“As I reached the door there was more machine gunning. At that moment a man left the house opposite running. I saw the bullets strike him across the shoulder, chest and abdomen. He pitched to one side and lay still. There were more explosions and firing, then suddenly everything was very quiet.”
Roy Wardle, a World War Two Veteran, shared his amazing story with the Leader on October 31st at the Hartford Retirement Centre in Morrisburg. The above excerpt was taken from Wardle’s own personal writing on an event during the war titled, “Stuka Attack – Bosnia 1944.”
Wardle joined the Bedforshire and Hertfordshire Regiment on March 13, 1941, when he was just 17 years old. He and a friend, Percy, both had to fib, saying they were 18 in order to join the infantry in England.
Wardle transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals on February 10, 1942, which is when he and Percy parted ways, taking different paths. Wardle decided to train for a radio dispatcher position. This he did in Yorkshire for about eight months. As a matter of interest, radio dispatchers were paid extra.
Following his training, he went into the 56th Welsh Division and was approached to voluntarily join the parachute division.
“I thought that could be interesting,” said Wardle.
At an information session, Wardle was required to sign a secrecy agreement. This position required working with an officer. The pair would be dropped by parachute into German occupied territory where they were to join with the partisans.
Twelve men attended the information session, but only two agreed to volunteer for the new position. Wardle was one of them.
Eventually, Wardle joined recruits who were making their way to Cairo, Egypt, before heading to Palestine.
Following a radio course in Egypt, he went for paratraining, which would include five training jumps, four in daylight and one in the dark. On one of his jumps he revealed: “I landed not exactly as I should have. I went backward and banged my head. I was out for one to two minutes.”
Then it came time for the night jump: “I was a bit dubious about night jumps because there would be fires on the ground. What if I came down on one?”
As it turned out, however, “it was a lovely moonlit night. I floated down, nowhere near the fires.”
After training, Wardle returned to Cairo and then on to Benghazi in North Africa. “That’s where you went on operations.”
From Benghazi, men were flown to Albania, Greece, Yugoslavia, or Bulgaria. Wardle was flown to Brindisi, Italy.
He was told that “it won’t be normal army, you’ll be looked after” because he was now part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). “We were treated like lords,” he said.
Wardle joined SOE on July 1943, eventually serving with Force-133 (Balkans) and Force-136 (Burma).
The SOE was formed by Winston Churchill for the purpose of encouraging and facilitating espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines.
Wardle was assigned to Yugoslavia. He was to be teamed with Basil Irwin, an officer. They would be stationed in Brindisi, Italy until they could be flown and dropped into Yugoslavia.
“We were unlucky,” he said. “We had to fly over there five times because they couldn’t see the fires or there were too many clouds. We couldn’t drop.”
“Eventually, we went on the night of April 3rd, 1944. That was the night we dropped into Yugoslavia. We were 25 miles from Germans in Tuzla. I landed in an apple tree.”
Wardle and Irwin “had a Serb” who acted as their interpreter. “The three of us were together all the time. We moved everywhere on foot. We had to get our own food and we relied on the people for food.” At one point, “we went three days without food because we couldn’t find anything.”
“We kept on the move most of the time. The Germans knew we were there so they were looking for us.”
“Hitler had ordered if any of us were caught, we were to be shot no matter what. People who were captured; there were awful things that happened to them.”
“We did a lot of walking. We got ambushed a couple of times. We were dive bombed.”
Wardle explained the purpose of his team: “The officer would be involved with the partisan people. He’d make the messages, all in code. I would transmit them with my radio over to Italy.”
“Messages were about all different things and about materials needed by the partisans like grenades, guns, and plastic explosives.”
They were in Yugoslavia for three months trying to get “up near the Danube oil barges.”
“We were trying to get up there, but we couldn’t. So, a plane flew in to pick us up and drop us where they wanted us to go. They had to make sure the Germans weren’t around.”
This, he said, “was hard to do. The Germans were out on patrols.”
He was “dropped back in nearer to the Danube.” Luckily, this time he and Irwin only had to go in once for the jump as the weather and fires were cooperating. He flew in a “DC3 with just two engines and a hole in the floor.”
“I went through and reached the ground. I heard some automatic gunfire when I came down. I heard people calling. I saw light coming through the trees. Someone called out Bob.”
Although his name isn’t actually Bob, this is what people called him, so he knew then that “these must be friends.”
“They took me back to the fires where there were three escaped POWs (prisoner of war).” These men were from a jail in Belgrade. The jail had been bombed, which took out an entire wall and allowed the men to escape.”
They shared “a flask of rum and cigarettes,” which as Wardle pointed out, “were issued to us.”
“A few nights later there were Yugoslavian officers coming in behind us. The plane landed and the escaped POWs went out. That was 1944.”
“We never did get to the Danube. Too many Germans in Fruska Gora. We stayed in there for 10 months anyway. Basil figured we had walked 1,500 miles. We walked most nights and sometimes during the day.”
In the 10 months he was there, Wardle said he only took his clothes off twice.
“We eventually left and went back to Italy,” he said. Here they were asking for volunteers for the far east who would be put on islands in the Pacific to report on Japanese shipping.
Wardle volunteered. He was eventually “shipped out, heading for Bombay, India.” He traveled to Delhi and on to Meerut and, finally, “I went to the other side of India to Calcutta.”
“As far as climate, that’s the worst place on the planet. I never want to go there again.”
“We worked out of the signal office. We had quite a bit of time off.” A favourite place was “the Lighthouse” with “the longest bar I’ve ever seen in my life, 40 feet long at least. There was a cinema in there as well. And, downstairs, a posh restaurant for nice meals.”
“They got fed up with us doing nothing. No more than we did.”
The SOE, Wardle continued, employed women, who were called FANNYS. They deciphered code, drove vans or did whatever tasks necessary.
“There were 24 of them in a big room in front of a radio, receiving messages. I was a signal office superintendent in charge of the room. That was just one thing in Calcutta.”
Then, “they put us in a boat, the worst I’d ever been on, more like a garbage boat. There were six or seven of us going across to Burma.”
“We got to Rangoon,” the headquarters in Burma for SOE Force-136. “We stayed in houses where people had just left their homes, right on the side of Victoria Lake. It was a nice spot.”
“From there I was sent to Pegu with an officer. We were involved with Japanese prisoners and the place where they were interrogated. We used to take them up there.”
Then it was back to headquarters and, “from there we went another 50 miles north to Tongoo, where we lived in a railway station.”
“There was an airstrip near there where we went to work. From there, planes went out and dropped supplies in Burma.”
Then one day, “the Royal Air Force said ‘you’re going back to Rangoon’.”
“I’d been there a few days when I got called into the office. They said, ‘we need somebody who can drive. We have a job for you to go with Major Maddox up to North of Burma. He’ll leave you up there until the commanding officer comes up.’”
“Major Maddox was from Winnipeg. He’d been out with the Americans fighting the Japanese. He could speak fluent Japanese and Burmese.”
“We had a jeep and a trailer. We had a Burmese teen with us to help us. His job was riding with me.”
“When I was a little kid, about six, I used to listen to the ‘The Road to Mandalay.’ I never thought I’d get to see it.”
To reach their destination, they had to make several stops, cross a river, travel with their jeeps via a flat boat, and drive across roads that were basically giant ruts. Once there, the Major “put me in a house and he went back to Rangoon.”
When the new major and colonel arrived, the group left for Rangoon, which is when Wardle “found out what was in the jeeps. Bags of them – thousands and thousands and thousands of rupees.”
They traveled “all the way through the Shan States.” The rupees went to pay “all the people who had been helping to fight the Japanese. That’s what this trip was all about. I didn’t learn that until the way back.”
On the way back, they traveled down roads with “hair pin curves” around cliffs with thousand foot drops. The drops were barred only by posts spaced about 10 feet apart.
Wardle quickly discovered that he had no brakes. To make matters worse, he had a moment of panic when the wheel wouldn’t turn. “I hit the post and the thing stopped. I backed up.”
Surprisingly, he continued down the mountain where he met the colonel and the major. “If you want that jeep to go back to Rangoon, you’re going to drive it yourself,” he told them.
They eventually made it back to Rangoon, just in time for Christmas, 1945.
Following this, “I’d been transferred to Burma command. Once that happened, I was out of the SOE.”
“In the end, that’s where I came home from in 1946.” Wardle explained that people were dispatched from the war in stages. It wasn’t a case of “the war is over today, go home.”
Wardle was discharged from duty on December 6, 1946.
Wardle made it home to England safely. There he met and married Winnifred, the sister of a soldier he’d met in 1944.
In 1953, Wardle and his wife came to Canada. “We were married for 50 years. She died 15 years ago.”