Walter Woodhams

Recollections of life in the Army as a driver mechanic and a cook.

Going overseas

Walter served overseas as a driver mechanic in the Army. Before departing he decided to visit his family, but missed his train. He eventually arrived home after ‘an eventful journey, police cell, mail train, mail van then a flour lorry.’

Walter felt that going overseas would be an adventure. He collected his kit-bags and sailed from Liverpool on The Duchess of York. On board were Army, Air Force, ATS and civilian crew. The liner docked at Freetown, Sierra Leone, for two days (‘it was fascinating...at night to see the fireflies like a myriad of moving twinkling stars’). Whilst sailing through the Atlantic the convoy was joined by Merchant ships from the USA. Walter then spent three days in Cape Town and enjoyed visiting Table Mountain. Although the people were friendly, he recalls seeing the negative effects of apartheid.

Fighting in North Africa

Walter’s convoy travelled to Egypt. The pyramids were visible from the camp where they were initially stationed. After collecting their kit-bags, they moved to a larger camp before travelling to El Alamein for ‘the big push.’ At 10pm they received a message from Montgomery. Their Officer wished them luck. Lorries were loaded with ammunition which they transferred to American lorries. Walter remembers that errors of judgement were often made. On one occasion orders were given by the Officer to take a shortcut which led to a German minefield. Following the tracks of the vehicles ahead, with the wind and sand affecting visibility, was very difficult. Walter also has humorous recollections of Italian prisoners guarded by British troops singing, like ‘something out of Keystone Cops.’  

Walter was unwell whilst abroad. After a long journey to the nearest Air Force hospital he did not receive effective treatment for an infected carbuncle. He was given a waterproof mask. Upon his return to the dock he was alienated due to fear of contagion. At Alexandria he was sent to see the Medical Officer and underwent an operation. He was sent to Syria to convalesce, and was able to visit the mountains where he saw ‘wild cyclamen and anemones...the original lilies of the field as mentioned in the Bible.’

After recovering Walter returned to Egypt via Palestine before being sent to Tripoli, transporting tyres and soldiers from the 51st Highland Division. He recalls the sights of the beautiful beaches, scenery, flora and fauna but also recalls the disrespectful behaviour of some of his fellow troops.

Cooking for the Army

Walter also became a cook whilst in service. As the North African campaign came to an end Walter’s convoy was transferred to Italy, where he was based during Christmas 1943. He made the troops Christmas dinner and was able to make a cake, using beetroot to write ‘Merry Christmas A Platoon’ on the icing. On seeing Walter’s work a visiting Company Commander remarked ‘Bloody good show. More than we’ve got at HQ!’  

As a cook, conditions were hard and hours were long. Walter eventually returned to Britain via a Dutch ship from Naples. On board he continued to cook before finally docking in Ayres. After taking leave Walter travelled to Wales for further training and was made a member of the Army Catering Corps.

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Walter Woodhams
Walter Woodhams (100k)
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This page was added by Malin Lundin on 11/08/2012.

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