World War II

Memories: Waterproofing carriers

Recollection prior to D-Day - waterproofing carriers

© Susan Comber-Dault 

Location: north of Romsey
Date: May 1944

By Robert J G Comber, Rifleman
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, R.C.I.C.

William Cuthbertson Calbert May 1944On locating a large hollow covered with trees we immediately began to build a small shelter. Taking a Bren Carrier tarpaulin we stretched it around a tree leaving an opening for a door. By nightfall we were fairly comfortable, complete with homemade wooden beds, an outdoor stove, well covered so that we could use it during the blackout hours. We were to be a self-contained unit of six men, doing our own cooking and our own guards.

During the next day we searched the woods for a suitable place to carry out our waterproofing operations. We chose an unused gravel pit large enough to accommodate 10 or 12 carriers and suitable camouflaged with overhanging trees. By breaking down one side of the gravel face we made a ramp-way. From this ramp we could run the finished vehicles deep into the woods under the finest natural cover. The giant beech and oaks shut out the sun all day. Here the carriers would stay until time to move to destination unknown.

It was best to work at night so that the equipment we used did not reflect the light from the sun. In a tiny bay in one corner the waterproofing kits were piled, ready for immediate use.

During the small hours of morning we were awakened by the whine and rumble of the carriers coming in. Destiny had begun its slow but steady approach. In hundreds of similar places the great machine of war had meshed its gears and slid into motion. Day and night the woods resounded to the clatter of tools on steel and clank of tracks. The carriers were drawn up ahead of the rest and they were rapidly being dismantled. A passing stranger might have thought that we were taking them apart. The reason for this was to make sure that not one part missed a good portion of waterproofing substance.

Slowly, but surely the work forged ahead, the water tight seams of bostic and asbestos compound crept through the hulls, proofing them against the sea that would pour over them on that eventful day. Each crew completed one carrier per day and this went on seven days a week.

During the short evenings we would slink off into the fields and hedges with rifles and poach an unwary pheasant or rabbit. This would make an appetising addition to our rations. With the twilight we would sit around our fire and talk of home and our escapades in civilian life. These were mild compared to some of the wild times in the army. Home was the most talked of subject. Letters home were censored so it was impossible to give the folks the least idea of what was going on. Exciting games of dice and cards were our main source of pleasure.

Image caption: Robert's best friend William Calbert in his Bren Carrier, May 1944
Copyright: Susan Comber-Dault

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