A DESERT RAT'S STORY
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
DISCHARGE FROM THE ARMY
The talk among us every day was when we would be released from
the services. It was announced that this would be done by age rather than
length of service. Having given a false age on enlistment, I was discharged
in December 1945 as a man of almost thirty years, though my true age was just
twenty-three. We were paid up to three months after discharge and service
counted me still in the Army until April 1946. My pay amounted to £145
for my six and a half years! A senior officer again asked me to consider staying
on with the inducement that I would be rapidly promoted to officer rank, as
the influx of junior officers from England with no experience at all was very
depressing. Our Colonel had watched the progress of all his Squadron Sergeants
and Warrant Officers throughout the war years. Colonel Pepys in particular
would have welcomed most of his N.C.O.s into the Officers Mess as members.
Doughy Baker took a commission and reached Brigadier rank, I remember him
as an Officers’ batman in Palestine 940.
The day came when a dozen of us stood on the railway station awaiting the first stage of the long journey home. Looking to the far end I saw Spanky Jennings, the little corporal from our Squadron. I walked towards him to say goodbye and say no hard feelings. As I got near Spanky called out, “I am on my way home to Liverpool to attend a funeral” and had to let it go at that. I had a good idea that Spanky thought I had something on my mind concerning Cairo and smashing that chair in my back.
I don’t remember much about the journey home, just one thing sticks in my mind. It was on board ship on the last stage over the Channel. Among a group of soldiers was a man who said that when he got home he would never leave England again, not even for a day trip to France. When asked how long he had been away, he replied almost a year. It made me recall that most of the regiment I had joined in Palestine in 1940 had already been out there for over a year, and apart from four months preparing for the invasion, had spent seven years abroad, myself just a year less at six years. I did not know what to expect as a civilian. My pre-war experience would not get me any kind of a job, but at twenty-four years of age and not married I did not think I would have any problems.
Over one hundred of my fellow soldiers serving with the Royal Dragoons were killed in action, many my close friends, many of them behind enemy lines in remote parts of the desert. I can recall most of them and it saddens me even now.
The transition from wartime soldiering and settling down in Civvie Street was enormous. I left home a seventeen year old and came back over six years later looking very much older than my age. Most people thought that in fact I was thirty years of age. I suppose being out in all weathers and getting by on all sorts of food contributed to my appearance. Mum had got a room ready for me and I suppose that we all thought that we could recapture the type of home we had in Brixton in 1939, but with Kitty married and living in the Tooting area and Syd still serving overseas it was not to be.
Ted Hartland at the service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, 2012 (then aged 90)
AFTER THE WAR
After I was discharged from the army I decided to take a few weeks off before looking for a job. I had no idea at all what I wanted to do, something to do with sales I had in mind, though I was very vague on that. Eventually I decided to work in the jewellery business, and I managed to have a successful career working in Hatton Garden as a jeweller and diamond merchant.
I married Jørga Kjær, a nurse that I had met in Denmark in the last days of the war. We married in 1946, and lived for a number of years in Streatham before moving to Kenley, Surrey in the 1950s. We remain in the area to this day.
Ted Hartland passed away peacefully in Kenley on 14 August 2016 at the age of 94.