Wis yer Faither in the Sodgers

This is a series about the Scottish Soldier.

Our first quest is man who has a natural charm.
Up-dated May 4th 2008 - Memories of Monty, General Anders and Monte Casino

The Courteous Courier.

Archibald Walker Brown - the Courteous CourierMy name is Archibald Walker Brown. I was born on the 2nd of January 1915. I was one of six brothers and a sister. Our sister was born in the middle of the brothers. So she had three older ones and three younger ones. We had a very happy child hood and were close to one another but we did not indulge in any histrionics.

We all went to the same school except for my second eldest brother who went to Herriot’s. He managed to get a bursary and my second eldest brother became an Honorary Colonel in the Polish Forces. He was a born linguist and spoke about seven different languages and wrote a phrase book for the Polish Forces. Which included about six different languages round their area in Poland and the phrase book helped them learn the English language.

My second eldest brother worked in Yarrows and did the measured mile and was not allowed to join the services. He was an important person because he checked the guns from Vickers. He fired them by civilian means and the Navy took over if the guns were accurate.

I was a Book Seller at James Thins on the Bridges in Edinburgh and started my apprenticeship with the first of six other apprentices. We ended up by meeting half of the literary lamina who came back from London. I met Rudyard Kipling of course, I met Tolkien, and Nickolas Montserrat. I have a whole book of autographs. which I have kept jealously.

Then when war broke out I was in Thins and had just gone to Newcastle where I had recently taken a managership. As the war  I joined up as I felt it was my duty, because all my other brothers were career minded and they were just on the first step of their careers. I was already a Book Seller and decided I would go to the forces. I thought maybe they wouldn’t take my brothers which was a misconception, of course. Eventually they took the lot. I started off in Redford Barracks where I learned everything to do with signaling. I also did those intelligence test which I could not understand at the time. There was a method in their madness as I later found out. Eventually I was posted to Dulry Ayrshire and from there to Oxford and then down to London. I served in the Artillery there for a very short time before being reverted back to the Signals again.

Eventually we ended up at Gourock, all the way from London to Gourock and still nothing was said or implied except I was given twelve signalers to take on board the boat. It was a Liner called the Strathallen that traveled up to Suez on a convoy with each P.O ship having some twelve thousand men each. So it a rather big convoy. When we got to Port Tawfiq at the mouth of the Suez canal we were segregated, twelve men were sent to whatever regiment they were supposed to be in and I was told to accompany this officer. And we went all the way along Africa to Giza. It was there I met General Montgomery and General Alexander the Commanders of the 8th Army. They had just taken over from Claude John Eyre Auchinleck it was really a great shame, I think it was Churchill’s doing. Anyway they took over and my job was that of a Courier. Because Montgomery did not believe in press notices and he did not believe in the newspapers. Because he wanted of all things complete secrecy when it came to war. Which was quite right as it turned out. We had what was called a wireless silence that included no telephone messages ever in his army. No messages by radio because they could be tapped and no dispatch riders because they were being killed off at a rate of knots.

What we came up with was one person with recognition of the heads of the divisions of the army. He would show a special bracelet which would be recognized by all the chiefs of the divisions. Then the coded messages would be handed over to them safely. They would examine the coded orders and come back with any required reply and I would take them back to Head Quarters. I travelled in a Chevrolet and had a driver Jimmy Whinny a very nice fellow. Like myself he had great integrity and admiration for the people we were serving. So, information was sacrosanct and I could only tell him which divisions to take me too. Then I would do the necessary which was quite a responsibility really, because it was a one man show. Since I have been back I have met the chief of all the Armed Forces in Britain. When I went out to see him and he heard I had been in this honourous position, he said, “I must shake you hand.” I felt very satisfied as it was a very lonely job. Sitting there in the HQ I could hear everything that was said, and you could not communicate or mingle with anyone else. Then, when ordered you took the necessary Corps messages and delivered them.

It was a job and you risked your life. That was the only thing risking your life. You see, we tried to plan it to take various ways and always took an escort to the position concerned. Others would meet us but nevertheless when you came under attack you were vulnerable. You could not say anything fairer than that, you see it was one of those things. I had a job to do and the secret would still be so till our deaths.

It is difficult to quote anything, but I remember Alexander saying, “You do recognize this,” and I said, “yes sir.”

Then he said, “In this position I congratulate you.” then added, “Our preparations are in you hands.” In those times we did not talk about things like that. That was not our business.

I was at El Alemein where it had the biggest wireless shut down of all kinds as it was 4 days. It was so much so Churchill was furious and asked what is happening to the Army. Alanbrooke who was GOC at the time went far away to the north of England rather than face this little man in the boiler suit. When Alanbrooke was in Preston a dispatch rider for the Corps of Signals carrying a messages strode on to the podium which he was entitled to do as he had all the insignia of authority. Then the dispatch rider handed Alanbrooke a communication. It said, ‘Dear Alanbrooke we have met the enemy at a place called Alemein which the Arabs (I shall always remember this word for word) call Heaven and so far everything is going well for us.’ And so Alanbrooke just turned around and saluted us and said, “it was a wonderful show.” He thanked all the chaps. Brooke then went to Chartwell and met Churchill who asked what he had been doing and where he had been? At that point Alanbrooke thought his job was on the line. If it had not been for an elderly man sitting in the corner who said, “Winnie why don’t you look after your  Nation and keep the spirits of the people up as you are doing and leave the training of the Army and Navy and Air force to the people concerned?” That was Jan Smuts and you know what Churchill thought, he thought Smuts was the be all and end all. He was the greatest General in the Boar War and had been on the other side of course. He, Churchill had a respect for him and went on to Smuts side, which was a great thing. Other wise it may have been another cup of tea today.

After I left the Armed Forces I went back to being a Book Seller.

I wrote to Douglas and Farrell’s at that time in Castle street next door to the stationary office. It had the Queen Mothers coat of arm above the shop door and it was an important shop. When the Queen Mother came visiting when she came up to Hollyrood she would call in and buy the books for the grandchildren. When I met Princess Anne I said to her, “ You may have some of my books from your grandmother and she replied, “Really, We have kept them all, Charles and I never parted with one.”

Memories of Monty and Others.

General MontgomeryWhen I met Monty for the first time I was very much impressed by the incisiveness of his speech. He came with a reference and he controlled the battle front as it were. But Alexander chose the place to be and contrary to many reports they got on well.

Monty did not believe in press coverage as he wanted to strike the enemy quickly with the minimum of casualties. This had always been his approach as towards the First World War he had been a young officer. He had seen the carnage and said he would never see men in that position again.

Total radio and phone silence and definitely no Royal Corp of Signals dispatch riders as the most terrible things happened to them. He was a great man for getting up early in the morning and say his prayers as he was a very religious man, a son of a bishop. Then he would set out to the front line with cigarettes and things he would never use himself. He also had copies of the Union Jack the forces news paper to give to the troops.

Monty would meet the troops some of them coming up the road and others on the way to particular forays. He recorded in his last command to the 8th Army he was never so uplift when he passed and they waved to him. You do not know what that means to a commander in chief, I do not know what you think of me but I have the greatest admiration for the officers and men who have made this army a key word World wide.

The 8th army stood out for strength. It was mainly his pulling them together as at the beginning they were a bit dubious. I can recall when he came a day early he appeared with an Australian hat with a row of badges on it. Some one took him for a press officer and every one was wary of them. It was Colonel Warrender of the Scots Greys he was a young man then and they all had horses then as they had yet to receive tanks.

Monty asked who was the best General in the desert? He meant it to boast their moral, but one man took it the wrong way and told him" Och! You haven't got enough sand in you boots yet, its Rommel of course." Monty said," Colonel let the men know they have two Generals who are moving forward not backwards not static, but forward. So be prepared for movement movement and movement forward and we are going to chase the Germans out of North Africa. Which he did and that was marvelous. The big thing was the wireless silence before El Alemein. El Alemein was the most amazing battle I have ever seen. In the four days silence the Germans were scratching their heads and wondering what Monty had in mind. All the time he was putting his act into play.

Churchill asked Alanbrooke why don't you tell me where the army is? Alanbrooke told the P.M

He couldn't because he didn't know but he trusted his Generals.

I had nothing to do with Churchill as the operations were conducted by a master planner and I mean that. Near me when the battle started there were a hundred guns as wheel to wheel. The cannonade was deafening I couldn't hear for days properly.

It was such a surprise and coming on the top of it was all the allied troops were moving along the coast and around the wadi so it was a pincer movement. When the gap closed only some of the Axis forces got out but not many. We took 30,000 prisoners can you imagine that number of Africa Corp men. They were Weimar on SS rubbish. Monty took risks too, he went up to Lancashire to speak to the Ammunition workers. That did not please the Press as they were not given information and they ridiculed the idea. That had nothing to do with him as he was essentially an honest man. He came back to us as quick as possible to conduct the next stage.

I then went with the Poles. The Polish forces at that time were the 2nd Polish Army as the 1st Army had been wiped out in the "Katyn massacre." After North Africa I went to Sicily and Italy.

The Sicilians were good and once more Monty in a totally different role they were very angry with the Germans. Because they ran their tanks through the vine yards and destroyed the vines. Causing just sheer havoc and Monty got many of them together and talked to them. He stood on a podium as he was a small man and was escorted by four officers from the London Scottish. There was no messing he told them if you bring us oranges and grapes or anything you can think of and we will pay cash. The vehicles would pick up the goods and take them to the ships and they will be sent to Britain. There would be a ready made market as they don't have these things. That is where we got our first oranges from so you can see he was thinking ahead.

I thought he was a great man and when I read his last communiqué which I still have a copy of, that I took to all the Divisions I thought it so humble. He was going away because he has to plan for all the British troops. So they would be safe in his hands with the minimum casualties.

General Wladyslaw Anders of the 2nd Polish CorpsGeneral Wladyslaw Anders of the 2nd Polish Corps had been treated so badly by the Russians. Anders lived in Edinburgh for some time along with many Polish Soldiers. He and the ex- Polish POW force had walked hundreds of miles to Iran and through to Iraqi to join the Polish forces. Anders suffered greatly during the journey. A young boy had been found to have in his jacket pocket a Bear Cub. The Poles had been treated shockingly but Stalin knew we were making overtures to them. They came to fight with us and some of the men made the bear cub a mascot. General Anders gave permission to have the Bear cub as their mascot provided it would returned to Poland if they became free. I saw the bear at the beginning and at the end he was named Wojchek.

They were great soldiers and a welcome addition to the 8th Army. Remember we lost a lot of men to Overlord. We went up Italy and the Americans had joined us but they were not much support at that time. I remember going to look for one of our regiments as no one had contact with them and found the Americans having a review in the middle of a flaming war. I went up to an American Officer with what looked like a boys brigade hat sitting in a car. He told me I was not allowed to pass. I answered I have to get passed and don't you realise what these insignia mean. They mean priority as far as the Army is concerned. He called me to his car and I thought he looked only a laddy playing soldiers. I asked him what happened to the regiment we have loaned to you and we have lost contact with. He said carry on and we found them having lost contact with the Americans. He was the man who wanted to get to Rome first. But he was beaten as Monty put his people into the Post Office first and every other place of importance. This was to avoid communication as it was now an open city.

The ruins of Monte Casino following the savage battle
The ruins of Monte Casino

They covered places like bridges etc, we did not go up there as it was a feint accompli. Monte Casino was our objective and we had four different attempts at the Monastery as separate battles. The fifth time the British and Canadians with the Americans who had no joy at all. We all lost men that was the horrible thing. Then the Poles came, they had a hatred of the Germans par excellence. Plus the fact they had occupied an Monastery as the Polish fighters were Catholic. So they had a double loathing. I noticed Polish soldiers moved as single entities and not in groups. Which made it difficult to destroy a complete sector. They certainly lost men but not as many as others had done. Around 300 Frenchmen under General Juin scaled the back of the Monastery which was sheer right down to the ground. They got in the windows after a enormous struggle and they could not turn the guns around as they were fixed for one way. The Poles got the credit and so they should have. I remember we went to Lanciano with the Polish soldiers were all lined up. Monty saluted them and shook the hands with all that came back. I had never seen a General do that before it was the one out of sheer admiration for them. There were stories the bear led the army on to the field which is rubbish. The Germans were there and it was not a stage show. Stories of the bear handing out ammunition for the guns was not true as they intended to take the bear back to Poland. They were not going to take it back dead. General Anders distinguished himself in the highest possible way as he had medals equal to many Victoria Crosses. I don't think any other man has been decorated like him since. When he returned to London he made a wish to be buried at Monte Casino in the Polish Cemetery.

His wish was granted in 1970. He was my second most regarded man in the whole war a great man indeed. The war was essentially finished in Austria. Monty had already humiliated the Germans at Luneberg Heath in a marquee put up for the purpose. We had just put on lights and I watched them go down the road.

Then cars arrived with German Admirals and Generals all making for the rondevous. One of them went outside and shot himself. Monty had said well here you are at last and lets get down to business. He demanded no discussion of terms just complete surrender.

The Germans were completely dejected and deserved to be as they were led by the nose by a man who did not have the courage to face facts. He shot himself.

When the war finished I felt we had kept to our commitments we got rid off the menace that occupied Europe. That was the main issue. I remember at Malta where the Germans dropped thousands tons on the island. The Maltese were furious as they had been treated so well by the British. There were important naval bases in Malta and it was important that supplies were sent to North Africa. We had three telephones and Malta had only one line to three places. We had artillery from Britain around us and the Maltese Artillery were absolutely marvelous. We would get fifty raiders from the north and sixty or so from the east. It went on like that. We had 500 casualties not form the Germans but form eating a kind of bumpkin as rations were so short. They were growing wild and contained a horrible meningitis. We were trying to make iron lungs out of shell cases. The casualties were placed in the hospital and we could not help as doctors were not in sufficient numbers. The Germans bombed the hospital and killed many of the patients. It was cruel but at least some did not suffer as we could not help. Wojchek the Bear died at the age of 21 before Poland became free and is still remembered as the Bear Who Went To War.

Looking back comes in dreams and visions I cannot get rid off. It is not easy to do. Especially if you were totally involved in that time.

Now I am enjoying the quiet I have left.

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