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Sam Kingston, War time experiences.

Interviewed Oct 9, 1994.

He said he was a member of the Middlesex Yeomanry and reached the rank of Corporal, unpaid. He enlisted on the Friday before war broke out. His only leave was a weekend home in September/October 1939. He eventually left when a Welsh doctor exclaimed: "the English have kept you here all that time?". The doctor gave him a note which got him to South Africa. He was in 1 Cavalry Division, Number 1 Squadron, headquarters. His duties were mostly the post and catering. He couldn't remember his serial number but said that it was in a prayer book/Psalter. The cavalry wore a highly ornate uniform. They had a brass crown on their arm. A sergeant had three stripes in the army but in the cavalry they had four. A normal corporal had two stripes, but cavalrymen started off with two. In the army usually the Lance Corporal has one stripe, the full corporal has two stripes, and the sergeant has three stripes, we had for the lance corporal we had two stripes and a crown, for the full corporal two stripes and a crown, and for the sergeant three stripes and a crown and for the quartermaster four stripes and a crown.

"They used to go to Marseille."

(Clare: "What happened was that the train collapsed with the food so it was all lost or ruined.")

"Yes. But we all had some secret thing like Ma had made me Christmas cake which I cut to put in my mess tin so my mess tin was completely full of cake. Somebody had a half a bottle of brandy or something, somebody had a box of chocolates. Something they had been given which they were saving. So we shared these but that wasn't enough to last you for... we eat that in the first day, you know as people do. There was nothing.

"I'm sure you've heard the story but Jo might not have done so we get on down to Marseille and we had to get to board ships and we were put into Squadrons and then we were numbered off. And we go to board the ship and then somebody had miscounted somewhere so we all had to come off, again. Our stomachs are empty, all we want is food. And then they re-numbered us and put us on the ship. Don't ask me the name of the ship, I've got no idea. When we got on the ship we down food right away, you see. And as we are just going to start someone said 'Taffy you're on guard'. Well I got this bloody rifle, and this is real war now, and I've got to put the ammunition in and I'm as much nervous as they are you see but nobody else knows this. Anyhow you have got to slope arms, present arms and all this business and I haven't had time to catch up with everything. I have been practicing on the train sloping arms and that sort of thing so I go down and I'm on guard now you want to listen to this Jo,

(Clare: yes sit down and listen and stop fiddling)

cause it will make you laugh. So I go down and I'm on the guard and I've forgotten what guard duty I was on, I can't tell cause it was dark and it's over-- what's the word when guard... --the guard is mounted and I hadn't made a fool of myself. I'd presented arms and sloped arms and stood at ease

(Clare:" Was that on the ... or on the boat?")

It was on the boat, you see and I thought well thank God that's over. I do my turn of guard duty. I haven't had time to eat.

"At that time there was some sort of civilian worker on the boat, he was Javanese and he wore a feather in his cap. So I said :'I say have you got any supper.' Well I hadn't realised in all my glory with things on my collars and my bandoleer I must have looked like God Almighty come down on Earth, you see.

Sam Kingston's voice                       Click to hear, it takes a few seconds

And he said: 'Yes sir, yes sir.' He said: 'Wait, wait'. In two minutes he was back with a silver tray with Ham sandwiches about that thick, a pot of coffee and sugar and milk. And I thought, now look you Sam, you had a bad impression of the army but perhaps it hasn't got into it's stride and life is not so bad for the cavalry after all. I mean they treat you... There could have been all sorts of problems in the background.

Truly quite innocently I sat down and I drank all the coffee and I eat all the sandwiches. It didn't satisfy my hunger but it was a civilised way of living and I put the tray down and I went below decks to the guardroom and I went on duty, then eventually the guard was dismounted and I go back to my mates and I had hardly gone back there and they said: 'Taff, you can't you're on fire picket.' I said 'Look no-one could, there must be some other people in the army besides me, you know'. I said: 'That's not true. Someone's pulling my leg.' I go up to the sort of office room, I don't know what to call it, and there's a circular window and there's a notice up, you see, and I'm there I have been on guard duty and I'm on fire picket immediately afterwards. I thought this is a racket. I'm fuming, I mean there's other people in the army besides me. And then such language is coming out from the office. You'd never heard it, and I had never heard it myself. The officer who was on duty that day, somebody had pinched his supper. Well, immediately the penny dropped and that was me, you see. Well, I had read quite a lot of Agatha Christie and I knew about finger prints and that and I thought God... And, of course, my facade crumbled. I thought really perhaps being a soldier is more than I bargained for and I could see myself being hanged drawn and quartered. So I nipped on deck and I threw the lot over board. That's getting rid of all that. If there are any finger prints on there they won't find them. So I wasn't deceitful but I didn't tell anybody. I sort of kept it to myself, and they never found who pinched them... but the search was on.

("You said this was while you were still on the ship?").

"On the ship, yes. And we didn't know where we were going to then.

("Was this going from Marseille?").

"Going from Marseille to Haifa, but we didn't know that then. We knew that we weren't going to Germany because we realised we were coming south of Marseille, some people knew it before. And now there was all sort of theories going about. Well, just at this period there was some of the chaps in, Signals. We were signals to the cavalry by this time, some of the blokes they had radios and Lord Haw Haw was on there. Well everybody tells you what lies he told. Well when he came over on the radio he spoke absolutely 100% accurate. He said 'er I hate,' he said this in very polished English, 'I hate to tell the mothers and sisters and loved ones of those people who are at Marseille,' he said. There's this squadron, there's this division. There's so many men, he said: 'and most of the men are the cream of the British society,' he said. 'They are boarding,' and he gave the name of the ship, don't ask what it was you'll find out from somewhere. He said: 'but none of them will reach the other side. They will be torpedoed half way in the Med. So they will be food for the fishes,' you see. He was absolutely accurate on the numbers and the regiments and the details and I don't know what else. So this didn't put me in a very sort of happy frame of mind."

"When was that?").

"That would be about November 1939, when war broke out, the same year."

("So you did you basic training in about eight weeks?")

"I didn't do any basic training. I had all my work cut out keeping all these.... You have no idea what it's like coming out from a peaceful monastery into active life. It was all go first of all we had two tailors."

"How could they send you abroad without basic training?").

"There were lots of people like that. We had two tailors. We weren't allowed to go on the streets until we had our breeches shaped properly and our shoulders squared, so we looked like... and our waists taken in."

"When you say squared you mean with epaulettes on?").

"No, no filled in a bit so we looked.... You looked a gentleman and you were properly turned out."

"You had padding inside the shoulder which made it square?")

"Oh I don't know, I suppose it was some kind of padding. It was sewing as far as I could see, but then we were given a good foundation and the army issue was taken in at the waist, so as you had some sort of shape."

"You used the word bandoleer, which is an 18th century word which refers to... )

"We didn't have bandoleers we had belts. We used to have bandoleers afterwards. We had canvas or linen cases for the cartridge, for the ammunition.... The rifle besides being big and the old people, 35, 30 whatever, they tried to put the fear of God up to you. They said when you fight they'll shoot back, oh and you know, mind your foot."

"And of course, the more nervous you get {the more difficult it gets} and....."

("Did you have a horse).

"Yes, but the point is we didn't have horse on parade on the boat. We were on foot. Well we had a squadron of horses.

("But you said the horses were on the train?")

"Yes and they were on the boat.

(Clare: "I think my Dad means when he was mounting guard he didn't have to mount guard on horses.")

"Oh we didn't mount guard on horseback.


What were you laughing at it might have happened. But they were in the holds or something. I don't know where they were, they were not in the hold, what do you call it, what's the second deck?"

("I don't know a hold will do for me.")

"It's not the correct word, but the point was it was really, you weren't bored, because I didn't know what was coming from one minute to the next."

("Could you ride a horse?")

"Yes of course I could."


"Well, what do you mean why! I rode at Caldi.

(At where?)

At Caldi one of the....

(when you were on the island, the monastery)

Did I ever tell you that story?"

("I found a cutting about unloading coal at Caldi.")

"No, but did I ever tell you the story about my ..... Well on Caldi we had a number of horses, you see. They weren't meant for riding; they were meant for farm work. But Prince was a nice horse, he was a really nice horse and I liked him. Well, we always had quite a lot of work to do and at one period I was looking after the sheep. But it didn't cut me off from the monastic life, I had to be there in time for the service, so it was one bloody thing after another I was rushing. So innocently I thought what I can do, Prince and I get on well together, I'll ride him. We used to ride back in Ebbw Vale, we used to catch ponies in the mountains. I thought I'll ride him to the end of the island."

("Did you use to ride bare back?")

"In Ebbw Vale we did, I didn't here I put a saddle on him."

("In Caldi.").

Yes. And I rode over, you see, sort out the sheep and was back without being shattered and I was only going to do it once, but I did it a few times. Well then the sub novice master, the novice master was all right, but the sub novice master I don't think he had much experience of dealing with young men and he saw me."

("it must have been a bit of a disadvantage in a monastery?")

"Well it was a disadvantage, young men. He'd come from college to university, from university to seminary and from seminary to.... he'd never been in the world. The novice master was a different type completely he was... But the point was he found out, he saw me and he gave me a rocketing, you see. He said:" You don't come to enjoy life. This is prayer and penance' and you know... So anyhow , so I had had some experience. And also we used to ride home when we could catch a horse, we'd ride it bareback with rope on.

(Arthur: "Grandad do you want some stuff for the compost?")

"Oh yes, but I won't take it home. I'll leave it to you to bring it down next time you come. Horses I liked, I got on well; but coming back to the boat, they were secondary, after listening to Lord Haw Haw, we were more... at least I was more or less thinking how I'm going to save myself when we're torpedoed, you see. But we got to the other side."

("There probably weren't any U boats in the Mediterranean, I should have thought.")

"Oh there were, I should think so. I don't know I can't argue the toss, I've got no idea."

("Early on in the war there was a big naval battle going on between the Royal Navy and the...)

"It was very scaring. So when you say you're bored it was one bloody thing after another right for years on end. I wouldn't say I was ever bored. I was scared sometimes, and mostly not so much scared as unbelieving, you know, you couldn't believe that you were still surviving. If I tell you many of the things were absolutely awful. I mean we were machine gunned once. And there was no hope of surviving. No one ever survived. They were methodically being machined and then the bloke next to me was machine gunned and we were right down cuddling the sand and then they flew away didn't they. They'd finished I don't know whether they'd run out of ammunition or petrol or what but, you see. And this sort of thing happened constantly one thing, in different ways. You weren't bored. I won't think it was boredom."

("There was a lot of waiting about doing nothing waiting for the next moment of terror.")

"That wasn't boredom though. There was more or less anxiety, there was a great deal of anxiety, I remember. Which is not quite the same you see, anxiety. I mean the ordinary chap didn't know what was going on really and you'd pick up bits of information, like for example we didn't get any mail I think until about August 1940 for about six months or more we didn't get any mail and then you got mail but it didn't come in the same date as you had it. I received a letter, not then but later on, Ma had died, you see. Then a few weeks after you got a letter from her, you see. And this sort of thing. Is this pastry?

(No it's fillings).

(Did you put some lemon juice on that to stop it going brown?)

So really I couldn't give you a true description. You know I would be confused with the dates, really, because after the beginning of the war you had nothing to go by. You didn't know where it was, you hardly remember whether it was August or September or what it was."

("What did you do with your horse when you got there?")

"When we got there we took them down into Haifa and then they were taken by train up to.... I can't think of the name of the town. I've got it on the tip of my tongue.

(“Which country was it in?”)

"Oh it was in Palestine. And then they were moved from

there to Mount Carmel and then we were left in a division with only a troop left."

("How many people were in a troop?").

"Oh, I don't know Jo, I never had time to work out that. I've got no idea, I wouldn't like to argue it, you must remember.... to argue the number of troops and the number of people,. Everything was new, completely new. I was only able to keep my head above...

("So what happened to your horse?")

"I'm not 100% what happened. They were there and they were taken away and I don't know quite what became of them. I presume that some were sold.

("You said you worked in the cookery sometimes. Did you cook any horse meat?")


("What about the ones that were sold, who were they sold to?")

"I've no idea. Perhaps some were returned back to England, cause the senior officers, when we became mechanised, they didn't carry on with us they returned home in all their glory and I suppose their own private horses went back with them. I don't know I was not...

("Did the horses ever get involved in fighting?")

"No. In Syria yes, there was one lot."

("Were you involved in that?")

"Not personally. I was in Syria, but I wasn't involved in the battle as such. I think that was the only time when there was a real..... It was there it was found out, that they were not, what are you laughing at, that it was not viable for war. What are you laughing at? You would have thought we would have known before hand, wouldn't you."

(Clare: "In Syria lots of the native people ride horses, Jo, and camels.")

("But I think in mechanised warfare with machine guns and tanks light artillery and howitzers, horses are going to be..." )

"Oh yes I'm joking... But the point is we were completely unprepared. We had to show some sort of strength. I remember when we were going down in the train we had to shave. It was snowing, drizzle, not snow, sleeting and we were outside shaving and you cut yourself more than you shave and the Sergeant Major he came around and he said 'look bloody smart,' he said, 'you're gentlemen'. He said: 'you represent England'. And of course it's wet and we haven't got any water anyhow, and we're standing in a station. We got some water somewhere."

"But they had no idea in the beginning. I think now its 90% show and 10% war."

("Where did you enlist?")

"Duke of Yorks."

("What is the Duke of Yorks, where is that?").

"Oh, it's the barracks in London. It was, I don't know whether it is now. It's in Chelsea."

("I knew about the Chelsea pensioners.")

"No, that's not the Duke of Yorks. That's not the same thing. Chelsea pensioners is not in the Duke of York. The Duke of York, what it's used for now I don't know but it was the headquarters of a number of cavalry and yeomanry regiments at that time."

("Including your regiment.").

"It's not now."

("Where did you go once you'd signed up? Did you go to a barracks?").

"No, never. Belgrave Square."

("What was in Belgrave Square, a hotel?")

"Private house."

("And you were billeted there?")

"Oh well there was no civilians there. There was the Duke and Duchess of Kent on the left hand side and on the right had side there was the Duke and Duchess of Athlone. And we were in the centre."

("That sounds like a pretty prestigious address! How did it happen?")

"I don't know, I only came just before war broke out. I was just there and the house was our's. I don't know quite all the details. I wasn't there."

("Who else was there apart from you.")

"Oh, all the number one squadron."

("Which is what you were in?")


("Apart from issuing you with two tailors....")

"a hair dresser."

("A hairdresser and a very")

"smart uniform."

("A rifle which had got grease all over. What else did they do for you?")

"Oh no they didn't issue a uniform. We had to go down to the Duke of York's to get the uniform. We went down by taxi, and got the uniform and came back and we were shaped up. And that's all they did."

("Didn't they do any drill?")

"No drill, no drill at all."

("How did they introduce you to the horse?")

"The horse was at the Duke of Yorks. There was no horse in Belgrave Square. The others were already initiated, you must remember that. I'm the only uninitiated one there, and I'm also the youngest. So I'm in more or less a special position. So when I was more capable and more presentable I went down the Duke of York's on foot and got it there. And we also went up to Brompton Oratory for church service on Sunday, but went by taxi once again."

("What was the regimental mascot?")

"The divisional mascot was a fox. A fox stamped on everything, yes. As a regiment we kept the division. The first cavalry division fox on all our things. But there was, it wasn't a mascot, we didn't have a mascot I was going to say somebody somewhere had a cat but that wasn't particularly..... I know a cat survived somewhere. I never saw a mascot."

("Which station did you embark from?")

"Victoria, we went to Victoria."

("So you were just given orders, go to Victoria?)

"No, no we weren't given orders to go anywhere we were just told to be ready, to leave. We weren't told were we were going."

("So how did you know to go to Victoria?")

"I suppose, I'm only one of the crowd. We were in trucks. We were in trucks and the horses were as far as we knew the horses were in the Duke of Yorks but they were either gone before....

("Had you had any practice riding the horses, before?")

"No I had nothing but I had sort of made an acquaintance with them."

("What was the name of your horse?")

"I didn't have a horse as such, I shared Blacky with some, you know... I didn't have him as such. I shared him with, what's his name, another chap."

("So you got the train to...")

"I'm not sure where, I think it must have been Newhaven, but I'm not quite certain it could have been Dover. But I think it was Newhaven because I don't recollect seeing anything you know, Dover's sort of bigger effort more...."

("I don't think I've ever been to Newhaven to be honest!")

"But I'm not certain I could be completely wrong."

("And then you sailed across the channel to Dieppe.")

"Dieppe yes."

("And from Dieppe you went by train to Marseille?")


("And you never came back to England until after the war?")

"Until the end of the War."

("How had Wales changed?")

"Oh I don't know, I hadn't been there for a long time before hand, so it was already changing, I suppose."

("Your family changed, you say ma died?")

"People die, yes. I thought that was someone falling down there."

("It's just Arthur.")

"I suppose it had changed but I didn't really notice it. I'll be quite honest I had so much on my own plate of my own, I didn't... And also there was a certain amount of.. I suppose they gave me a certain prestige. I didn't know that at the time. But looking back I suppose in colourful uniform the only one in the town as far as I know I suppose it gave me a certain.... There not from the garden are they Clare?


I suppose they must have changed, I don't know how they changed. To me,

changed, because there was two things first of all they thought I definitely won't become a monk and also the uniform as far as I know I was the only cavalry bloke in Ebbw Vale, who marched down with breeches and spurs you see."

("Did you have spurs right to the end, even when you didn't have any horses any more?")

"No we didn't have them to the end, when you say right to the end you mean right to the end of the war? Oh no, no, no as soon as the horses came off in 1940 I don't know I think perhaps about March or April in 1940 oh no we had gone into the desert we had got rid of the spurs and we had got into what you call it, is it drill uniform?


not heavy


not a heavy stuff but rather cotton, linen. And we still kept out epaulettes and our, what's the white thing here? We kept all the top part but we got rid of the boots, went into shoes and we wore stockings."

("Who paid for your uniform when you first got it?")

"I don't know, I didn't."

("The army provided it.")

"Oh yes, of course they did, they provided everything."

("I don't think they did for officers, for example.")

"Oh no well the officers had the dress uniform, for example, didn't they. They had at least two lots of uniform. They had dress uniform and with there sword as well...."

("Did you have a sword?")

"No, no, no I had enough problems with a rifle. But they get a grant for their uniform a few hundred pounds. You'll be jealous as you weren't in the army, Jo."

("No I'm not very jealous.")

"But it's interesting to have survived, it's unbelievable really. And of course what is more unbelievable is that you can't believe that everybody else is queer after four or five {years}, except you. You can't see any change in yourself. I suppose somebody who knew me before hand could."

("By queer you mean unusual, strange or deranged.")

"Yes, everybody after a number of years in the war in the desert or in the trenches, they must be a changed person. I mean they may kid themselves on if they say they left with the same idea, they started."

("It's just that queer has a particular meaning!")

"I know I said that I didn't mean queer in the sense of what you're thinking."

("When you say you were in the desert it was in Egypt was it?")

"Mostly. In Syria, but mostly in the Western desert, yes, Egypt."

("Syria is north of.." )

"Yes but we went back to Palestine when we went back to Egypt. Our first taste was Syria."

("Which deserts do they have in Syria?")

"I don't know, it was desert land, not so much, more rocky than sandy, as it was in the western desert."

("The Golan Heights.")

"No I'd never heard of the Golan Heights until Israel came along. I think it was something, I could be wrong, but it was something to do with De Gaulle eventually wasn't it. didn't De Gaulle sign some peace with... I'm not sure of the details."

("When you became a mechanised unit did you have a tank?")

"We had tanks, I didn't have a tank. We had tanks, we were in tanks. That's what mechanisation is. The whole division, not only our Squadron. The whole division had tanks."

("How did they arrive.")

"I've got no idea, I suppose they must have come by train, I mean by boat. It's obvious, I wasn't there at Cairo when they came. They rumbled up the desert. I mean there was already thousands, I don't mean thousands, I exaggerate. There was already hundreds of tanks in the desert. We were only a small part of it."

("Were you sorry when you had to give up the horse?")

"Oh yes, the sorrow was not so much that. But we got dispersed and we got a mixture of other people coming who weren't 100% gentlemen, who didn't have the background, shall we say."

("You got officers...")

"Not so much officers. The officers yes, but the men they were just a different point. As the war continued you got some of them were more scruffy."


"Well perhaps, I don't know. Some of them they didn't take a pride in their you know..... We were scruffy but we tried not to be. Oh no, when the mechanisation occurred. There was a complete.... Not immediately but the change came. Our officers, for instance, our senior officer, what's his name, who's the bloke Rommel and...."

("I think he was on the other side.").

"Who's the bloke on our side?"


"Monty, Gatehouse, Clarke at one period, these were the new officers. None of them were connoisseurs of whisky or women. They all drank coffee. Black coffee and water. And they planned advances or retreats, you see. It was completely different. Previously all the cavalry officers they would see first things first. When they went to war they had sufficient whisky and booze up at the front, wherever they.. well they weren't up the front. These other people up the front. Headquarters moved. I remember discovering Nescafe because it didn't exist before the war and it must have come in during the war and I remember this I couldn't believe it, it was a different.. , I pinched, I saw it in this General or Major's luggage, his batman said 'have a taste of this Taff'. And it doesn't sound like real coffee now but it tasted like real coffee. I said 'this is lovely'. He said 'yes, he's bought about 40 tins from England', he'd come out. I said that's lovely. And when the bloke went out of the tent. I think perhaps to get the cups out, I don't know what. I thought he won't miss one. so I grabbed one and sort of, before then unless you had real coffee you only had coffee in jars, Camp coffee. So all our officers survived on whisky diluted, you know."

("It's funny to be in a place like the Middle East which is famous for its coffee houses and different types of coffee and to actually bring horrible Nescafe with you?")

"Well the point is in the desert you couldn't have any choice of coffee, real coffee, you couldn't just beans or anything like that. Of course it doesn't sound so good now you know Clare's a connoisseur. She'll tell you that this coffee is better than that. But then it was marvellous."

("You could have it just by pouring hot water in it!")

"Yes. It was unbelievable. You see the point was you'd had tea, but you didn't have tea bags. So when you had tea, you had a mug of tea, now before you drank it the top was covered in dead flies, and you got rid of those and then you went down the bottom, and you had to be careful the bottom was full of tea leaves, wasn't it. But this was something new, we didn't we never got it. I had that tin, but that was only opportunity I ever had. But, you know, it put a new glimmer into life. But I was scared very often, you know, I couldn't believe, I couldn't think how they could do without me, so I thought I would live, but on the other hand I couldn't believe it realistic."

("Yes, well you were lucky.")

"Oh yes. I sort of, I'm not quite sure. You have a load of mixed feelings. You can't honestly say you're afraid because there are so many other feelings mixed up you haven't got time. You're sort of surviving, but you are, when you've got time to think, after six months or nine months, you wonder if it can ever end. People said it would end by Christmas, you see. And then you get more and more, what's the word, primitive in a sense, you haven't shaved you only dry cleaned your teeth for about two or three weeks, you haven't cleaned you teeth properly. You feel a bit, and of course you also had a load of this violet unction is it called Violet unction, is that what it's called?"

("It's the stuff that you put on yourself when you get ill or... ")

"Yes that's right. Well I didn't have much but a lot of people had, they were like native warriors" {"with these great big patches all over the place"} "because they never washed you see, or if you had a damp flannel once a month or something over your face but not enough to wash anything off."

("You didn't have the water?")

"Didn't have the water, therefore this paint or this dye or whatever it was, would remain. Well, if say you got bitten there, it got put there and you had a bit there, well it would remain and you had a growth of beard perhaps not much, but if you were a dark bloke you looked too frightened to be able to die, you looked like something out of hell after a couple of weeks. I remember Taffy, this was one of the chaps who came in. Now he was dirty lying, thieving, untrustworthy, sexually perverted Welshman, and he adopted me you see because he was against the English as much as anything. Now he..."

("You were the only other Welshman in the regiment?")

"I was the only one in the Division. And I suppose he thought we had everything in common, you see, which we didn't. Now you can't very well...."

("Didn't you tell him you'd been a monk?")

"No I didn't tell anybody. I had enough problems to keep up without telling my past. They thought I'd been in prison, I think really. Cause my hair was growing, but it hadn't grown, you know. But the point was it was really funny, now he was dark and he was short and every fly and stuff, bit him. So he had this all over him and he had a hairy chest. He looked scruffy anyway."

("So you said they put the Violet Unction on whenever they got bitten by a.." )

"I think, as far as I can remember, it's like iodine."

(Clare: "The Irish children used to have it at school when they cut themselves.")

("Did it do any good?")

(Clare: "It was antiseptic.")

"You didn't have a first aid bloke. There was a first aid tent somewhere in the background. But, as far as I can remember, they gave somebody, I'm not sure whether they gave every tank or every... But quite often somebody would give you this. I'm not sure who it was. You didn't do it yourself. You always had someone around who would."

("I've seen medical kits which were issued to all...." )

"Oh yes, they were different. You carried those permanently. But this wasn't, this was like iodine, more or less, I think it could be that each unit had some, I can't remember.

("Did you sleep in tents?")


("But you had a medical tent.")

"I say a medical tent, a medical truck shall we say rather than tent. A medical place."

("So what did you sleep in?")


("You didn't have a tent?")

"We had nothing."

("You just slept out in the open?")


("You didn't even have a bivouac?")

"Oh no. I never slept in a bed until I went to South Africa. But we didn't have beds in Belgrave Square. We had biscuits on the floor there."


"They're squares of mattress about the size of those squares and it was three each."

("Living next door to the Duke of Athlone?")

"It was marble floors, by the way.

("It must have been bloody cold?")

"It was but you had more than one blanket, you had plenty of blankets. And you had plenty of liquor to warm you up."

("What about when you went on the ship?")

"Had hammocks."

("This was going across from Marseille. Going across the Channel, you didn't even sleep?")

"We had nothing there. We all just sat down, we were on deck and on whatever."

("Why did they send you to South Africa when they demobbed you?")

"I think this doctor had a, I don't know I don't know his name, his paper work, helped me along."

("Why did it help you to South Africa?")

"You couldn't go anywhere else really, you couldn't cut through."

("From there you were shipped back to?")

"I went across South Africa to Cape Town, Cape Province. And then we went to Liverpool from there. We went round more or less to America then to Liverpool."

("You went to America?")

"Not to America but right out, you know, we didn't keep into the land we went right out into the Ocean."

("A long journey?")

"It was quite long. That was the worst part, really. That was the worst part of the war. First of all you had, I think, 14 men to a table and you had 14 men sleeping above that table and they were a mixture. Very few cavalry blokes amongst them, mostly rough blokes and a lot... You had no water, you had the water on a tap was on each deck for half an hour in the morning and half an hour at night."

("Why couldn't you use the sea water?")

"Well you couldn't use sea water for washing, you could in a sense but it made you sticky afterwards. And also you only had three showers and I've forgotten how many thousand. The boat was built I think I'm right in saying for 600 passengers."

("So it was a liner?")

"Yes. And there were 2,000 soldiers on there plus civilians, plus the staff, and I've forgotten I think 500 officers. So you can imagine, when you got up in the morning first of all at night the stench was unbelievable and you had two lots of feet at your nose, you see, unwashed feet. If it got unbearable you went on deck perhaps, but you had to fight your way on deck underneath all these.... Once you got on deck it required a great courage to face the smell again, it was even worse then and there was no seating accommodation so if you can imagine a football match the crowd coming out the decks were like that all the time. You walked round and round and round. Unless you could skip your breakfast and find one of the very few seats there were, but if you got up to go to the toilet or something, it was gone anyhow. And most of the blokes were, what's the word I'm looking for, not nervous wrecks, but they had some sort of repercussions, you know, of various sorts.

("Shell shock?")

"Shell shock, yes that's the word I'm looking for. Like for example, if a plane was going overboard you'd see them screaming. And then there were a few, not many, who just didn't bother to... They'd given up looking after themselves. I remember there was one bloke in particular. A lot of them had BO, but this was really... Most people made an effort to do something, they might not have a wash every day but they would try to.... This got so bad that his mates stripped him and turned the hose pipes on him and they had those hard brooms, you see, well you can imagine the screaming there was but there was almost a delight in hearing him scream. You know the blokes were... You could tell there was an animal instinct developing."

("What was the name of the boat.")

"Oh I've got no idea. I've forgotten if I ever knew. I have forgotten most of it, but it was really that was absolutely awful, really terrible."

("What was it like coming into Liverpool.")

"I don't remember except that I had in Cape Town I had heard about rations in England, and I didn't know exactly what was rationed, you know you sort of get confused. And I spent a lot of money, most of my money I had at the time on things like sugar and raisins and tea, stuff I thought would be needed. I got rid of some of my kit and filled my kit bag, not filled it but I had quite a lot of this and when I got to Liverpool and I got my kit bag back on the train to, I suppose, Cardiff, I have forgotten now, I have forgotten now, but coming down south anyhow, my kit bag was completely empty it was full of newspapers so I suppose there was a lot of thieving going on which was understandable.

A man in the Desert

By Sam Kingston

It was a war, some people called it "the war" which was the cause of his finding himself in the Western Desert. It was not by choice, it was fate or providence that had arranged for his first introduction to the desert. It was a meeting of strangers, each summing up the other before any relationship developed. The desert doesn't suffer fools gladly, neither does it display its attraction to all comers indiscriminately.

It was an experience that could not have been imagined before his arrival here. There was sand everywhere-- a vast wilderness of sand. As in dreams there is a confusion of the past and the present, so it was now. There was no time scale, mornings and nights continued but no days of the week, no weeks or months or seasons that could be distinguished. It did not become more real as the days went by; it was as if time was suspended. A very slight breeze and all the foot and wheel marks in the sand were obliterated. it was the same as it was before the arrival of these foreign arming, smooth, clean, untouched.

The landscape did not offer him any sense of security or permanence, or enable him to grasp onto reality. There was a sameness about the desert yet it was never the same.

A wind in the desert was the occasion when nature really took control. The soldiers rolled themselves in their blankets with their rifles and waited for the storm to blow itself out. When they emerged afterwards, bleary eyed like a drunk they were for a short while disorientated. Where there had been sand dunes there was no flat sand like the seashore swept clean. Where previously it had been flat there were no hillocks of sand. The whole landscape was changed, that which had ceased to exist, and what was not was there now before his eyes.

With the peace after the sandstorm there also returned the sun and with it heat and the glaring dazzling sun and the search for shade in those few inches at the side of the tank or truck. The sun rose higher and higher and the area of the shadow became smaller and smaller. The rifle was hot to the touch while it was being cleaned; the sand was hot when you sat on it the chlorine water was hot when he wetted his lips to avoid dying of thirst.

The flies alone were unaffected by the heat. They continued their unending search for food. Throughout the day they would come in their hundreds, when he rested exhausted they would fly and rest on every part of his body. The corners of the eyes and the nostrils were the most vulnerable, there amongst the sweat and dust they would settle to search for food. If he decided to eat then the soldier and his food would be obliterated by the black buzzing crawling mass of flies. Every mouthful of food contained it quota of dead flies. Each mug of tea had a sediment of sand at the bottom and the top was covered with drowned dead fliers. There was no escape.

When night times came-- and darkness came very suddenly in the desert-- there might then be an opportunity for rest. Rolled in his blanket his head on a slight ride (pillow of sand) he would feel the slight tremor from the movement of unseen tanks and the dull sound of far away shell fire. Would it never end, even the flies seemed to stop?

He would not realise he had been asleep until he was awakened by the cold, a beautiful cold night. It was a continual surprise to him to see the sky at night. The various constellations were the opposite way around to what they are in the northern hemisphere. The stars were more numerous, the falling stars more frequent. Within a few months he had already begun to enjoy this night time awakening with the stars and the cold air.

Then unexpectedly came the morning. Like sunset it always arrived very quickly. It was dawn then there was a rapid change from the sunrise on the horizon to the beginning of another hot glaring day. The heat came from everything and the flies were always awake and around before anyone. Another day had begun.

He had started his desert campaign with all the accoutrements of a modern soldier. Now, except for his rifle, water bottle and a stolen blanket, it had all disappeared. Things like soap where used up and it was not possible to get fresh supplies. What was the use of soap anyhow, without the water? Other possessions were lost in the continued advancing or retreating, in the packing and unpacking, or it was found that they were an unnecessary encumbrance. It was found not so much kit was needed, survival depended on the will rather than those possessions he had in his kit bag. The things that were really needed-- twenty fly swats and twenty hands with which to use them all simultaneously and a tap with a constant flow of cold water, these were not possible to acquire and his other possessions were not worth the effort to keep.

There was a feeling of being alone, of being separated from all other fellow human beings, but this was not loneliness. For company he had the sand, which was all around constantly moving and changing. It was a personal struggle when he had to come to terms not only with the desert but with himself. He existed, he though, and this was something that he was unable to share with anyone. As he had depended on his parents for bringing him into existence so now he felt that it was due to his countless forebears whose genes he had inherited that had gone into the preparation for this wonderful experience of loving the desert. His thoughts could only be expressed inadequately in words so they always remained just his thoughts. So he remained along, experiencing for the first time the joy of solitude.

His companions had become brown in the sun, their eyebrows and hair had become bleached. After many weeks without news from the world outside the conversation became predictable and monotonous. There were not new subjected to discuss; this conversation only required an agreement, a grunt, or a 'yes'. Even they began to merge into the landscape, no more real than the mirage of a cool fresh water that occasionally. passed in fantasy before his eyes.

That is one of the effects of living in the desert, it is jealous for all your attentions; everything and everyone merges into it. It becomes one's whole life, it takes complete charge.

Occasionally there would be signs of figures on the horizon. A few camels and their riders would appear, as if from nowhere, a "Salem Ali lam" and on they would pass again to nowhere. There did not appear to be any track, they were not lost, they just came and went and became merged into the desert and were gone.

There were a few times when the soldiers stumbled on a village. They called it a village but it was a few mud huts-- which seem to have some sort of wooded shuttered window holes-- the huts were all surrounding a water hole. The expectation of what they hoped to find in a village was quickly turned to disappointment because there was nothing there, no green of palm trees or cultivation. Nothing except a few huts and a few people who looked more like the landscape then even the soldiers. No women were visible or at least not recognisable, a few men, a couple of toddlers, the camels and a water hole. They were so small and insignificant against the great vastness of the desert. They must have given all their energy and thoughts into just staying alive. They collected their camel dung for fire while the smallness of their thoughts showed through in their eyes, it appeared in the smallness of their possessions against the greatness of their surroundings. He was unable to forget this, the reality of seeing man in his true perspective, small, very small in comparison to the greatness of the desert.

Like all great love relationships there is a "giving and taking", and the desert gives to her lovers the discovery of themselves.

There was a change of outlook in the soldier in the end but it was not that he gained a victory over the desert but rather over himself. The desert remains a mystery and in control.

Arthur's interview of his grandfather, Sam Kingston,

Saturday September 10, 1994.

Sam: Saturday was a special day, because Saturday was when the stoves and the fires were let out, Saturday morning. So we had no gas or electricity so everything was cooked on the fire so when you came down on Saturday morning you opened the wooden shutters from the window but there was no light in the fire because the fire had been let out

Arthur: In a little poem that we had it said about this man who when he was young used to get like a penny if he did his chores and he used to get it on Saturday and go out and buy stuff.

Sam: That's right. I had a penny, I used to have a penny pocket money but I was able to save that and lend it out on interest to my sisters. They always spent their pocket money. But I always went to market with my Aunt on a Saturday morning where she used to buy supplies for the shop and for the house but she couldn't read or write, so I used to read for her the price of things in the market, for example a 7 lb box of sweets might be 3/6d.

Arthur: In this poem it said that on Saturdays they got a special meal, they got fish and chips.

Sam: No we always had fish and chips on a Friday. Friday was a... we didn't eat any meat and we always used to have a mountain of chips and masses of fish. Always the best quality fish, fresh Hake that used to come up from the sea, up from the coast, on Thursday night and it used to be the whole fish or a couple of fish were bought and they were chopped into cutlets and fried in oil (open the door, switch it off) Saturday was the only day when we didn't get a cooked lunch. Quite often on Saturday because the fire had been out and cooking had been suspended when the fire was lit we boiled the water for a cup of tea or might make some toast, when you came back from the market you might have bought say ham or faggots, or sausages and which you had...

Arthur: In this little poem thing it said about like on Saturday everyone had a bath they had a bath in the kitchen on a table.

Sam: That's right. (thank you) we used to have a big round wooden bath and these were

taken down into the scullery, which was a more or less kitchen which was called the scullery, or in front of the fires for me because I was a little boy and the boiling water was taken off the freshly lit fire, masses of boiling water or it also was taken from the shed, grown ups used to bring it in from the shed pour it into the wooden tub and you bathed there in front of the fire or if you were a grown up you would bath down in the scullery. The water was very soft so you only had a little soap and you'd have beautiful foamy soapy like a foam bath.

Arthur: It says like that people have to do chores to get their penny pocket money. Did you ever do chores?

Sam: Yes , I used to look after the shop and I said go down to market to read the prices of the things on the market stalls. My one sister used to clean the knives and forks and the brass, brass candlesticks, 'cause we always used candlesticks for candles to see about the house, you see. So everything was clean on a Saturday. Friday and Saturday was Spring cleaning day for the shop, for the stalls for everything.

Arthur: Did you used to use newspaper for toilet paper?

Sam: We didn't, mostly they did but we were lucky because the soft paper that came in the shop to wrap up some of the things, like for example fruit or something, or also there was a blue soft paper, we used to use that but we always had newspaper which was part of the tradition you always tore up newspaper into squares and hang it in the toilet, which was outside. No toilets were indoors.

Arthur: Did you have to share a toilet with someone, like with other families?

Sam: No because we had a house separated, and a house and a shop and a garden so no, no we didn't....

Arthur: Who cleaned the toilet? Did someone clean the toilet?

Sam: Oh yes every day one of the women. I had five female cousins in the house and they were always working, either cleaning or polishing or knitting or sowing

Arthur: And you got the easy job by looking after the shop.

Sam: No, no it wasn't easy job. I wasn't capable of any other I was only small. I could only see as far as the counter you see. I used to always take my dog for a walk.

My home was a house and a shop. The front of the shop faced down onto Ebbw Vale. The back was a mountain which led onto Brynmawr. Saturday morning this was on the main road from Ebbw Vale to Brynmawr so you would see a constant stream of people going to the market either in Ebbw Vale or Brynmawr with their produce, you see.

Arthur: You said that you could see the whole town.

Sam: Oh, you were up you see. Ebbw Vale was built in the valley, it was built in the valley of the Ebbw there it goes like a V shape we were up this side and it went down over the bridge over the railway up the other side and therefore you could look. People, there were no buses and no cars and therefore people would walk with their shopping or whatever they were carrying. And so you would see everybody before they had time to see you because they were striding up the hill and you could see them, you see, and they would be talking of course.

All my clothes were hand made. My socks were hand knitted. My jerseys were knitted. My trousers were tailor made at home. My shoes were hand made. My boots, they weren't shoes. Boots.

Arthur: Who made them?

Sam: Well, the boots were made by the cobblers down the town, Sloper his name was. I think perhaps that was peculiar. I don't remember... Friends bought their shoes.

We used to have two sewing machines in the kitchen and this was constantly being on the go by two of the women of the household who were not only making clothes, they were making curtains, cushions, table cloths. There was a constant activity in the kitchen.

Arthur: On Saturday did you sort of have a treat, or have cocoa or something?

Sam: Having a treat, no. The treat was going down to the market in the morning. As I was small everything was new to me so we used to go down to the market to buy or to order our supplies for the shop.

Arthur: Did you share your room with someone?

Sam: No, I had a box room.

Arthur: A box?

Sam: This is a little room in the corner, which I presume must have been used for... We used to call it the box room. It was only a slight, small room but it was for me it was always full of interest because there was always some cupboard or drawer or travelling bag or something which I had never seen before I was always finding things. I remember my greatest discovery was in the washing stand drawer I found about four dozen, three or four dozen boxes of wedding cake. I couldn't believe it. I must. And they were mouldy but they were cake, you see. Some of them were mouldy so I tried to eat them you see. And they were terrible but they were cake, they must be edible and of course I was pretty sick afterwards.

Arthur: Did your sisters, or your cousins have to share a room?

Sam: No my sisters in my father's house did but down our house they didn't share a room. I think Theresa and Alice perhaps shared a room, yes, one of them did.

Arthur: In this writer's thing it said that the baby had to sleep in a drawer. Did anyone ever sleep in a drawer?

Sam: Not in our house, because we didn't have any babies but I do know babies in my Aunt's house who slept in the bottom (they pull the drawer out of course) of a chest of drawers, yes.

Arthur: Is it true you sisters used to resent you?

Sam: Used to what?

Arthur: Resent you because...

Sam: Oh, I didn't realise at the time but I suppose they must have because my one sister who came down to live with me, to help clean my shoes and see I looked smart for school. I remember one morning she was fed up and she said what a dirty boy I was and she was scrubbing my face with a nail brush and I screamed, and I kicked her and then she said I was no gentleman, you know, to kick a woman and of course I got told off by everybody for being a bully. But it wasn't really my fault I was only small. I was on a table to be washed in the kitchen so I must have been small.

Arthur: Is it true they once sewed your shirts to your trousers

Sam: Eh?

Arthur: They sewed your shirts..

Sam: No I did I sewed my.. Yes she sewed my.... What happened was, I remember the first pair of trousers I had. I was older than you, perhaps I was about 12 I suppose. Oh no, you're more than 12 aren't you? And I bought a pair of trousers from the shop, now this doesn't sound exciting but for me.... I went to the shop and I got a pair of trousers with a back pocket and two pockets in the side in which I could put marbles and string and a pen knife and pencils and everything, you see. And I went for a walk with my sister and I was climbing up a tree, I came down and I tore my trousers like a triangle so Cis said 'don't worry I've got a sewing set', so she sewed it but she sewed my shirt to my trousers. But I didn't realise this you see until I was , went home to have a wash to go to bed. I couldn't take my shirt over my head. So Cis said 'don't worry I was given the scissors'. So she cut the tail of the shirt, you see. And I got it off and I washed, innocently. I wasn't expecting any problems. And then I just put it in the dirty washing, but when they came to wash the washing they pulled it out there was my shirt and my trousers both torn you see, so I got told off, or was going to get told off, but I informed truthfully, 'I didn't do it, it was Cis'. So she got told off and the relationship wasn't so good for about a couple of hours between us.

Note from Jonathan Brind. On December 26, 1995, Sam Kingston told me the following story. I didn't take a note so the choice of words is mine.

When Sam was in the Middle East one Sunday he had some leave so he got all his clothes washed, got a wash, went to Church and felt like a new man. He was walking down the street in Cairo when he spotted a bar and decided to go and have a beer. Standing at the bar drinking, he noticed the place was full of Australians. He then got a shock when the top of the bottle his beer was in, was shot off. The beer frothed up and he couldn't drink the residue so he looked around and then ordered another beer. It wasn't long before the new beer arrived and the top was shot off that as well. Twice was enough so he started to leave the bar. As he did so one of a group of Australians said to him "you're a stand offish bastard, aren't you?" It turned out that this was a group of servicemen who had been stationed at a camp next to his. This group had spotted him on guard duty once and insisted that he go and have a beer with him, which he had done after much persuasion (though only the one). He hadn't recognised them because they all looked just the same in their uniforms.