Stanley Bryant in British Columbia, 2010.Historica Canada
"I never regretted joining the services. I was doing something useful, and doing something that was necessary."
I had joined what is known as the Territorial Army when I was 18, and the Territorial Army was a kind of reserve. So, that first inkling of this was going during what is known as the Munich crisis [resolved September 29, 1938]. When [British Prime Minister] Neville Chamberlain went to see Hitler and made a pact with him that if he allowed Germany to invade Czechoslovakia, Hitler promised him peace. I don’t know whether anybody, no, you wouldn’t have seen Chamberlain, waving this piece of paper, calling out to everybody “Peace! Peace! Peace at last!” And we knew that this was all nothing else but a game.
But this gave us one year in which to arm. All up to this time, we knew that Germany, under Hitler, was playing a game. He was not allowed an air force, nor was he allowed a navy over a certain weight. But behind the scenes, he made what is known as flying clubs, and these flying clubs were nothing else but training areas for pilots. And we were supposed not to know about it, but we knew all about it all the time and we did not do anything about it. This is one of the things that now I make myself so upset of knowing that this war could have been prevented if France and England had got together and got a hold of Hitler and removed him. We wouldn’t have had that second war.
At the Munich crisis, this lasted a week, we were called up then to man the forts around Portsmouth [England], which was a naval base. So we spent a week manning those forts to provide protection. Then of course, after the peace declaration and that there, we were sent home. So we were away a week then.
And then, as the European business came up, Germany attacked Poland. And we, that is, the English and the French, had a pact with Poland that if they were attacked, we would declare war against Germany, which of course was on the 2nd of September, I believe it was. So we were called up a week before war broke out, and when we were called up, we manned the forts on the Isle of Wight. We had been trained to operate these forts some time before this. During the whole year that we had peace, that was our job to train to man these forts.
That’s the searchlights. We had six inch guns and the searchlights and we were on a week before war was declared. And I remember the entrance and that there, we were sent to this particular fort on the top of a cliff, and this cliff was all clay. So we found that that winter, though it rained, that clay got soft and as a result, it started to slide down the cliff, taking the cables with the searchlights with it. We got over that problem after a while and as a result of that, we carried on doing what we had to do and that is to put the searchlights on the [strait of] Solent and make sure there was nothing go through that way.
And until then we were as a fortress company, then we became a field company again and became engineers until the Hitler invasion. That was a scare there. We went around southern England, making underground, some would say, posts that were manned by the Home Guard. They were or more less advance observation posts to give the warning early. And that was our job until we were sent overseas.
It was a pleasure because we were doing something, and we were doing something interesting. What’s that? Blowing things up, you see, with explosives and things like that. That was our best enjoyment, was blowing things up.
Used to go to the drill hall every Thursday and do a bit of marching up and down the hall, practicing drill movements or practicing making knots and things like that. And then every year, we would go out on what they call a camping training. In other words, we went to somewhere where there was water and did engineering there for two weeks, which of course we got paid for this. For a long time, I did not get a holiday when I was working there. But it paid because when war broke out, I was a trained engineer, and able to teach others.
I never regretted joining the services. I was doing something useful, and doing something that was necessary. Because all that time we were training, up until the time war broke out and after, even when I went to the school as an instructor, in 1942, this is just before the El Alemein battle, we were teaching World War I methods in a 1942 army, you know, service. And I always thought we’re just wasting time teaching everybody 1914 methods in a 19, something or other, war. They were stupid!
So I used to say to the sergeant major, I said, what are we, we were digging trenches, learning how to dig a trench, how to bore holes in a sand bank and tunneling. I said, no, that was all old World War I stuff, was digging trenches and digging tunnels to blow somebody else up. That was the kind of thing that was being taught. It was so stupid.
And that was a long time before we started and that was the first thing, the first improvement was the Bailey bridge. And the Bailey bridge, when that came into being, that made it. In other words, we were able to win that war because we were putting tanks across World War I bridges, they couldn’t take it.
So now, you see, when we invaded Italy, the terrain in Italy is all mountains and rivers, fast flowing rivers, and we had something to cross those rivers quickly and during nighttime. And one occasion, I had some New Zealanders and it was the end of the training session and there was their last practice run to see how fast they could put that bridge over some water and get a tank across. And this was a fast one. I started my stop watch and gave the signal to go and when that tank came across that bridge, it was one hour, from the beginning of that build. They’re one hour to put a bridge across, over some water and get a tank across.