WW II, a British focus



memories of Pte Tom Barker
1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes


Enfield no.4 mk1(T)

For any soldier in any army to hear “sniper” is like any one hearing “ghost”, “rattlesnake”, or “black widow”. Thunder and lightning are also a bit like a sniper in that there is a strike then depending on how far away the strike originated you can hear the rumble or bang in the distance,-----------later. That on it’s own gives the sniper an edge, because when a man falls down no one knows why until they discover he has been shot. By the time they start looking round not knowing where the shot came from the sniper is long gone. Unlike the movies the last place a sniper would want to be is up a tree.

When a regiment goes into battle it can meet up with an enemy force and lots of ammunition is wasted as one side tries to knock off the other. To get a regiment to this point involves Commanders, map readers, Sergeants, Corporals, cooks, and so on. So it is a joint effort and each relies on the other. Aircraft have crews, tanks have crews, so do ships, and they don’t see individuals they just see a target.

Not so the sniper, he is alone, he does his own map reading, doesn’t cook, lives off the land, and he is a loner by nature, also he misses nothing, he can’t afford to. Forget the broken twig, that’s o.k. on the movies, and to prove my point the next time you go for a walk brush up against a bush or branch and you will find it will bend to let you by then spring back. Most of the targets a sniper fires on can’t fire back because he is out of range or they just can’t see him. The only thing the sniper has to fear is another sniper and getting boxed in. Being boxed in a good sniper can avoid. An enemy sniper is an uknown threat and if lady luck is smiling down on on him the sniper can outwit his enemy.

(I watched a movie one night called Sniper, and found it entertaining. But in real life the sniper would have been dead the moment he stepped from cover, and to take a novice with him to show him the ropes? Not on. Because no one in his right mind would take someone out to teach him the ropes on a live mission. Not only that but even two experts together would leave a double trail, be twice the target for an enemy sniper and it would be a waste of a good sniper because one of them could be employed more efficiently else where. Thank you for your patience.)

I was below decks on the destroyer HMS Glenroy, we had been moved from Solum to Alexandria harbour. There was a lot of speculation amongst our lads “Well we bin’ up the desert so long they is goin’ tae gi’ us a trip rand’t Med, (the Mediterranean sea) sa’ht see’in no da’ht (no doubt) “ah shouldn’t wonder” some one else chimed in". “Na, they wouldn’t do that, not in a destroyer they woudn,t, would they?" and “yu wan’ a bet”. And it was bandied back and forth until one of our officers poked his head through a door at the top of the step ladder, “I say, would you chaps keep the noise down a little, we don’t want the world to know there are troops on this ship”. And the bloke next to me said “nice, when we trooped up the gang way half of bloody Alexandria knew”. But we simmered down and a few minutes later a matlow appeared and began to close the hatches. As we protested it was going to get ruddy hot with them closed, he said “ sorry lads but I got orders, there’s some enemy planes coming over and I got to shut you in just in case. "That’s bloody charmin’ “ said a voice from the back “a bomb hits us, we go to the bottom an’ we can’t get out”. But naval discipline being what it was, cries of “leave the bloody covers were they are” fell on deaf ears. I had seen something like this before I thought. Then it clicked, back home they used to round up the sheep and put them in a pen to wait their turn in the slaughter house.

About ten minutes went by and we could hear the aircraft. Now and then there was a noise like some one playing one very high note on a violin. It got louder and louder as every one including myself shrunk down to make as small a target as possible. I don’t know where the bomb hit but there was one hell of a bang and dust fell on us from some where up above, then more bombs and more dust and we could hear yelling and pandemonium up top. Finally the noise of the planes faded and the covers were removed and the fresh air was like champagne and looking round we expected to see mass destruction. I was disappointed, it was difficult to tell there had been a raid until I learned that a ship had been sunk and some blokes injured.

We set sail, or rather we put putted out of Alex harbour, there aren’t any sails on a destroyer, and we put putted to Crete, an island off Greece. As we were nearing Crete, I was told by my Sgt. to report to the armourer Sgt. and take my rifle and bayonet with me.

When I got to the armoury I reported to the Sgt. and said “I’m 2252 Barker, I was told to report here". I gathered he was Welsh when he looked up and said “That’s very nice of you bo-yo! Just leave yo ri-fle an’ bay-onet by there now". So I leaned my rifle and bayonet by there and he thrust another one in my hand, it looked the same as the one I had just put down except it had about three inches of barrel sticking out at the muzzle, it also had a scope on it. I was interested in it, it had nice balance, a silky smooth action, and my reverie was interrupted by the Sgt. “see what yu can do with that bo-yo. Don’t wo-ry, it’s been zeroed an’ it’s spot on, so do-n’t shoot y’sel’ in the foot, alright". Then he pointed out how much was wasted when one bomber dropped a ton of bombs he was lucky if one hit the target. And when they put down a creeping barrage using thousands of shells they might hit a tank or kill a rabbit, and all the blokes and equipment that was used to such a meagre end. “But you sonny Jim, are on your own, you make the decisions and if they are wrong it’s your funeral. One shot, one dead enemy,” Having watched cow boy films on a Saturday afternoon as a kid I was always impessed by the goody how he would not lay in the bushes to get the baddy. “Hell no pardner, ah ain’t abaht tu BUSHWACK any body, no siree Bob,” never did find out who in hell Bob was. However I relayed my sentiments on back shooting to the armourer and he quietly said “what about the la--st war when the Ger--mans came over in sil--ent zeps and dropped bombs on slee--ping women and kids and they are do--ing it again now boyo.” “You is not a kid at the pic—tures any more, we are at war, grow up”. He was right.

When I got back with the other blokes I got a mixed reception. "Yu’ must be a good shot Doggy fur them tu gi’ yu’ a special rifle”, and a chilling remark” if’n yu get caught with that they’s gonna shoot yu”

We got to Crete and the sea was rough and alongside us were T.L.C.s, tank landing craft. These T.L.C.s were bouncing up and down on the waves like the horses one sees at the fair ground on the roundabouts. Some call them carousel We were assembled on deck, we inched to the stepping off point. We were supposed to step off the deck of the destroyer on to the T.L.C, which, as I looked at it, was just on it’s way down the ships side like an elevator with its winch wires cut. Then suddenly, it changed it’s mind and came charging back up again. It was on it’s way up again as the matlow next to me gripped my arm and shouted above the wind “wait till it’s at the top of its climb then step into it". And I tittered mentally and thought, the navy must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if this nutter is an example, does he seriously think I’m going to step on to that bloody yoyo, not on yer nellie mate. However the matlow had other ideas.

I had on my pack, and in one hand I was clutching my rifle with the scope on it. The matlow screamed “now” and I did not have much choice because he loosened his grip and pushed on my pack. I sprang out ward towards the T.L.C. and I must admire that matlow’s timing because as I landed the T.L.C. had just reach top dead center and as it went down again I went with it. It was like being on the big dipper on the fair ground as with a woosh it plummeted down and when it got to the bottom of the wave trough it started it’s next climb. I thought some one had suddenly put a load of rocks in my pack it felt so heavy and my legs buckled and I plonked onto my butt on the bottom of the T.L.C. Some one explained later “it’s the force of ‘G ‘old boy, they use it quiet a lot in the RAF so I’m told". Gee how about that I thought, you learn something every day.

We set off for the island and expected to be fired on but nothing happened. There were lots of steel plates on hinges attached to the rim of the opening to the deck of the T.L.C. These were clipped back and common sense told me these were there to be swung into place should we suddenly be strafed from the air. Fortunately we did not have to use them As we neared the beach, I became aware of my dry mouth and heart thudding as we expected to be met by enemy fire. But all was quiet and the other T.L.C’s also landed without mishap. We nudged up on to the beach and the huge doors at the front fell to the sand with a thud, we stepped on to the sand in about half an inch of water as a rough guess. We maybe got our boots wet, but we did not get wet feet, that’s how close to the beach we got before disembarking.

Then one of the sailers with us shouted “that b----s leaving us on the beach, and sure enough the destroyer was indeed getting under way, it got up speed and curved away to the horizon. The sailors who had been left were understandably upset and one threatened what he was going to do to that ******** when he next saw him, some thing about gutless or was it nutless.? (But today in 1997 we know what he did was right, because there is nothing more tempting to a Stuka pilot than a ship not moving. A ship on the move has steerage and the skipper can anticipate and dodge the bombs from an enemy air craft, if he’s lucky that is. But a ship not moving is a sitting duck. So to save his ship and all the men on it, four sailors and two T.L.C.s are a cheap price to pay. Depends on your point of view though. If you are one of the sailors left on the beach you could be forgiven for not agreeing with this.)

However back to the beach, we moved inland with tongue in cheek but there was no opposition and finding some open ground we got settled down. Some blokes were sent to scout out the land and report back while over there two officers were having an argument as to who had seniority. The Sgt. came over to me and said “you know what to do with that” nodding at the rifle hanging on the sling over my shoulder, and he continued with “get grub where yu can and watch yer sel”.

We carried on as if we had come here to sight see and indeed we were greeted by the locals as long lost friends. They were very nice people and to my delight two of us were invited to have a meal in this little house. As I watched the lady prepare the meal I saw how they cooked eggs. Instead of frying them as we do, she just broke the shell and dropped the eggs into a pot of hot olive oil. Then the lady put what looked like rocks on the table and said” psomi” and because we looked puzzled she got one of these rocks and dipped it into the wine glass. So we copied her and found that it was indeed bread that was dried so it would keep for hard times. Dipping it for a short time in wine made it edible again. Then some one screamed “aircraft”, and some one joined in with ”paratroops”!. Every one leapt to their feet but it was in fact a false alarm. But an aircraft had indeed flown over because a few minutes later sheets of paper began to float down every where. I can’t remember the exact wording but the jist of the message was ”lay down your arms and and we will treat you well. Resist us, and we will bomb your villages and towns to ashes, and if a German soldier is killed we will kill ten of you as a reprisal." Needless to say a lot of fingers jerked skyward

About two days went by and I was sitting in the back of a Morris truck (the one with a wedge shaped front) with a couple of other blokes when some one shouted "aircraft". I looked up, and now, above the noise of our engine I could hear the Stuka as it seemed to be coming straight down on us. The screaming noise it made grew louder and louder. Everything seemed to shrink except the Stuka as it got bigger and bigger. The shrieking siren seemed it was going to pierce the ear drums. The truck suddenly pulled up and we leapt for our lives and run to a gully at the side of the road and jumped right into a bunch of thorns just as the bomb detached. The Stuka hauled itself out of it’s dive. At first I thought he’s left it too late and waited for the crash but he swooped away. Then there was such a crash like I had never heard before as the bomb hit the truck and bits of metal and debris was flying all over the place. The truck was a write off and one of our blokes said “therrre goes ma no claims bonus”. I noticed he had a lot of blood on his leg, and when I enquired he said “och dinna wurry aboot et, they ruddy thorrrns en the ditch ye ken”

The next day the Stuka came back and this time one of our lads had got a Bren gun mounted on a tripod. We were sitting under an olive tree enjoying the shade when we heard the Stuka a long time before he got to us. I stayed put under the tree with the others but one of our blokes dashed out to where the bren was mounted and was shouting "come on you b----d have a taste of this" and pulling back on the cocking handle he swivelled round to get a bead on the now approaching Stuka. Because he was not under cover, the Stuka pilot spotted the movement changed course and began his dive at the same time. He opened up with machine guns. We got round the other side of the tree while screaming to the bloke to leave it and take cover. But he was so obsessed with the Stuka and he ripped off the used magazine. While he was putting the new magazine on, it looked like a huge blast of wind and big hail slammed him to the ground and he stayed there still, and the Stuka climbed up and away. I didn’t know his name, I wished I did but I think that bloke should have got the highest award. Some one did get his dog tags and I heard him say,” you will always be remembered mate, no question, and ah’ll see to it yu git a medal”.

Later I heard one company was moving out, “we’re off to Heraklion mate“ I heard so I decided I would tag along. But as they moved out I got on higher ground so I could see better and kept more or less in sight of them. But I got on higher ground and soon got left behind because I had to negotiate rough country while they were on the track. I was on the lookout for the slightest movement up ahead, so I would take cover and survey the terrain then move quickly to another location. While I had just crouched behind a bush I could see the silhouette of a man behind the bush to my right at about thirty yards. So I got a rock and hurled it at the bush and the man rose pulling up his breeks. When he saw the gun pointing at him he gabbled away in Greek and his hands shot in the air and his breeks fell down. So as I knew he was no German I lowered the rifle and he again pulled up his dacks and tied them with string round the waist. He stood grinning not knowing what I wanted him to do, so I did the walking bit with my fingers and pointed to the distant village. He grasped it straight away and with a hesitant wave he scurried away. Later in the afternoon I heard firing in the distance and they were Lee Enfields. You can tell a Lee Enfield, It’s like some one hitting a pan of stiff dough and withdrawing their fist quickly, there is a kind of back echo like no other rifle. The Lee Enfield, Rolls Royce of Rifles.

There was also a spandau machine gun and the sharp crack of mausa rifles and suddenly I got just the merest scent coming down wind and I crouched under cover. It was hot and I had my mouth open because you can hear better. Keeping still and quiet I waited, and waited, as the sweat trickled down my back and after about twenty mins I saw a pair of horns start to bob up and down at the crest of the hill and now and then a faint metalic tinc, tinc. Bloody goats I thought and I moved. It caught the movement and stood stock still staring at me. Then with a thin bleat it whirled was gone the way it came. The bell round it’s neck jangling and jingling, or was it jingling and jangling, don’t matter. It was a bloody noise and would draw attention.

I stay put a long time under the bush because I knew if some one with binocs had seen that goats behaviour he would know some one was there. I began to doze when a breath of wind caught the leaves and they rustled as if to say it’s time you were gone. So I took the hint, but not before I had a good look round with my scope. I could still hear sporadic firing and working ever closer I discovered on looking over the top of some rocks some of our blokes were having a ball with a mob of Jerries. I was about nine hundred yards away up the hill side and the bloke who caught my eye was using a spandau. I aimed at the hairs sticking out of his ears and let go just as he was firing a burst. He sort of keeled over still holding the gun to his shoulder the the gun fell down and he sagged. The others were now looking wildly round not knowing where the shot had come from. I was long gone and had a new position next to a tree with a thick bush at the bottom of it. I was now peering through this bush at the antics of the Jerries. One had braid on his lapels indicating he was a Feldwabel (Sgt) and he was screaming orders when he suddenly clutched his neck and fell to remain still. Four more followed him. I suddenly realised I dare not shoot at the others because I had worked my way round and they suddenly moved if any of my shots ricocheted I could hit my own men but the Jerry had had enough and melted into the trees.

I potted at different groups. The ones I liked to upset were groups having a rest in the shade. They would have the helmet over the eyes and maybe one would be reading a book when I would let go and the one reading the book would get a bullet through the ear. The others would look round at the hills when in the distance they heard a shot and shrug but it was not until some one spoke to the reader and realised he was never going to finish the story.

I had to work my way back to get more ammo and a decent meal. I had been living on locust beans and was getting sick of them. Also I wanted a good swim in the sea, I was getting heat or sweat rash. You have to be just as cautious disengaging from the enemy because a sniper could get behind you. I got back ok and scrounged some food, had a swim and collected some ammo, which I hid and marked then went back the next day. It was a different bloke, so I asked for more ammo and I had about three hundred and fifty rounds. Well I had two cloth bandoliers round my waist, one over each shoulder, and one in each bren gun pouch plus some loose rounds. The ones over my shoulders I hid further out so I did not have to come all the way back. Because 350 rounds are heavy when you want to move quietly and quickly. By the way a cloth bandolier holds 50 rounds. I did a bit more foraging in the general direction of Heraklion and thinned out a few more weeds so to speak, and I would keep coming back to base.

One day I went to the top of a hill and looked over, the view was magnificent, and because there was a track or rough road in the distance I thought if any one were to come this way they would come along that road. So I made it a regular place to lay and observe the landscape. On one afternoon I saw dust in the distance and then it went behind a shoulder of a hill, then a bit later as I watched it appeared again but it was too far away to make out what it was because of the heat shimmering in the distance. Again it dissapeared behind a hill. Then as I watched the next bit where the road came from behind a hill a bit nearer, I saw this motor cycle and side car gradualy taking shape as it rounded the base of the hill. I looked through my scope and could make out a bloke sitting in the side car behind a mounted machine gun. He and the driver both had goggles on. The driver had a rifle slung over his back. I saw there were a few trees and bushes where they were so I waited because as they drew nearer and clearer they were soon going to be where there was no cover. I did a quick check round and I was alone under the cover of my favourite bush, so all I had to do was wait. There was an aircraft some where but he was way up high and since I was under this bush there was no way he could see me. Now I could faintly hear the engine of the motor bike and it was echoeing from the hills. It sounded like a whole mob of motor bikes were coming. Then I thought “that’s as far as you go Fritz”. He was about 900 yrds away. I didn’t really know his name. I just tooka stab at it. As he sort of curled up and fell off the bloke in the side car stood up, and it flashed through my mind when the photographer takes a picture he says ”smileplease” and as every one smiles he snaps the pic. Well this was a bit like that. As he stood up, I snapped and he collapsed in a heap on the road the motor bike kept on going until it veered and hit a rock and stopped. Well I think it did but I’m not sure because suddenly I got a bang on my tin hat and I saw lots of pretty stars.

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker