Stan Holledges' Memories of World War II

From Croydon to Iraq

By Stan Holledge

Photo:Stan Holledge contributed to this book

Stan Holledge contributed to this book

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

The Service Corps

I was born and brought up in Croydon, and got married there. I joined up at the age of twenty-three, in Bournemouth, first of all.

Pretty soon we were sent on a train to Scotland. But at Sheffield the train stopped. Well, we were looking round, and I asked a bloke when the next train was, and where from. And he said "No more trains, mate. You have to walk the rest!"

It took a whole day to get to where we were going. A place called Ecclefechan. I was to join the Service Corps, and we were to be sent off to the war in ships. My strongest memory of that place is me, hanging off the side of a ship in a blizzard, wanting my mum!

En route to Cape Town

We left on a ship called "The Winchester Castle" to Freetown. At Freetown a lot of black soldiers came on board. Someone was fooling about and gave one of them a Brylcreem sandwich. Ate the lot, apparently tasted good. Mind, I felt sorry for those soldiers. Couldn't read or write most of them. Dreadful.

We'd been in convoy with other ships. And we split, some went down the Mediterranean. One ship was full of nurses. I don't know where they were headed for. But we heard later, that their ship was torpedoed. All the nurses were lost.

We sailed on to Cape Town and instead of carrying on, we stayed there for six weeks. I think it was because there was a lot of Japanese submarine activity in the Indian Ocean. They were good, those six weeks! Ladies used to come along in these wonderful cars, to 'look after us' and take us out. Rolls Royce's, the lot. They used to take us all over for trips.

I even had a young lady, Eileen her name was. It was in Cape Town that we were asked for volunteers to be trained as signallers. So I volunteered, and that's what I did for the war. Wireless was in its infancy in those days.

Realities of war

Our journey continued, I don't remember the name of the next ship. But I do remember a dreadful time, coming up the coast of India, when we came upon the survivors of one of our ships that had been sunk by a torpedo. We took them on board. They were our sailors. Some were still alive. They had terrible burns. I remember their skin coming off.

We were constantly on alert ourselves. It was fairly stressful. We used to organise boxing matches to relieve that stress.

Back home it was The Blitz. My wife wrote to me and said she thought it was gas mains going up.  My parents were bombed out of their house in Croydon, and moved to the south coast.

Signalling in Iraq

I ended up in Iraq with the Service Corps, signalling. Part of a line of communication. I was based in Kanakin City, near Baghdad. We didn't really see any action there, which was lucky. Honestly... if I'd seen a German, I'd have run a mile! I only ever fired a gun in training and practice sessions!

I did get home on leave now and again. I was actually quite scared of going home because of the danger, but I tell you, there were good times in some of the air raid shelters in the King's Cross area.

Iraq was a nice place, back then. The Iraqis were rather nice people. I was there for about eighteen months in all.

We used to get a newspaper which kept us in touch with what was going on in the rest of the world. It was called "The Union Jack". I think it might have been a part of The Daily Mail. It came out weekly, and was good to see. Iraq was quite isolated, it seemed.

The End of the War

Then after the war ended, we started our journey home, calling in at India and Pakistan en route. I finished up in Taranto, in Italy, for a spell. Then went to a transit camp in France.

Well, finally, I came home on a ship to Newhaven. I knew my family were nearby... my parents had moved down after they were bombed. But we had to go all the way to Aldershot to be demobbed.

I was given £35.00 and a suit, a pair of drawers and a service medal. And that was my war.

After the war

Well, we settled in South St, Portslade, and raised a family. We had six children. I have one daughter, Janet, in Texas. All the rest are still in Sussex. One worked on the docks.

I lost one son, Roger. He and a girlfriend parted, and he took an overdose.

I remember my first job after the war was as a cook in The Beach Hotel in Brighton. My parents were restaurant people, you see. So I was brought up with it really. I did lots of different jobs, but ended up working for companies like Unilever. I sold frying oils and fats from a lorry.

I went to one reunion after the war. About 1950 it would have been. But I was disappointed with it. When you meet people in Civvy Street, they are very different. I expected it would be the same, you know.

But the camaraderie had gone.

This page was added by Roslyn Cook on 16/01/2008.
Comments about this page

Interesting story and very important as part of an archive of the less exciting experiences of war. Kanakin is in the news again as it happens! Well done for collecting and recording this.

By Chris Holtom
On 03/08/2009

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