The War Diary of Trevor Greenwood

9th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment

27th November 1940 to 1st December 1945

Preface by Barry Greenwood

(Written for the limited printed edition, February 1994)

This document is a diary kept by my father, Richard Trevor Greenwood, during the Second World War. It chronicles his part in the war, and his feelings about it, for every day from D-Day, 6th June 1944 to 17th April 1945, with just one gap of nine days during leave in England.

My father (hereafter referred to as RTG) was a sergeant in the 9th. Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, and kept his daily record of what was happening to him and around him very secret. I understand that keeping diaries of this kind was a court martial offence, and his motives for doing so much writing over so long a period remain somewhat obscure. But the result is possibly a unique record of the Second World War from the perspective of the ordinary soldier.

Most of what we read of war is written retrospectively by historians, or by victorious Generals, from whom we get the broad sweep, the grand strategy, the big picture, often coloured by prejudices or ulterior motives of personal glorification. But we rarely get a long and continuous worms eye view from the ground, from that “silent majority” of ordinary soldiers who slog their way through, trying to make sense of it whilst unaware of the Grand Design; living one day at a time.

This account is the best answer I have ever come across to the little boy who says “Daddy, what was the war really like?” My dad has provided that answer for me, and I think it will satisfy others too.

The story begins in England on D-Day, and we follow RTG’s progress to Normandy, where there was prolonged and heavy fighting, then through northern France via Le Havre, through Belgium and so to more heavy fighting in South Western Holland, then back into Belgium, back to Holland, south east this time, and the final push into Germany itself, with actions first through the Reichswald, and then from Venlo to Wezel, and over the Rhine and up into northern Germany.

It is one of my regrets that the diary came to my notice after my father’s death; I would have liked to talk with him about so much in it.

Some comments on my editorship:

This is the ‘second edition’ of the diary. In the first edition I treated the diary as a historical document in which the text was sacrosanct, and transcribed it as faithfully to the original as is possible, e.g. reproducing spelling mistakes. A few copies of this first edition were circulated both inside and outside the family. It now seems more appropriate to produce the diary with all known errors corrected, and with consequently fewer editorial notes interrupting the flow of narrative. I have adopted this approach for the second edition. Where editorial notes are inserted, they are ALWAYS distinguished from the diary text by being in (italic script within parentheses, just like this.) Diary entries are NEVER reproduced this way. Hence there is never any ambiguity about what is original diary, and what is one of my notes. I have kept editorial notes to a minimum. Words given emphasis in the original diary, are reproduced in bold text like this, never in italics.

The diary itself consists of seven very cheap war economy notebooks, written in fountain pen in RTG’s very small, spidery, handwriting. Age has not improved its legibility, and I sometimes struggled to wrest a word off the page. Where the decipherment of a word is still uncertain, that word is followed by (?). This happens more with names, where the context is no help in determining meaning.

Where a word has defeated all attempts at decipherment, I have inserted a (???) to denote “word missing.” But these problems are minor, and do not detract from the diary’s readability or interest. Each entry is dated, with the date preceded by a daily count from D-Day itself. Thus, D +47 indicates 47 days after D-Day. (6th. June 1944.)

Since the first edition, a number of photographs have come to light amongst my mother’s war time papers and I have selected a few for inclusion in this edition with some names indicated where these are known.

The organisation of the battalion is important in understanding what is going on, and I have had splendid help here from Peter Beale and George Rathke, two former members of the Battalion who read the first edition, and I would like first to record here my gratitude to them for their interest and support:

Peter Beale was a troop commander of 8 troop in B squadron and provided an excellent summary of the battalion’s organisation, on which much of what follows is based, and also many notes clearing up questions or ambiguities in the original text. Peter also provided large scale maps on major battle sites, which helped me interpret the diary text, especially the battle of Roosendaal, for which my Michelin 1:200000 series maps proved inadequate.

George Rathke was a sergeant, initially with B squadron, but who joined C squadron as S.Q.M.S. and he likewise has provided much valuable background material, photographs and many notes on the original text.

I have incorporated their notes and corrections into this second edition.

They also helped me enormously with army terminology and abbreviations, which occur frequently in the diary. There is a glossary to assist non-military readers.

And so to the battalion organisation. I am much indebted to Peter and George in what follows here:

RTG’s unit was the 9th. Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment.

The battalion had a Headquarters (HQ) with a commanding officer (Lieutenant colonel), second-in-command (major), adjutant (captain) and intelligence officer (lieutenant). HQ had its own squadron, which was mainly administrative, but included 4 tanks, an anti aircraft troop, and a reconnaisance troop.

In addition to HQ squadron there were 3 fighting squadrons, known as A, B and C.
Each squadron consisted of six troops: one HQ troop plus five fighting troops.

The squadron HQ troop had a squadron leader as commanding officer (major), a second-in-command (captain), reconnaisance officer, or RO (captain) and an armoured recovery vehicle, or ARV.

The five squadron fighting troops each had 3 Churchill tanks. Each troop had a troop leader and each troop was numbered: A sqdn had troops 1 to 5, B sqdn had 6 to 10, and C sqdn had 11 to 15.

Each tank had a complement of five men: Tank commander (lieutenant, sergeant or corporal), driver, generally a driver mechanic or DM, a co-driver who was either a DM or a gunner mechanic (GM), a wireless operator who was either a driver operator (DO) or gunner operator (GO), and finally a gunner, who was either GO or gunner mechanic (GM).

In summary then: the 9th battalion had 3 fighting squadrons, A, B and C. Each sqdn had 6 troops (HQ + 5 fighting), each troop had 3 tanks and each tank had 5 men.

Total number of tanks: 3 x 6 x 3 = 54 plus 4 HQ sqdn tanks = 58 battalion tanks in total. In addition, each sqdn had what was called ‘A’ echelon, consisting mainly of supplies, food, clothing, petrol, ammunition etc. They in turn indented their supplies on ‘B’ echelon at H.Q. Each squadron also had its mechanics section of fitters to carry out necessary repairs, numerous lorries and jeeps and other specialised vehicles to support the fighting squadrons.

Some battalion names:

The Battalion commander was Lt. Colonel P.N. Veale, D.S.O., M.C.

The squadron commanders were: A, Major Ballantine; B, Major Warren; C, Major Ronald Edwin Holden D.S.O., M.C.

C sqdn second-in-command was Captain Sydney Link, RO was Captain Kenneth Kidd.
C sqdn’s five troop leaders, all lieutenants, were Frank Drew, Alan Chapman, Laurie Le Brun, Peter Boden, and Seymour Francis.

RTG was a tank commander in C sqdn, army number 7925934. His crew consisted at the outset of cpl. Bill Geary, wireless operator and loader, cpl. Ted Pestell as gunner, tpr. “Tiger” Jimmy Boland as driver, and tpr. Derek Pedder as co-driver. He was in Peter Boden’s troop at the beginning of the period and moved to troop 15 on 7th July – see diary entry – which was led by Seymour Francis.

Many people are named in the diary, most of them army colleagues, many of whom have been identified by Peter or George, and I have included their notes where relevant.

Family I can identify as follows: Jess: his wife and my mother, married in 1938. Dorothy, Kath, Marjorie were his sisters. Tod, or Toddy, was his brother. Garsden was a work colleague in England. Barry is me, then his only child, aged 11 weeks when the diary opens, and whom he had seen briefly just once before leaving England. Poppet is also me, my parent’s pet name for me at that time, but mercifully dropped before I was old enough to be embarrassed by it! Bob was the husband of Kath. Olive was the wife of Tod. Fred was the husband of Marjorie.

In following RTG’s progress across northern Europe, I found the Michelin 1:200000 series motoring maps ideal, and practically every place mentioned in the diary can be found on them. At the time of writing, a full set covering all the route comprises map numbers 54, 55, 52, 51, 213 (Belgium), 212 (southern Holland). Map 51 only covers the “dash” up into Belgium.

R. Barry Greenwood

Tring, February 1994.