A Soldier's Tale - 3

Winteringham Local History and Genealogy

A Soldier’s Tale - Part 3, by Valerie Mercer

Bill Bent at Winteringham Bill Bent at Winteringham Camp

My next story about my dad's wartime service was at Normanby Hall, which is a beautiful Regency mansion 5 miles north of Scunthorpe. Built in 1825, it is now a tourist spot, with 300 acres of woodland, deer park, a golf course and a farming museum.

  Many people may not realise Normanby Hall became a convalescent home for injured soldiers in WW1.

  It then became a hub of activity in 1940, when once again, the army took over. The Royal Artillery had various "Ack - Ack" (Heavy Anti - Aircraft Batteries) in the area. The soldiers who manned these were billeted at Normanby Hall. The cooking was carried out in the old servants quarters. The area to the north of the hall, now a car park, was the parade ground.

  I remember my dad saying he thought, "That'll be a cushy billet," when he heard they were going to Normanby Hall, assuming they would be inside the hall, not camped outside in tents!

Normanby Hall

  In April 1944, the hall had new residents. The second Canadian Infantry arrived, followed a few months later by the "B" Squadron Water Assault Wing (WAW) of the Assault Training and Development Centre, based at Gosport in Hampshire (the "A" Squadron was based at Fritton Lake, near Great Yarmouth)

  Their mission was to test the newly - invented amphibious tanks. The testing site was to be at the bottom of Burton Stather hill, on the River Trent. The reason for this was the British Government needed new ways to cross the rivers in Germany after D - Day, especially the Rhine. It was found that the Trent was almost identical to the Rhine, in that it had muddy banks, and very similar tidal flows.

  So early one morning, the residents of Burton - Upon - Stather, got quite a shock when they heard loud rumbling sounds of traffic going down Stather Hill. There was a continous column of Army vehicles ; - lorries, tank transporters etc ; all making their way to the bottom of the hill. This area was immediately cordoned off.

  The first camp for the soldiers was along the river bank behind a house known as Lowes Farm (some of these tents flooded and the soldiers were then billeted at Winteringham Camp)

  A barrier was erected across the road where the Ferry House Inn is. Two wooden Nissen huts were erected on the green, being the base for the Military Police. My dad would have been on guard at this time, as he was "Vulnerable Points" guard, which means they guarded anything which was top - secret and could be liable to sabotage. Some tank sheds were also erected.

Tank Sheds

  These trials were very top - secret and so important that even the famous inventor of the Dambusters' Bouncing Bomb, Barnes Wallis, came to oversee proceedings ; lodging at the Ferry House Inn, (he stayed for 10 days).

  The first stage of the trials was the building of the tank ramp, or slipway, to enable the tanks to enter the river. This was carried out by the 79th Armoured Division of the Royal Engineers and the Pioneer Corps.

  The building materials were brought by lorries owned by L.G. Clugston (the firm still being in operation today) When the lorry arrived it had to stop at the barrier, the driver got out, then a soldier drove the lorry to the actual site. This was to protect the secrecy of the trials. For added secrecy, camouflage nets were erected all the way down the hill, this prevented detection from the air.

  The residents were told when the trials were in progress, not to look out of their windows and to draw their curtains. A checkpoint was set up at the top of the hill, and armed personnel patrolled the hills.

  When the slipway was finally completed, the next units to come were the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, and some Canadian units. Some were French - Canadians and the locals were bemused by their strange accents.

Valentine Tank

  When the trials finally got underway, the first type of tank used was a British - made Valentine, it had inflatable canvas skirts all round known as "flotation screens" and marine propellers. It was known as a "Double Duplex tank" or a "DD tank" for short. When the tank landed, the skirts would be deflated and the tank became a land vehicle on tracks.

This tank had a "cotton reel" at the front and laid canvas across the mud for easy landing, this device was known as a "Holy Roller".
However these soon gave way to the American - made "Sherman" tanks. The Sherman DD was slightly different in that the mat laying device was in the air at the front of the tank which would unfold the mat to support it as it came out of the water.

  To enable the tank to cross the river, a device known as the "pendulum" was used whereby a "rocket" was fired across the river towards Garthorpe, where it embedded itself in the river bank. Then a rope was winched across and would tow the tank across the river.

  While these trials were in progress, that part of the river had to be closed to shipping, so a support vessel called the R.S.C.V Dodger was continually moored by the Ferry House Inn to fulfil this task.

Valentine tank


Valentine Tank

  As 1945 approached and the war was seemingly in the allies' favour, life in the army became less rigorous. Many soldiers enjoyed the locals' hospitality and were often invited to their homes for meals.

  The village hall became a canteen where good, hot meals were served and in the evenings they were invited to dances. These were very popular with everyone, so much so that many soldiers began going out with local girls.

  When the war ended on May 8th 1945, soldiers being de-mobbed, they stayed in, or villages around, Burton Upon Stather, having by this time married local girls and settled down.

  My dad was one of these soldiers. He married my mother, who was from South Ferriby. They were married for 40 years until my dads death in 1985.

Have you tried the other Winteringham Websites?
Winteringham, Parish Council (includes current news items, photographs, weather forecasts, calendar of events, etc etc)
Don Burton World of NaturePhoto Archive (modern photographs of the village), What the Papers have said about Winteringham (since July 2004),
High Resolution Historical Photographs, Winteringham Film Archive, Winteringham Football Club, Winteringham Nature Site , Winteringham Recipes, Winteringham Sales, Winteringham Camera Club, Winteringham Village Hall

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