestnut Grove. We both liked the look of this one so Fran got out to speak to the lady who was by the gate. Within one hour we had agreed to buy the place. I offered a price, in cash, and the condition was that we wanted the property within a fortnight. The husband and wife went off into the kitchen to think about it. By the time we had had a cup of tea we had agreed with a small adjustment in the price, and we shook hands on it. That is how we came to Colsterworth. I have never regretted coming here. I have made a lot of good friends. The Army suited me and it is one of my regrets that I didn`t stay in. If I had done that I would have done my 21 years and come out at the age of 56 with a jolly good pension. But it was just that I missed my sisters. My old O.C. said to me that he`d have a bet on me not going. He was wrong - I went, but it was a mistake, I would have done well in the Army. I liked it and I had a lot of fun. It did me good too. I learned to stand on my own feet and face what ever comes. The Army is good for any young man or boy. It makes them grow up and they learn discipline and how to accept orders. It doesn`t matter who you are, you still have a boss higher up the ladder. Even a Colonel has a Brigadier over him.