Eighth Army Veterans
City of Manchester
|“The subject of this portrait has an interesting story to tell. He is, of course, an associate member of our Branch and served with the Military Police, but we will not criticise him for that because he was not actually a Military Policemen” Issue 30 MV|
HAROLD was 16 when war started and became involved in Civil Defence right
away, as a steward at the Rest Centre in the old Zion Institute, Stretford Road.
Bombed-out civilians were accommodated at the Institute until their
return was possible or other accommodation provided. He also became a member of
his firm's firewatch team and happened to be on duty on the roof of a building
in Long Mileage, in December 1940 when the old Exchange Railway Station was
bombed and suffered severe fire damage. Later, he joined the Duke of Lancaster's
Yeomanry, a Home Guard unit based in Whalley Range, and learned how to handle a
rifle and Bren gun and how to throw HE 36 grenades. All these activities meant
that Harold had to be away from home several nights a week. With typical humour,
he says he had so many tin hats it was a job deciding which one to put on for
the particular duty in hand.
December 1941 Harold was called up to join the Manchester Regiment and had to
report to No.5 Infantry Training Centre, Richmond, Yorks. This was not the
official Manchester Regiment depot but recruits for the Manchester, the Green
Howards, and the East Yorks, all trained together and became members of common
platoons until posted to their battalions. Training involved the usual route
marches and assault courses but a particular aspect of his stay there was the
digging out of snow-bound roads that winter and heating out fires on the moors
June 1942 Harold was posted to 'A' Company of the 1st Battalion stationed on the
East Cost and later to Kent to join 53rd (Welsh) division. In June 1943 his
regimental duties were terminated and he was posted to the 11th Armoured
Division (insignia: the Black Bull) to prepare for the invasion of North-West
Europe under the command of Major-General 'Pip' Roberts, an old 8th Army man.
June 1944, climbing down the rope ladder of a Liberty ship to get on a Landing
Craft off the Normandy coast Harold noticed a cruiser to his left belching
shells into the French hinterland. It was HMS Belfast, today anchored in the
Thames. He often recalls this incident when visiting HMS Belfast as a Friend of
the Imperial War Museum.
intelligence soon found that armour had been landed and the unit was heavily
bombed in harbour. Along with others, Harold was blown into the air but,
fortunately came down unharmed. His tunic was used to cover a Capt. Wood who,
with other wounded, was flown to England that night. Harold's wallet was still
in his tunic and came to be returned to him only months later in Germany. Cynics
have said that the loss of his wallet was the only time Harold ever cried in his
Division's thrust through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany continued,
terminating at Rostock on the Baltic.
a war-time formation the Division was scheduled for early disbandment and, as
Harold was in a late release group, he was transferred to a Military Police
Company and, although not himself a Military Policemen, became the Assistant
Provost Marshal's driver. In the aftermath of war, crime - both civilian and
military - was rampant and the A.P.M as very busy. Courts had to be visited,
there were discussions with local police, liason with Special Investigation
Branch, and even executions to attend.
time, Harold was given his own jeep with the large red 'Military Police' sign on
it. Naturally, this struck the fear of God into his old mates until they found
out who was driving it. Contrary to misinformed popular opinion, however, he
found M.Ps great to work with. Issuing 252's  for such offences as being
dressed in a slovenly manner, or being off limits, were only a very small part
of their duties; in any case, more squaddies were let off than 252s issued.
disbandment of the Provost Company Harold's next job was perhaps the one that
gave him the most satisfaction of his service. Harold had done his bit by the
time the war ended and we point out that he could have marked his time.
Instead, he volunteered to serve in the Graves Concentration Unit. Their
duties were to exhume dead servicemen at whatever site they may have fallen, and
to identify them by all available means, searching for discs, going though
uniforms, noting rank and brevet, nature of wounds and other relevant features.
The sites where these investigations were carried out were varied - streets,
fields, forests, churchyards, quarries, civilian cemeteries, etc. It can
scarcely be described as glamorous work but to the bereaved families, it can
scarcely have been more important.
Harold's was in an army unit, the expertise of the Graves Concentration Unit was
such that they came to deal almost exclusively with R.A.F flying personnel lost
in action. They went to many places
where planes had been shot down during the mass raids on Germany; perhaps to
some small village where just one crew had crashed and been buried in the local
churchyard, usually well tended by the villagers, perhaps to an isolated place
where one fighter plane had been shot down when it would be necessary for Harold
and his team to locate the plane and attempt to identify its pilot. A knowledge
of the German language at this time was to prove an advantage.
has a collection of pre-war and war-time memorabilia collected at the relevant
times consisting mainly of old newspapers, leaflets dropped on the enemy in
war-time, leave passes, foreign war-time paper money, war posters, together with
two volumes of photostat copies of the minutes of actual Cabinet meetings held
in 1938 and 1939, together with notes on diplomatic negotiations that took place
prior to the start of hostilities.
return to civilian life Harold resumed his career in the insurance industry,
from which he eventually retired in 1978. He has, however, been a member of the
Oddfellows for over 50 years and has held every office in his Order. At present
he is a trustee of the Nottingham Oddfellows Assurance Friendly Society and the
Chairman of its Finance and Investment Committee.
story has been told with extreme modesty. It
appears, thus far, in his own words. We do feel that a short editorial addition
Harold now lives on the Fylde, but (aged 83) continues to attend Association meetings. It's a 100 miles round trip, undertaken on public transport, with multiple changes required. He travels alone but is never late. On arrival, he is always smart. In conversation, he is invariably cheerful but never superficial. You might think that age will at least have dulled his mind, but that would be a careless and mistaken assumption. The eye for detail is still acute for a non-military policeman and the fluent German is still impressive. War and the aftermath of war hold profound memories for Harold - he has kept them resolutely intact.
 A '252' was the Army Form number which had to be completed when a soldier was 'put on a charge' for a disciplinary offence. 'A Charge' meant that he had to appear before his Company Commander, usually a Captain or Major, to answer the charge. The Sergeant Major was usually in attendance to march the 'victim' in to the office. The soldier, if found guilty by the officer, had the option of accepting his officer's verdict and punishment, or requesting to appear before his Commanding Officer, a Lt. Col. If the soldier was still not satisfied he could ask to appear before his Area Commander, probably a Major General. Very few cases, as far as we are aware, ever got beyond the Company Commander.