The Grimsby Evening Telegraph described it as “a very emotional and sentimental read”.

Grimsby Evening Telegraph

The Author: Harry Williams

Gladys and Harry on the promenade at Cleethorpes
Gladys and Harry on the promenade at Cleethorpes.

Harry was born in Crewe, England, in September 1898 and married Gladys in December 1920. They had one daughter, Joyce, in November 1922.

Harry was a painter and decorator by trade, and sometime after the war was sent to Ireland to supervise redecorating railway stations. He did not stay long, despite his wartime experience he was not prepared to get shot at in civvies!

Harry and Gladys moved south to live with their daughter and family. Fifty years had passed since the war so Joyce persuaded her father to write about his war memories, he titled them “Trenches and Trees”, as he seemed to spend most of his army life down in dank trenches or up aloft in trees.

When it was originally written he did attempt to have his story published, but he was told that there was not enough sex and violence in it. His original text was typed double-spaced on 253 sheets of quarto paper.

After about six years Harry and Gladys decided to return to Cleethorpes. Gladys became ill and cursed the day they moved away from their home. Their money had been spent so they returned to live in a much smaller terraced property where Harry devoted his time to caring for his wife. She became bed-ridden and the effort became too much for him, despite regular but admittedly brief visits from a Home Help nurse, Gladys, like so many other previously proud people of her generation, spent her remaining time in a nursing home. Her condition deteriorated considerably until eventually she was unable to recognise who people were. It was there that she died.

In March 1979, Harry spent a short time in hospital, before quietly slipping away just minutes after a visit from his daughter and one of his grandsons.

Few attended his funeral, few knew of his heroic actions and the horrors he had witnessed. He died alone having made and lost many of his friends during the war.

What is reproduced here is a highly abridged version of his memoirs, none of the details have been changed, but some of the events have been excluded from this version. In transferring the original typed pages to a word processor document any typographical and spelling errors have been corrected, but not the grammar or use of words.

The Editor: Leigh Graham

I was born in Cleethorpes on the East coast of England in 1961, to Harry and Gladys’ daughter Joyce. When I was four years old we moved away from the area due to my fathers’ work, so my parents used to take me on regular trips to see my Grandparents.

Gladys and Harry with their grandson Leigh, in about 1964
Gladys and Harry with their grandson Leigh, in about 1964.

All I clearly remember about the visits were the seemingly endless journey (about 130 miles each way) and the big house my Grandparents lived in.

I remember the house had three floors and the kitchen had a set of clothes drier rails that were on a pulley arrangement. It was a short walk to the beach, but there my memory fails me.

When I was about seven years old, for a reason I never knew, my Grandparents came to live with us. I have clearer memories of them from that period – after all – I saw them every day instead of just on our regular visits. Grandmother always seemed to be miserable or grumbling, Grandfather, however, was cheerful and friendly. I remember him trying to engage my interest in religious stories by drawing pictures to illustrate particular Biblical events. His artistic flair had remained with him, his drawings were clear and colourful.

I did not know he had been a soldier, I did not know anything about war. That is why reading his story, years after he had passed away, was such a revelation to me. Now that I am old enough to understand and appreciate it I feel proud that he made a recognised contribution in the war. At the same time I realise how cruel and unpleasant the war really was, unlike the glorified film recreations.

They sent mere boys to fight a tragic war, one million British men never returned home.

In 2003 I decided to share his story and I published the first version of his memoirs online.

My Grandfathers’ story vividly describes some events that no-one should ever be exposed to, let alone a teenage boy.

The Channel 4 TV web site described it as a “Moving narrative history”.

Channel 4 TV web site (Archived page)