The name Garnish
This name revived a memory of my own
Prewar I knew of Ann Garnish, but did not know her personally although at the beginning of the 1930s I attended Laindon Park Primary School and in my class was a boy named Walter Richer, who was sometimes known as Georgie Garnish and was I believe the foster brother of Ann. He lived quite near to me and grew up in old Laindon. In common with most of the youth of that period, Walter entered the army when war came, but our paths did cross once while we were both serving. This happened after hostilities when some of those overseas were allowed home for Christmas leave in 1945. Our leave passes did not have a return date but a transit number for return sailings and which after three weeks we were required to listen to the BBC 6 o’clock news and when one’s number was broadcast to report to Folkestone Harbour.
My number came up in the first week of 1946 and I duly reported to Folkestone. However, there had been severe storms and and gales in the channel for some days which had caused the cancellation of ferry crossings and caused a huge backlog of troops waiting to cross. I was advised to wait until called as priority was being given to whole units of replacement troops rather than the smaller number of individuals. While waiting I saw two familiar Laindon faces, Walter Richer who was in the Pioneer Corps and like myself returning to Greece and Vicky Findlay in the Royal Artillery returning to Italy. We formed a little group and after a couple of days were crossed to Calais. The Calais transit camp was awash with large numbers of troops waiting forward rail transport and once again priority given to replacement units. After many days of waiting and still no news of our forward transit, we decided to take matters into our own hands and when we saw on the notice board a train departing for Milan the following morning for a unit, we quietly slipped aboard before the unit arrived and no one queried our presence.
Arriving at Milan transit camp there was still chaos with units coming and going and the individuals being told to wait until called. We spent our time playing football on the barrack square and evenings out in Milan, where I managed to see Rina Gigli, daughter of Beniamino, at the Scala. Fortunately the Army Pay Corps unit at the camp accepted the evidence of our pay books and provided funds. After a while it seemed we had disappeared into limbo and once again took matters into our own hands when we saw there was a train scheduled to depart for Bari calling at Rome. We infiltrated ourselves on board and once again went unnoticed. Vicky left us at Rome and Walter and I continued to Bari to get a sea crossing. Here we waited for several weeks until we went to the harbour with a very large number of troops to gain passage on a boat the Princess Patricia. It took some time to embark but eventually the gangplanks were pulled up and the engines revved, but no movement. It was the found that the ship was so overloaded it was fast on the bottom of the quay.
It then became necessary to disembark a large number of troops to allow the ship to be moved out into the harbour and those on the quayside to be ferried out to re-embark. This was eventually carried out and we set sail, but this “carry on” farce had not yet run its course as the ships tannoy announced that due to the number of troops on board it was not possible to feed them individually and that messing would be under “picnic conditions”. This involved forming groups of 18 who would send one man to the galley where he was provided with a wire basket containing 18 tins of pre-heated food and 18 rolls. This seemed to resolve the situation, but the labels of the tins had become detached in heating, while the lucky ones had meat & veg or bacon, the less fortunate had hot apricot jam. Still we survived these inconveniences and arrived at Piraeus where Walter went off the re-join his unit, but when I arrived in Athens where I had departed I found my unit had been replaced and I was advised to go to O2E Athens, a unit which dealt with records and movements and after a couple of hours wait I was informed that my papers had been left with them, but as I had not arrived back had been sent to Italy to O2E Barletta with those of my unit and I was advised to return there. This time I was more fortunate with my sea crossing as it was on a requisitioned P&O liner, the SS Orontes. On arriving at at O2E Barletta I once again had to wait while records were searched and where I was told that as my demob date was nearing the papers had been forwarded to the demobilisation camp at Villach, which strangely enough was established by my unit a year earlier. Once more, I journeyed through Italy into Austria and was re-united with my papers at the Villach camp from which I was eventually repatriated for my demob.
After the war, while I did meet Vicky Findlay a few times, I never again met Walter Richer, although I heard he was employed by a coal merchant and had married one of two sisters named Player who lived in one of the turreted bungalows in High Road North. I do not know if Vicky and Walter are still alive and remember our little journey, or perhaps have relatives who may have been told.