"I was in this square box, as the coxswain steering the ship and we had pads on the outside, anti-shrapnel pads, and had one bullet land right in, about that far from me, that’s the closest I ever came to what could have been death."
I was a coxswain on the LCM which is a Landing Craft Mechanized. You would take tanks and trucks. And then there was the LCAs, which was Landing Craft [Assault], just small ones. And the actual first troops that hit the beach would have been on them and for bigger ships, it was the LCTs, Landing Craft Tanks, to put the big tanks on and whatnot; they could take 10 or 12 of those on a landing craft.
There was two ships that we were on, on merchant ships; they put the boats over the side and then they put the contents in. There was supposed to have been an officer on my ship and one on the other one, but the other boat was ready before I was, so they took off with, Lieutenant Barclay was the officer in charge, which left me with just… I was in charge by myself. And on the way in, there was a lot of shooting and what it was was the French Foreign Legion, they pretty well owned Algiers [Algeria]. And we were about 20 miles east of Algiers City, at Arzew, was where we landed.
But we were being shot at, at the time. I had, I had one shot where a bullet came down. I was in this square box, as the coxswain steering the ship and we had pads on the outside, anti-shrapnel pads and had one bullet land right in, about that far from me, that’s the closest I ever came to what could have been death.
It was all pitch black of course and they were just shooting at the sound of our engines. One of my men wanted to shoot back with his gun and I sort of threatened him pretty heavy, if he shot, so would I. But they couldn’t hit us; well, they did have one lucky hit. But his name was Mouthy.
Landed that craft, tank and his crew and they took off the beach to head for the war. And we went back and forth for two days just carrying the [supplies] in…. there was no port for the ship to go into. So we had to unload the ships with just the landing craft. Then we left the landing craft there and loaned it to the Eighth Army, they were in our area for further jump landings along the North African coast gradually pushing the German Eighth Army back in towards Cairo and eastern Egypt as a whole. We would load them on a troopship … we went back to Britain and moved around different ports and stuff in Britain for a couple years back and forth, training different army people for landing.
And another sad day. While we were there [in Sicily], we were waiting for our landing craft to be filled off the shifts to go back and take them into the shore, we used to swim around the nice warm Mediterranean water and during the day, there was a hospital ship all painted white with a big red cross on it, you could see it for ten miles, with glasses. It was anchored about four or five miles off. Wounded people from the action on the shore were taken on boats out to the hospital ship. And the next morning after, I think it was the second morning, we’d heard some explosion during the night because the Germans were bombing all along the beachhead where the ships or boats were landing.
But this hospital ship wasn’t there [anymore]; she had been sunk during the night and on the initial landings going in, there was a bunch of marines had gone in by plane prior to our actual landings. They were initially on the beach. And one of the planes had gone down offshore, hadn’t made the shore and it was on the shore, so when we were sitting around, we were, visiting this plane that was in the water on the shore. The next day when we went swimming, we put our hand up on the tail, you know just to have something to hang onto and there was a nurse, his body was laying there and he... one of the other fellows with me put his hand on there and the nurse had been on the hospital ship and sunk that night. And the bodies had washed ashore. But that was rather dramatic to us.