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My name is SYKES, Bill Sykes, a nickname derived from the
character in Charles Dickens Classic novel, "Oliver Twist".
I was a member of the Durham Light Infantry for a very short
period of time, from the 27th of January 1943 through the
8th of September 1943 before transferring to British Airborne
Forces with whom I served for the next six years.
On with the story
"MEMORIES OF A YOUNG SOLDIERS LIFE, BEFORE AND AFTER
SERVING WITH THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY".
FOR KING AND COUNTRY - (OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT)
Firstly, for the unitiated, some background information.
This is an account of the World War Two experiences
of a young man born on the 14th of December 1925, in the
northern industrial town of Huddersfield, in the County of
This story really starts for me on Sunday
the 3rd of September 1939, the day that war was declared
by the British Government against Germany.
As a young boy
of thirteen years of age, as I sat listening to the BBC radio
broadcast at eleven o'clock on the morning of the third of
September 1939, the chilling words of Prime Minister Neville
Chamberlain came over the air waves with the message "The
Army of the Third Reich has marched into Poland and consequently
we are at war with Germany".
I was vaguely familiar with the events in
Europe leading up to this moment, but I must admit that those
words filled me more with a feeling of excitement, than a
realization of the horrors that the world was about to witness.
Due to my youthful optimism, or my lack of a realistic approach
to the seriousness of the situation, I failed to recognize
that in a matter of a few years I myself would be very much
involved in a personal fight to survive the rigors of war.
That very night, the air raid sirens sounded for the first
time, (albeit a false alarm), and the early elation of the
morning suddenly turned to one of concern for personal safety.
In Britain, the early years of the war for the civilian population
were centered mainly around the deprivations of rationing,
(which involved food, clothing, petrol, and most of the everyday
necessities), plus the inconvenience of the eternal blackouts.
The people of Britain somberly watched the German invasion
of the Low Countries, (Belgium/Holland), and the fall of
France, leading to the dramatic evacuation from Dunkerque
of members of the British Expeditionary Force by an armada
of small ships.
During the summer months of 1940, the people
of Britain had reason to celebrate the air defense of their
small island by the pilots and men of the "Royal Air
Those brave men, in the face of overwhelming
odds, fought and defeated the mighty German Luftwaffe in
what was to be known as the "Battle of Britain".
Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famous speech summed
up the occasion admirably, "Never in the field of human
conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few".
Nightly bombings of the small island by the
German Luftwaffe continued.
A number of major cities throughout
Britain were all but obliterated, with heavy civilian casualties
and enormous property destruction.
Throughout all of this,
the people of Britain were steadfast in adversity and their
morale remained high.
My entry into this conflict came about exactly
as I'm going to describe.
I, (as a sixteen year old), due
to one of many reasons, volunteered for several branches
of the British Armed Forces only to be turned down because
of being "under
I found a solution to this small problem by forging
my birth certificate and changing the date of my birth from
the 14th December 1925 to the 14th December 1924, and to
this very day my British Army records still carry that date.
Scene: Royal Marine recruiting office in the
city of Leeds, Yorkshire, England, late Summer 1942, I've
just been turned down for service by a towering, magnificent
specimen of a Royal Marine Sergeant with the words, "You've
changed your birth certificate lad, come back and re-apply
when you're eighteen years of age".
Being a somewhat
street smart kid, I wasn't going to be deterred by what I
considered to be so insignificant a thing as a birth certificate.
So, I walked along a passageway into the Army recruiting
There sitting behind a desk was a very relaxed and
amiable recruiting Sergeant. The warm glow emanating from
this very red faced individual attested to the fact that
he was obviously feeling no pain from his encounter during
the lunch period with several pints of the local brew.
Sergeant: "Come in son.
Do you want to join up"???
Me: "Do you want to see my birth certificate Sergeant"???
Sergeant: "No son, you look old enough to me. Just
sign on the dotted line, here, here, and here, - here's your
five shillings, you are now a member of His Majesties Forces".
HONEST --That's exactly how it happened.
The last six weeks of 1942 was taken up by rigorous
basic training at Berwick on Tweed on the Scottish Border.
Was it cold - well, if ice on the sea is cold, "IT