Arthur was born in Birmingham in 1916 and when he left work at 14 he went to work for the LMR (London & Midlands Railway Company) as an office junior. By the time that war broke out in 1939 he was working for the company as a plate-layer. Because this was a skilled occupation, when he received his call up papers in April 1940 the foreman tried to retain him as a worker in a reserved occupation, but he was deemed to be too young (at 24) to be exempt. He and a friend, also working as a plate-layer, were called up together and they decided that when they went to the recruitment office they would ask to go into the Gloucestershire Regiment (because soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment wore a cap badge on both the front and the rear of their headdress. The back badge is unique in the British Army and was awarded to the 28th Regiment of Foot for their actions at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801.) and because Arthur’s grandfather came from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire). However, at the recruiting office the sergeant saw their occupation and told them: “Royal Engineers.”
Arthur did not see action abroad until The Normandy Campaign. He remained in the UK, stationed at locations in Hampshire, Middlesex, Cheshire and Scotland, and was trained on a range of courses (First Aid & Safety; Standard Tests of Elementary Training; Military Railway Construction Work; Plate Laying; General Maintenance; Weapons & Detonation Training). By the time he was sent to Normandy he had been promoted to Lance Sergeant (a Corporal acting in the rank of Sergeant) and was a qualified permanent way inspector. (The permanent way means the physical elements of the railway line itself: generally the pairs of rails typically laid on sleepers (“crossties”) embedded in ballast, intended to carry the ordinary trains of a railway. It is described as permanent way because in the earlier days of railway construction, contractors often laid a temporary track to transport spoil and materials about the site; when this work was substantially completed, the temporary track was taken up and the permanent way installed.)
The Normandy Campaign
Once the Normandy Campaign started (the official dates are 6th June – [variously] 21st or 30th August 1944) Arthur was moved down to the south coast, and by the beginning of August, as embarkation drew near, he was confined to camp, under canvas. This waiting time was a period when Arthur was unable to communicate with his wife, May, and she recalls that the general public were told very little of what was happening. Occasionally they would hear that something had been blown up or destroyed by the British, but no details of casualties or setbacks were revealed, and she had to go to the cinema 2 or 3 times a week to watch the news, whilst the radio remained the main source of information. Arthur landed in Normandy on August 20th (D+75) and May received an officially printed card, signed by Arthur, saying that he had embarked, and she heard no further news of him for some months. In fact, it was 13 months before Arthur received his next army leave, in September 1945.
Arthur’s experience of the Normandy Campaign began with many hours in a DUKW (popularly pronounced “duck”, it is a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck that was designed by General Motors Corporation during World War II for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious attacks) because the sea was too rough to cross. He recalled the smell of sea-sick, since although he wasn’t affected by the swell, many others were. He also told May that during that waiting period he could see the Isle of Wight, as they anchored in The Solent, and he said to himself: “If I come through this, I’m going to visit the Isle of Wight.” Consequently, the first holiday that May & Arthur had after the war (following his demobilisation in March 1946) was in 1948 when they went to Lake, near Sandown, on the Isle of Wight.
Arthur landed on Juno Beach with soldiers from the Canadian 3rd Division. It was raining as they scrambled off the DUKW and waded through waist deep water on to the beach, holding rifles above their heads. “Whatever you did, you did not get your rifle wet, since it was a punishable offence”, May recalls Arthur telling her later. It was raining so hard and there was no shelter on the beach so they sheltered underneath parked lorries and although they were wet through, there was no way of getting their clothes dry – they had to dry on them.
Arthur didn’t say a lot about the actual fighting, many men of his generation – particularly if they had seen action – didn’t. Once they had landed & re-grouped the Royal Engineers were directed to the railway lines and stations. He frequently joked that the forefront of the army went in and blew everything up and then his detachment had to follow up behind repairing it and putting it back in working order. His brief was to get the permanent way functioning again, both in the immediate area of the Normandy Invasion & in getting railway access across the Seine (and later across the Rhine).
In one railway station the signal box had a booby-trap bomb and his company were involved in a number of skirmishes. He had an anecdote of when the company commander called himself and another Sergeant into his office to indicate that after distributing out the (too few) awards allocated by the British Army to his officers he had one MID (Mention in Dispatches) award and felt that both Sergeants were equally worthy – he couldn’t separate them in deciding who should receive it. They were asked to toss a coin, and Arthur lost the toss.
Arthur stayed with the Canadian Army until he reached Nijmegan in September 1944, when he joined the British Army and progressed through into Germany, finishing up in Hamburg, Germany, as VE Day was declared on 8th May 1945. Below is an account he wrote 40 years later of his memories of that event:
Sgt A. Moore 608 Company Royal Engineers, 21 Army Group:
Billeted in a field under canvas, outside a small village (name forgotten) somewhere near Hamburg, on our push up to Lubeck on the Baltic Sea. It was one of the most dangerous nights of my entire war service, due to less than half a mile away from us were Russian P.O.W.s letting off all sorts of live ammo as celebrations, but mainly – probably unintentional – it seemed to be coming in our direction. So he was a foolish man who walked about upright, instead of on all fours. For supper that night we had an extra mug of cocoa and either Spam or bullybeef sandwich (can’t remember which). The next few days I think we sort of marked time; that is apart from Reveille and Morning Parade. We were dismissed and the rest of the days just lounged about, catching up on washing, sewing and generally cleaning our Kit. After about 4 days. H.Q. woke up and we were on the move again, but not with the same urgency.
Arthur had married his wife May whilst on a few days leave in April 1942 and they had one daughter. When he was demobbed in 1946, he returned to the railway company, since there was a legal requirement to keep the jobs of returning conscripts open for them. However, they offered him the lowest grade work, ignoring the qualifications he had acquired during his wartime training and he refused to stay. He went to work for the Post Office and when he retired he was Assistant Inspector at the Sutton Coldfield branch office. He and May moved up to Marple, Stockport in 1981 to be closer to their daughter, and spent the next 14 years playing an active role within the community. (Written from memories of Arthur Moore’s family)