WARTIME EXPERIENCES OF
WILLIAM (BILLY) HILL
This is the true story of Mr. William (Billy) Hill,
who lived in Willow Park, Pontefract, but who sadly died earlier this
year. He wrote this story when asked to visit Willow Park Junior School
to talk about life during the Second World War. Billy was a Corporal
in the East Yorkshire Regiment, and although he was a coal miner (and
so exempt from military service) he volunteered to join up when he was
21 years old; He didn't reveal the fact that he was a miner! I really
hope you can use this as it would be fitting to his memory to at last
have his story told, which was what he wanted more than anything.
Submitted by Lesley Claybrough, the daughter of Bill’s friend, Mr. Leslie
The people of this country suffered a lot of hardships
during the war but they kept going. The old people gave everything for
their country and now deserve a little bit of respect and peace and
quiet. In those days the children suffered too; there were no luxuries
and Christmas was especially sad for them because there was very little
that we could give as presents.
But there would never have been a D-Day if, after Dunkirk, when we were
on our knees, we had not had the stretch of water called the English
Channel. It gave us priceless breathing space without which the Germans
would have won the war. If they had done so they would have tried to
make us all Nazis, and our children would have been taught Nazi principles
like spying on their parents and telling on them if they said anything
wrong about the Nazis. Their parents could then have been arrested by
the secret police, or Gestapo as they where known, and would have been
put into any number of concentration camps. This was what happened in
Germany and it was not easy to resist the way the Nazis used to persuade
children. Today we would call this brain-washing. I believe that most
Nazis were just big bullies, even cocky when they thought they where
winning, but big cowards when people and countries stood up to them.
Throughout my whole life I have supported the Labour Party, but Winston
Churchill was the man I admired most, even though he was a Conservative.
Nearly all of the British people felt the same about him regardless
of their political views. He was such a remarkable man, and he was the
only man who could have kept our country going in those times and held
us together to stand up against the Nazis. He made ordinary men feel
like heroes who could stand alone and fight for the rest of the free
As for Hitler, since he was not able to cross the English Channel easily,
he made his biggest mistake by turning his attentions on Russia. This
helped us by giving us some respite and a bit more time to recover and
build up to D-Day. We should always be grateful to the Russian’s and
not forget the heavy price they paid in fighting the Nazis. They lost
millions of lives.
During the build up to D-Day we trained on the Loch’s in Scotland. Thousands
of times we practised the landings until we had it perfect. We spent
almost three years training for that one day, and we were like brothers
who would do anything for one another. When the day came and we lost
our comrades, it was very hard, but we had to keep going.
down from Scotland in May 1944 to a place just outside Portsmouth to
make our final preparations for the landing. We were put in camps and
no one was allowed out of camp, which was guarded day and night by military
police, to ensure that nobody could give our secrets away and warn the
Germans that we were coming. Five beaches were to be used on D-Day.
The Americans were to land on Utah and Omaha, the Canadians on Juno,
and the British on Gold and Sword.
On the eve of D-Day, we boarded the mother ship just outside Portsmouth
which we had done many times before and set sail. Later, an announcement
came over the tannoy, "This is it lad’s, write your letters home; we
are going in the morning."
Our ship carried L.C.S.s (Landing craft (assault) on the sides, and
we boarded these in the early hours of 6th June and were lowered into
the sea. Each craft contained a platoon of men in three sections and
I was a section leader. The crew were a naval officer and a rating.
As we came near the beach, a flat-bottomed barge, which was sailing
alongside of us, fired rockets at the landing site. We then went full
throttle at the beach. It was all hell let loose, with battleships,
cruisers, and destroyers, all joining in, and hundreds of bombers pounding
the Germans. We were the first to land on Sword beach and I was later
given £20 from my home town of Pontefract for being the first person
from there to land on D-Day. Our job was to secure the bridgehead and
blow gaps in the barbed wire so that the flail tanks could get through
to deal with the minefields; and a good job they did. The Americans
refused them on Omaha to their cost. Some of our lads strayed into an
antipersonnel minefield which contained a type of mine on a spring.
If you stood on it you compressed a spring that released as you stepped
over it and shot a bullet between your legs. What you had to do if you
encountered one was to step backwards so the bullet flew in front of
you. We also discovered some miniature tanks in the cliff side, which
seemed to be controlled by electric cables like some of the toys that
children have today, but these were a bit bigger, about two feet high
and filled with explosives. We blew them up with Bangalore torpedoes;
they would have caused havoc if they had been released on the beaches.
We were under orders to take no prisoners, as they could clog up the
beach head, however, we disobeyed this order when we saw what state
the Germans were in. Most of them were shell shocked (or as we called
it then, ‘bomb happy’) so we disarmed them and sent them on to the beach
anyway. We did not have the time to look after them ourselves. On Juno
beach, the Canadians carried out their orders, as after a raid on Dieppe
that was done by the Canadians, the Germans had shot all the Canadian
On a lighter note I would like to tell you a little story that happened
to me, but this too ends sadly. A few weeks after D-Day our battalion
was ordered to take a chateau just outside of Caen which was occupied
by the Germans, who were holding some paratroopers prisoner. As we moved
up to attack I found that my bren gunner was missing. I shouted to the
Sergeant and we went back down the line and found him sitting on top
of a trench just staring in front of him. He was shell-shocked, and
mortar bombs were coming in from all directions. Just as we got to him,
one came down on top of us. I knocked him into the trench, but I got
caught by a piece of shrapnel which cut my ear in half and left a few
bits of metal in my back. Whilst this was not pleasant, it was light
as war wounds go. The sergeant bandaged the ear as best he could and
said, "BIll you have got yourself a blighty", which meant that I was
going to be sent home for treatment.
I took our bren gunner back with me to the nearest field dressing station
and was soon sent back to a hospital near Worthing, and later transferred
to Withington in Manchester. The funny part was that whilst my wounds
were not so bad, the way they were bandaged made it look as though I
might have had half of my head blown off. Everywhere I went I was treated
like a Lord. In the pub it was free beer all the time with people falling
over themselves to buy a beer for the wounded hero. The sad bit is that
whilst I was at Manchester I learned that my unit had been almost completely
wiped out attacking the chateau where they had met very strong opposition
from the Germans and been engaged in fierce hand to hand fighting. The
newspapers had called it ‘Suicide Wood’. By the time I returned to join
my battalion I hardly knew anyone. This unfortunately was part of war
Below are some of the weapons used on D-Day:
Bangalore Torpedoes: they looked like pieces of drainpipe and were filled
with explosives. They were used mainly to blow gaps in barbed wire defences.
Flail Tanks: A tank which had been adapted by removal of the gun turret
and replacing it with a revolving platform to which were fastened heavy
chains that beat the ground. They were used to cut a path through minefields.
Sticky Bombs: Bombs that were heavily magnetised so that they could
be attached to flat metal surfaces wherever they would do most damage.
Used to blow down the steel doors of strong defensive positions.
Plastic Grenades: Very light so you could carry plenty. Not very destructive
but they made a lot of noise and were used to frighten the enemy.
Fixed Lines: A German weapon - Mortars set in concrete. If you captured
one the Germans retreated to the next one which was arranged to fire
directly on to the one you had captured. The trick was to get off them
as soon as you realised what they were, and hope you got off before
the Germans had time to set of the other mortars.
William (Billy) Hill