Veteran Stories:
Desmond Kelly


  • Miscellaneous items from D. Kelly's collection (left to right): Emergency ration box found on Dieppe beach; Water purification pills; pebbles from the beach at Dieppe; Emergency ointment; Mess tin.

  • A respirator gas mask and helmet from 1939, in D. Kelly's personal collection.

  • Desmond Kelly on leave with his future wife in Montreal, 1943.

  • "The Housewife" - a soldier's mending kit the Second World War.

  • A trench digging shovel from the Second World War.

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"All the Black Watch lads that went over were taken prisoner for three and a half years…."


My name is Desmond Kelly, Des for short. I was with the Black Watch Regiment during World War II. I joined up in September, 1939, went overseas with the Black Watch in 1940. My story begins on August the 18th, 1942. I was with a Corps of Engineers at the time helping some other chaps along with me to train them in the arts of battle, because, we the Black Watch, had been training for three years so we pretty well knew all the ropes. The weekend was coming and so I was volunteered to go back to base camp to get the mail. While at base camp, the Regimental Sergeant-Major Peter Knotman saw me and called me over and he says, "Corporal Kelly, I wish you to report to C Company." Well, A was my Company but he says, "No, at C Company. I want you because they're short a section leader and they're going on a big manoeuvre on the Isle of Wight. So would you please go over there and do it." I don't think he said "please" by the way. So I went over to C Company and the next thing you know I was aboard ship. Once onboard, I was sent down below decks and there I joined my new section. Almost immediately we were ordered to prime grenades and we proceeded to do so. Shortly afterwards someone dropped one of the grenades and before it could be scooped up, it exploded. Sixteen casualty was the result of that explosion. Three of them were killed. I was one of the wounded. We were quickly taken up and laid out on the deck and given first aid. My friend Jim Hillan who was in another part of the ship at the time with C Company came running over to see what was taking place and soon as he saw me he came over to commiserate with me, I guess. And we had a little chat and the next thing I know, he opens up his pocket and he gave me a nice big chocolate bar which I thought was pretty nice of him. Shortly afterwards, I was taken to shore and the ship sailed without me and the rest of us who were wounded. Little did I know, but Jim was on his way to Dieppe, not the Isle of Wight. And he would have needed the chocolate bar a lot more than I did, so I thought it was rather unusual that I should be the one with the bar. Where I was going there would be plenty of chocolate bars in hospital, I'm sure. The other interesting part about it is that RSM Peter Knotman happened to turn out to be my father-in-law after the war, since I married his daughter. All the Black Watch lads that went over were taken prisoner for three and a half years. That chocolate bar would have been much better served if he'd taken it.
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