Harold Archer was my Dad. He was the eldest son of a mill-worker, George Archer, who had himself fought in and survived the great War of 1914-1918 (see articles George Archer and the Bantams and George Archer at Passchendaele.)
Harold was born in 1923. He passed the entrance examination for the Dewsbury Grammar School, but was unable to take up the offer, because his family could not afford the books and uniform, and so he attended the Eastborough School, where he became Head Boy, before leaving to get his first job at the age of fourteen, the leaving school age at that time.
He first worked in a pawn shop, in Dewsbury, but was fired from that job for taking Saturday off without permission to see a Huddersfield Town Football Club home game. He then joined his father at Aldham’s woollen mill, as a spinner.
At the age of 18, early in 1942, Harold was called upon to report for Military Service. After training and duties in the UK, he became a driver in the 15th Scottish Division, 284 Company Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). The RASC was divided into two services “Supply” and “Transport”. Harold was in Transport.
“Transport” was concerned with the movement of ammunition, engineer stores, ordnance stores and post, from rail-head, or from base if no rail-head exists, to all units of a field force. In addition RASC units are provided for the carriage of infantry, tanks and heavy bridging equipment.
RASC soldiers are trained to fight as infantry.https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/4495/royal-army-service-corps/
Harold later served as head clerk in a department of the Military Government in Germany, at Hamburg, at the end of the war until he was discharged from Army service in 1947.
Harold died in November 2014 at the grand old age of 91, after a short illness, before which he was frail in body but with his memory intact.
15th Scottish Infantry Division
The 15th Scottish Division saw action in WW1 and, with other kilted Scottish soldiers, notably the 51st Division, were dubbed by the Germans “The Ladies from Hell”. The Division was re-formed in 1939 and performed the following duties:
May 1940-Feb.1941 Defence of coastline S.E Essex.
Feb.1941-Nov.1941 Defence of Coastline Suffolk.
Nov. 1941- Sept 1943 Training in Northumberland. Defence of the Northumberland Coastline.
Sept. 1943-April 1943 Training in West Yorkshire.
Sept.1943-June 1944 South Coast Embarkation Area.
June 1944-Mar 1946 France/Belgium/Holland/Germany/Advance to the Baltic.
Total Casualties June 1944 to May 1945 were 11,772
Below is Harold’s war service diary in his own words, compiled in 2008 and published in 2018.
MY ARMY SERVICE MAY 1942 to JANUARY 1947
by Harold Archer
14 May 1942
Joined 6th Training Battalion, R.A.S.C. Bluecoats School, Sheffield. Was assigned to Sgt. Parker’s Platoon and became T/10703568 Driver H. Archer, 284 Company Royal Army Service Corps.
The first 3 days were taken up with Dentistry, and Injections; Small Pox, Typhus, Typhoid, Tetanus etc – the left arm was pretty sore. The next full week was spent learning how to march and how to salute, then we were allowed to go on leave for 48 hours, to take our civvy (civilian) clothes home. From then, for about a month, it was Marching and Rifle Drill, day in and day out until “Parker” was satisfied.
Next we were taught how to fire a rifle, spent many hours at Totley range (Sheffield) and I enjoyed this very much. Now it was time to learn to drive – would I be travel sick? 15 half hour lessons in Sheffield; how I hated those trams, but I passed my test and knew I was going to like driving. Three months military training ended in August with the passing out parade. We were given the “Best Platoon” award, only to be told, when we boasted, that it was Sgt. Parker’s turn.
We were then posted to the 15th Scottish Infantry Division and thought we were going to Bridlington, but it turned out to be Bedlington in Northumberland, where we got a wonderful welcome from the local people; none of us would ever forget their kindness and hospitality. Our job here was to train, fit in to our new Division, and defend the Northumbrian coast. I managed to get home a couple of times from here, and also attend a Poison Gas Course, and a Water Purification Course at Aldershot Barracks, and a Motorcycle Course at Catterick Garrison. I passed all three courses, but I think learning to ride a motorcycle could have been the most lethal for me.
Said a sad farewell to Northumberland and moved to Leeds, where we took over Leeds United’s car park for our vehicles. I could not believe my luck, just six miles from home, but I didn’t get home as often as I expected. Our training continued, the most important aspect being learning how to waterproof our vehicles, to enable us to drive through water up to six feet deep. I discovered why on 9 June 1944, when it turned out to be Sea Water. We did this training at the School of Military Engineering at Ripon and tested our efforts at Harrogate.
We were given embarkation leave, then moved down to the South coast. I was at Cowfold, a few miles from Brighton. We were never told very much, only that we should not expect any more leave for a long time. Dates and Divisional Events from this point are taken from Divisional Records.
6th June 1944
Called on parade to be told that during the early hours, an invasion force had landed on the beaches of Normandy, and that Transport Companies and advance parties of the Division were to be prepared to embark as soon as possible, and later in the afternoon, vehicles loaded with food, petrol and ammunition, we set off for Tilbury docks, and on this day I got my “Return Ticket”. Driving through London to cheering crowds, who had heard the news of the invasion, the convoy came to a halt and a London Transport Conductress came to my cab door to wish us luck, I said “Return Please” and was immediately issued with a low value return ticket with the words “Don’t worry luv, you’ll come back.”
We arrived at Tilbury Docks early evening and for the next few hours, we were loaded onto ships, slings were put under the vehicles and we were lifted by crane onto the decks, and made secure, my sea sickness started at this moment and continued for 3 more days.
We moved up the Thames and waited for the rest of our convoy and on the night of 8 June we set sail…these were the worst days I can ever remember.
9 June 1944
Out at sea, l was so ill that when the Sgt. Major suggested (?) I go on deck for fresh air and exercise, I told him where to go! My mates half-carried me up the iron steps to the deck so that I could see the vast armada of ships, but at that moment in time I couldn’t care less. Later the ship anchored and we were hoisted from the deck and lowered onto American Tank Landing Craft to be taken into more shallow water. The vehicles were two abreast on the TLC.
I was on the front row right…one of my best mates, Alec, was on my left, when the ramp went down. Alec said “who’s going first? to which I replied “you, I can’t swim”. Lucky me! Alec drove down into the sea, so far down, he disappeared, vehicle and all and I thought I had lost a good mate. However, soon he was standing on top of his cab still up to his waist in water and, in his Scots accent, was telling the American officer what he thought of the Yanks. The ramp was pulled up and we were taken a little further, when the ramp went down again, about 400 yards from the beach, it was my turn and I had only two things to worry about, how deep was the water this time, and how good a job had I done waterproofing my vehicle. Anyway I was ordered to go, so into first gear, foot down to the floor boards and moved down into the water levelling out with water at chest level. My Return Ticket was working.
Landed on the beach and moved off to a place called Bayeux, where I was greeted by my first French person. We set up base here until the rest of the Division arrived, the infantry, the real soldiers.
25 June 1944 to 3 July
Division enters its first battle, Battle of the Odon (Bridge), fighting against 21st Panzer Div. and 12th SS Panzer Div. (Hitler Youth Division, who murdered Canadian Prisoners during the first week of the invasion*). Heavy casualties 2720.
3 July 1944/12 July
Advanced to Evrecy against 9th and 10th Panzer Divisions.
15 July 1944/19th July
Battle of Gavrus with casualties of 964.
30 July 1944/5 Aug
Battle for Caumont , first time 1 had come under fire and had our first Company casualty. We were shelled just as we arrived at a new location, whilst we were still digging our slit trenches O.Cs batman wounded.
My Return Ticket 1 – Total casualties 602.
6 Aug 1944/10 Aug
Battle for Estrey our second time under fire and our second casualty one of our drivers wounded. Heavy casualties 1028.
11 Aug 1944/29 Aug
Advance through Falaise – Trun – Louviers and Rouen to crossing River Seine on 28 August.
30 Aug 1944/5 Sept.
Advance through Amiens towards Lille.
6 Sept 1944
Today I made a large blunder. At daybreak, along with two other vehicles, we accidentally drove into a town which turned out to be Lille, which should have been in enemy hands. We were about to get out quickly, when a young lady came out of a Cafe in her nightdress, waving and shouting “Tommy”. She told us the German troops had left during the night. We were soon meeting other members of her family and drinking awful French coffee, but didn’t stay long. My first stupid mistake…but the Military Police must have been asleep.
7 Sept 1944/9 Sept
Battle for Coutrai with casualties of 118.
10 Sept 1944/19 Sept
Battle for Gheel with heavy casualties of 914.
20 Sept 1944
Crossed the Meuse – Escaut canal.
21 Sept 1944
Entered Eindhoven, which had been liberated by U.S Airbome Division.
22 Sept 1944/2 Oct
Battle for Best. Heavy casualties 925.
18 Oct 1944/27 Oct
Advance on and battle for Tilburg – liberated on 27 October. Casualties 163.
29 Oct 1944/15 Nov
Battle for Meijel – casualties 758.
16 Nov 1944/30 Nov
In small parties the Division had short leave in Brussels, staying with Belgian families who treated us wonderfully well.
1 Dec 1944/29 Jan 1945
Winter watch on the Maas, everything was frozen up, very very cold. During this period the Germans launched a counter offensive against the Americans and our troops were ordered to hold the northern flank. We were located in a small Belgian village and I spent Christmas sleeping in the back of my vehicle in the school yard on top of three tons of petrol. The only good thing at this time was a boy soprano, who sang Ave Maria and Christmas Carols every night in the local village café. I felt very home sick and thought a lot about family and friends back home.
On New Year’s morning, a few of us were sent to the rail-head just outside Eindhoven. Shortly after we arrived the Luftwaffe arrived in force (four planes), dropped a few bombs on the town, and then proceeded to machine gun the rail-head. We were all hopping around pretty lively—the RAF, who must have had a hangover from the night before, finally drove them off. No human casualties. Return Ticket still valid. During this period we gradually moved north through Holland.
8 Feb 1945
Crossed into Germany at Nijmegan.
9 Feb 1945/25 Feb.
Battle of the Seigfreid Line. We were about to witness the greatest artillery barrage in the history of warfare. 1334 guns of the Royal Artillery firing continuously for a total of eleven hours, raising their sights 300 yards every twelve minutes to facilitate the advance of the Infantry.
Total casualties were 1529.
26 Feb 1945/24 Mar.
Advance to and battle of the River Rhine. Thought about the Infantry who would be crossing in boats under heavy fire to make a bridgehead, glad I was a driver in the RASC. When daylight came we cheered like schoolboys as the Airborne Troops in the planes and gliders passed overhead.
Casualties were heavy again 914.
26 Mar 1945
Crossed the Issell.
27 March 1945/28 April
Advance to the Elbe. Our casualties were 543
During this advance we liberated Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp (12 April) to which we supplied the things that were needed. The local people said they never knew about the camp, hard to believe with the dreadful smell of decaying bodies everywhere. It must have been a terrible ordeal for the unit which discovered the camp. I think it was the Ox and Bucks Regiment. Our commanders rounded up the locals and made them clear up some of the mess, and provide fresh linen etc.
While at Lundersburg, we sent all water trucks which could be spared, to the Belsen Concentration camp. The drivers had heart-rending stories to tell of the horrible conditions there. An armed guard watched each truck as it entered the camp, to prevent hundreds of starving inmates from clambering on, to get any drops of water they could. The people were dying as you looked at them. The German guards were made to dig the graves and accompany the loads of dead bodies to the burial ground.Cpt T J Stokes of the 181st Field Regiment
(Harold was driving one of those trucks).
29 Apr/3 May 1945
Battle of the River Elbe Crossing, we had our third casualty, one of our drivers was killed.
Total casualties 325.
4 /6 May 1945
Dash to Lubeck on the Baltic coast where we met the Russians and held a common front with them until the Division was disbanded. I didn’t trust them and was happy to move next day. But we couldn’t have won the war without them.
7 May 1945
284 Company RASC took up residence in a lovely tiny village called Trittau about 20 miles east of Hamburg, and soon our enemies were friends.
9 May 1945
On my first duty out, Alec and I came upon a group of German Soldiers, didn’t know what to expect, but all was well and I ended up being the proud owner of my second Luger Pistol and a German Army Watch, a Jungham’s and we proudly took our prisoners back to HQ.
Today a strange thing happened, captured units of the German army were re-armed and ordered by our Divisional Commander to clear up one SS Unit in the forest of Segeberg, which had refused to surrender.
11 May 1945
On my Birthday I was promoted to the dizzy heights of Lance Corporal and moved to HQ Platoon, where I went into the office as Company Pay Clerk and a few weeks later I got very DRUNK. I drank most of a bottle of Martell Brandy on top of a half mug of whisky containing a table spoon of sugar. I ended up in the Rest Camp in a very bad state, but after that it was very quiet and restful for the rest of my stay in Trittau.
Left Trittau for leave in England, the sea crossing was the worst. Cuxhaven to Harwich, in a force eight gale. I was again very sick, but I guess it was worth it just to see my Mum jump for joy when I walked in and little brother Raymond had been standing outside on the pavement for two or three hours looking down the road. Thought Mum was never going to let go of me.
On my return to Germany, I was told at Cuxhaven that my unit was being disbanded and I was to report to 15th Tank Transporter Company, Hamburg where two days later I was promoted to Corporal. A week or two later, I was posted to Finance Branch , 609 Military Government, Hamburg where I met up again with one of my RASC friends and became Chief Clerk in September and stayed for the rest of my Army service.
Arrived home, a good piece of my youth lost, but my Return Ticket still OK.
Places we touched on route:
Bayeux. St Gabriel. Cheux. Evrecy, Caumont. Estgg. Falaise. Trun. Louviers. Rouen. Lille. Roubaix. Brussels. Eindhoven. Courtrai. Gheel. Best. Tilburg. Meijel. Blerick. Brussels. Nijmegan. Cleeve. Goch. Dinjen. Osnabruck. Neustadt. Celle. Bergan Belsen. Luneburg. Artlenburg. Ahrensburg. Lubeck. Trittau. Hamburg. Plus Hanover, Cologne & Berlin.
15th Scottish Infantry Division Summary.
6th June 1944 –7th May 1945
41 French Croix de Guerres.
32 Belgian Awards.
3 U.S.A. Awards.
1238 British Awards.
Total Miles Driven 5,781,200
Shells Carried 825,680
Petrol Carried 3,500,000 Gallons.
Food Rations 8,050,000
Small Arms Ammo. Not Known.
15th SCOTTISH INFANTRY DIVISION—ORDER OF BATTLE JUNE 1944
Major General G.H.A. Macmillan. June 1944-3 August 1944.
Major General C.M. Barber 3 August 1944 – March 1946
R.A.S.C. Lieutenant Colonel K.M. Whitworth. June 1944-August 1946
44th Lowland Brigade
8th Bat. Royal Scots Reg.
6th Bat.Royal Scots Fusiliers
6th Bat. Kings Own Scottish Borderers
HQ 27th Highland Brigade:
10th Bat. Highland Light Infantry
2nd Bat.Gordon Highlanders
2nd.Bat. Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
HQ 46th Highland Brigade:
9th Bat. Cameronians
2nd Bat. Glasgow Highlanders
7th Bat. Seaforth Highlanders
1st Middlesex Machine Gun Battalion
20 Field Company
278 Field Company
279 Field Company
624 Field Park Company
15th Scottish Recon. Regiment
15th Scottish Royal Signals Regiment
15th Ordnance Field Park Reg.
305th ML & BU
39th F.S Section
H.Q. Company R.A.S.C
62 Company R A S C
283 Company R A S C
284 Company R A S C
399 Company R A S C
131 Field Regiment
181 Field Regiment
190 Field Regiment
97 Anti-Tank Regiment
119 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment
153 Company Field Ambulance
193 Company Field Ambulance
194 Company Field Ambulance
40 Field Hygienic Section
22 Field Dressing Station
23 Field Dressing Station
44 Brigade Workshops
46 Brigade Workshops
227th Brigade Workshops
15th Divisional Troops Workshops
15th Scottish R.C.M.P.
Notes: * During the evening of 7 June, 11 Canadian prisoners of war, soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the 27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment), were shot in the back of the head. at Ardenne Abbey, by the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend.Wikipedia
This article © Harold Archer and Christine Widdall.