Memory Project veteran William Berrow poses on his motorcycle after training to be a Dispatch Rider.
Mr. Allen was also a dispatch rider
Credit: William Leland Berrow
"Then the bombardment started that night with the shelling and the bombing and everything else and all hell broke loose and then we went on to Caen and Falaise"
There was a time, this was shortly after the invasion - I guess it would be in the Caen-Falaise area -where we had been trying to take Caen for some time. It was about 15 miles inland, 20 miles maybe, from the shore. And my officer told me to go and find my medical unit that he had put up in a certain area. And he said, you have to go and find them, I don’t know exactly where they are, but you have to go and find them and bring them back at least five miles because where they are situated, where I sent them is all going to be bombed by our own bombers and our military. So we have to get them out.
So he gave me a location possibly where they would be and on the highway going up to, I guess it would be Caen, there was no noise, nothing to let me know that I was even near any operation. And all of a sudden, I could see some military personnel standing on the side of the curb. And they said, where are you going and all this sort of stuff to me and I just kept on going. And finally, I got to the end of the line and then the sergeant jumped out of the ditch, he was from the Toronto Scottish I believe, and he says, where the hell do you think you’re going? I says, I’m looking for a medical unit that was sent up here yesterday, possibly they went through here this morning. And I said, did you happen to see them? I said, there would be maybe three or four, maybe five vehicles and two or three ambulances with them. He said, there was something, they passed by here in the morning but I don’t know where they are but I guess by now, they’re in enemy territory because this is the end of the line where you’re standing now. Just then, a shell came over and he says, well, they know you’re here now, because they can hear that stupid bike of yours. So another shell came over and landed ahead of us. So he says, I’m getting the hell out of here, he said, because they’ve got you pinned down. He said, but there is a road a few hundred yards ahead of us, he says, it goes into a farm lane; it’s possible they’re in there but if they’re not there, the Jerries have got them.
So I went along there and I found them and when I got there, they were burying two of their staff. So I told the officer in charge what had happened and we’ve got to get the hell out of there in a hurry. And so I told all the drivers of the vehicles that the Germans know that I’m in here because they heard me, so we’ve got to get out of here because there’s going to be shells and bombs. And to go out and follow me and I will lead you out and we have to go back at least 10 miles. I said, go out on low gear, don’t rev it because if you do, we’re going to get it; let’s put it that way. So we’ll go out as quiet as we can and we go down the highway at least two or three miles before we rev and get the hell out of here.
So I did that and I stayed on the curb of the main road and nothing happened, no shells were coming over. And all our vehicles came out and we finally went back the main highway that I came up. And then there was a military police down there, he says, I guess you’re the last ones out. I says, I guess so. Because by this time, it’s getting dark. So the military police took me into the field, with the rest of the convoy we had, and we stayed there. By this time, it’s pitch black. And lo and behold, I went right into our own military artillery. And they opened up and it was like, I can’t even explain it, the sound was just terrific. And my bike was just blown over from the concussion and the ambulances were just bouncing around like peas on a hot griddle. And that was that. And then the bombardment started that night with the shelling and the bombing and everything else and all hell broke loose and then we went on to Caen and Falaise, just about the end of the Germans, the invasion part of it. And that was that.
Another time, I was up for court martial. I was sent to take information to the American hospital in the American sector and I was given this coordinate where to find them and I was told that this was in friendly fields sort of thing. And as I was going along, I heard a bang and I thought, well, geez, what was that? And I thought, oh, it’s a flat tire, I says, oh dammit. So then, I got another bang and I was getting shot at. So I said, well, I’m in the wrong area right now so I rode the bike as far as I could, the tire all fell off eventually and I was riding on the rim and I was still going. I didn’t know where I was going but it was one straight road, so I kept on going. And I went for miles and miles until the spokes of my bike were coming through the rim. And on the cobblestone road, there was sparks flying, the noise; anybody could hear me a thousand miles away, I thought. So I rode on the side of the curb on the grass for maybe two or three miles and then I saw, according to my map, there was supposed to be a bridge and a house there. So I said, well, somebody’s around, I’ll find out what’s going on.
So when I got closer, I could see this, it looked like an 88- that’s a German, it’s a fantastic gun they had - anyway, I saw something sticking out on the bridge. And when I got closer, I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m going to be dead anyway, one way or another. So luckily, it was the British Airborne that had landed there, I guess just before the D-Day. And they were protecting this bridge with an anti-tank gun. So there was five of them. They asked me what had happened and I told them what happened and I told what had happened to me. I said, maybe you can get the word back to your head office that I’m here. He said, well, we’re stuck here but our dispatch rider will be coming here possibly in two or three days if he can make it and find us.
So I was there a week anyway and when they finally found us, I gave them my dispatches to take because he was going back to where I was supposed to go and I had no transportation to get there. So he took my dispatches. And the next day, a tank transporter from my own unit was coming in the opposite direction. So we stopped him and he said he would take me and the bike -what was left of it - back to my headquarters. And I said, fine. So in the meantime, all we had to eat and all they had to eat guarding this bridge in the river was, we used to go fishing at night for little bigger than sardines. And that’s what we had for the whole week, just a few little bits of fish. But I did have a cheese sandwich that I’d brought from headquarters on the way but that doesn’t last, only the first day.
Anyway, I threw the bike in the tank transporter and they took us back to my headquarters and I was so happy to get there and I thought everybody would be so happy to see me. The sergeant major and the sergeant grabbed me in each arm and said I was under arrest! I was whisked off into the colonel’s office and I was going to be severely punished, like there was going to be a court martial. And I said, good cripe! Anyway, that’s exactly what I said.
Anyway, the colonel asked me where I had been and I told him about the chap that brought me back. And he says, where is he now? I says, he’s in the cookhouse because we haven’t had anything to eat for a couple of days. So is he still there? And I said, yes. So he told the sergeant to go and bring him back to the office. And after the colonel had questioned him on where I was, he dismissed me and dismissed him, he says, go and get yourself something to eat. And I never saw the sergeant or the sergeant major after. But I did hear him say, you didn’t go far enough to find your own soldier. You didn’t go far enough. And I never saw either one of them after that. The sergeant major was dismissed, I don’t know what happened to him, and the sergeant as well. They went looking for me but they said I must have deserted or, that’s all they could think about because they were in enemy territory. They knew it was enemy territory but they didn’t tell me. And that was that.