James Hargreaves

Door Arjan Denneman


Zo nu en dan krijgen wij zelfs uit het buitenland herinneringen aangeleverd. Zo ook van de dochter van Lieutenant-Corporal James Hargreaves, Valerie Chamberlain. James heeft een dagboek bijgehouden over zijn belevenissen vanaf de dag na D-Day tot de bevrijding van Duitsland. Ook de bevrijding van Limburg speelt hierin een belangrijke rol.

7 June
“Well naturally you’ll know by now that the big day has arrived and what a day! The day everyone has been waiting for and now that it’s started the sooner it’ll be finished and I don’t think it will be long once we get established over there, and things are going pretty well from all accounts. It seems strange that all this should happen 4 years to the day since Dunkirk.” (From Worthing.)

18 June
“No doubt you’ll be wondering why I’ve not written you for some time. …At the moment, believe it or not, I’m writing this sitting in the sunshine in a field in Normandy. Now don’t worry ..everything is going fine and I’m perfectly OK. I didn’t quite know how to put it so you wouldn’t get too big a shock. I can’t tell you how or when we came here yet, but sometime in the future we shall no doubt be allowed to tell you more.”
“…We had a grand crossing as regards the weather and the sea and suffered no ill effects. It was a Yankee boat and the grub they gave us – never had anything like it since I joined up. I was getting fed up with crème potatoes and pineapples. Those lads must feel like fighting cocks. You’ve no doubt seen the photos and news reels of the ships about the beachheads – well believe me it’s no fairy tale. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
The countryside here is very much like home – or rather more like parts of the Isle of Man. On the whole it’s very nice, but of course it would be so much nicer on a peacetime holiday!!”

1 July
“Since I last wrote, Cherbourg has had it by now and we’re very interested in the carryings on at Caen.”

7 July
“Well I suppose you’ve heard that the big battle for Caen has started. I don’t think it will be long before we have it and then things should get moving quicker.”

20 August
“You will have heard on the wireless that the Jerry 7th Army here is going and going fast and believe me what they say is no exaggeration. The chase is on now and it’s some chase I can tell you – Lord knows when or where it will stop so if you don’t get a letter from me for a day or two you mustn’t be wondering.”

27 August
“When we first landed and contacted civvies you got the impression we were not required or wanted (which may have been quite true in my opinion) but the further inland you go the more you see and realise how hard hit these people have been for the last 4 years. We went through one certain place and there was an old man and his wife searching for belongings among a mess of rubble which had evidently been their home once. As we passed through they laughed, waved their hats and shouted, ‘C’est la Liberation’ If they were as glad to see us there with all their belongings gone you can put 2 and 2 together and get a good idea of what it’s been like for them previous to our coming.”

30 August
“I see from the news that Monty is now a Field Marshall and from the way things are moving over here they ought to make him a greyhound trainer. Things are certainly moving at a terrific rate and you’ve got to write letters in odd five minutes here and there. We rolled into one village and we got a great reception. Flags flying, French and ours, and everyone in the streets waving and cheering, and the church bells ringing. People came up and gave us eggs by the score and consequently ever since we’ve eaten practically nothing but eggs. It’s a long time since I had 3 eggs for brekker!
I’ve been talking quite a bit with some of these maquis blokes and believe me they’re the boys. The majority of them are 15 and 16 but they have got some guts.”
“ PS Note the date on this letter 30/8/44 – It’s now 2/9/44 and still no sign of me being able to post it so Lord knows when you’ll get it. Things are moving so fast here – real blitzkrieg believe me.”

12 September
“There were people all along the streets shouting and waving . They were throwing all sorts of fruit in the cab: apples, pears, plums, tomatoes and by the time we got to where we were going you couldn’t hardly change gear for fruit. ..they had the local band out in force and played all the tunes from the last war and had a placard with ‘Welcome Back Chaps’ on it. Believe me it was some welcome – the best we’ve had yet.” 

1-6 october
“Now I’m in the land of the windmills in other words ‘Somewhere in Holland’ ..we didn’t get much of a welcome when we blew in here – in fact one could say it was absent. Wonder what sort we’ll get when and if we get in Germany. The ‘flogging’ has finished now and once again it’s more or less static- like Caen.”

25 October
“At the moment we’re in clover – civvy billets! We are near houses and have permission to sleep out. We go out in an evening to supper – although they have very little food and only coffee but a good bed. The people are exceptionally good to us and are very pleased to have us, although there are hundreds of collaborators about.”

Jim’s 28th Birthday -18th November
“… When I got back they all dashed to shake hands and wish me many happy returns and they even had decorations up in the house. As a special treat they fried me an egg and then they had coffee…they brought out a huge Birthday Cake with all fancy work and cream on the top. There was a card on it ( in English)with a little speech signed by everyone in the family. I also brought them 2 combs which are impossible to get here and they nearly went mad.”

23 December
“The people we are with are called Wxxxx but I can’t write the names of the kids except J xxx Wxx and Gxxx The others I can pronounce but not write. They are getting ready for Christmas now.. I think the preparations are more for our benefit. They have a big Christmas Tree at the bottom of which is a stable and all the figures, representing the birth of Christ.”