A VETERAN of WW2, Jack Roulston was in Berlin as a young soldier with the Argyles when the world was liberated from Hitler’s clutches.
Not normally one for chatting about ‘the War,’ on Friday of last week he broke his silence to talk a little about how he signed up, and how his colleagues fought for freedom in Germany and in the trenches of Europe.
Jack enlisted in Omagh, and like much of his military career, there is a wee bit of a story involved: “The Recruiting Office was in Bishop Street, in ‘the Brew’, or the unemployment office. That’s where it was then, at the corner of Bishop Street with the Dark Lane, and Sergeant Martin was the recruitment officer. I went in to sign up. I tortured him. I was 17 and he wold not take me until I was 17-and-a-half, but I tortured him. The problem was he was in the Inniskilling Fusilers and nothing I could do, I would have to go through the Inniskillings, I had no other option, so I was sent to Omagh. I got the fare and in Omagh there was all kinds, religion, colour all gathered up and they were posted then. We got about a week, then we were sent up to Palace Barracks and we spent six weeks training, marching, firing, shooting, climbing hills and walking, doing 80 miles. We worked up from six miles to 80 miles before we left, with a pack and all on. That was only solid training.
“After six weeks we were sent over to Lockerbie in Scotland, and we done battle training, but before we went we were all sorted out for what we were used for, and one officer said to me you’d be better on the REME (Royal Electric and Mechanical Engineers). It was simply because he gave us an old bicycle to put together, above all things. I’m actually a country boy from Donegal and I as used fixing these old bicycles, so I had mine up in no time at all. So he said to me I would be better on REME, but says I ‘Naw’. For I had already taken up with these three or four Scots fellas, and I said I wanted to go to the Kings Royal Highlanders. So the Scots fellas and meself headed for Lockerbie, and we had to do our battle training then. We worked with live ammunition and tanks and we did so many weeks there before we were sent off with our regiment, and the officer at Palace Barracks left me go off with these Scots fellas to the Argylls,” he said.
Jack’s first posting was a real baptism of fire: He was sent to Germany, the Sixth Airborne Division. He matter-of-factly said they had to join in the battles from there on.
“They were short of men. I was in the trenches. It was terrible. It is something I haven’t talked about for a long time, but anyway, you had to do it. You had to do what was required,” he said, falling quiet.
Prompted by another question, Jack recalled how his first ‘gun’ was a Mk4 rifle, and he joined the fray at Dussledorf, where Jack found himself to be pretty much the only Irishman in the Scottish Regiments!
“There was only two Irishmen out of 500 and that was a Belfast man and myself, and from there on we just had to go out and battle right through the villages to Bremen and then we headed for Cherbourg (France)and we worked on up through villages, liberating the villages we went. We had to take them over. We went through them, and do you know, there were dead lying everywhere...and the stench, the smell was unbelievable. They were lying dead in the houses and we had to clear the houses... it was terrible,” he said, adding: “We lost a terrible lot of men... and we headed on then to Berlin. I was in Berlin when it was liberated. It was really bad, but we had a lot of help at the time because there was all kinds of men and regiments. We had firepower, we had tanks, we had air cover as well. Shortly after that the Germans surrendered. I’ll tell you now how many men we had left, there was 100 men out of that 500, and we had to come home and reform again. But, still we volunteered for it and we had to do it. Mind you, I went in as a boy, but I came out as a man,” he said, not relishing the memories.
The remnants of the regiment came home to a small town called Market Rasen, near Lincoln to reform. They needed 300 to 450 men to build up the regiment again.
The men came home, probably suffering all the after effects of battle, no doubt including shell shock and post traumatic stress disorder, to find the town was also a base for a Prisoner of War camp, and the town in places was completely taken over by ‘prisoners’ who were allowed out on licences to enjoy the local facilities.
“You are not going to like this but there were Italian and Germans and they could go to the pubs for a drink. So the pubs were already occupied because they were allowed out, so between the Italians and Germans they had occupied everything, even the cinema. There was only one cinema, and they had it occupied. Well, we sort of went off our heads and we read the place and we occupied it. We all stuck together, the war did that to you, we were not going to stand up for people that were going to slaughter us,” he said, apologetically, revealing that the local people were as beleaguered as the soldiers were.
Their punishment for their actions was to be set off to Palestine, as it was then, for a two year stint that cooled their heels for sure.
“We got into that much trouble that we woke up one morning to find that we were surrounded by voluntary police, that it true. As a punishment we were sent to Palestine. It was really bad at the time in Palestine. We spent two years out there where we had to search out gangs of terrorists. We lost three good men. The terrorists hung three of our boys up in the trees and we had to cut them down and we ran across a few of the terrorists and, to tell the truth, we shot them. It is not nice saying it, but we had to do it,” he says.
It is a while before Jack speaks again: “It didn’t sadden me at that time, but it saddens me now and I don’t much like to talk about it.”
What also saddens Jack is that much of the world, including the eastern countries, are still very volatile.
“We did what we did for the good of the people there. They were in trouble as well as us,” he said.
Jack spent six years with the Army, but eventually was demobbed after he was injured by a bomb.
“In 1948 I came off the Army,” he said.
Among the jobs he had when he came home was working in Bigger’s Pork Store and he joined the RBL in 1948, and is a member of the RBL since that time.
After a beat Jack admits that he is still proud of being in the Scottish regiment: “We had a good crowd of fellas. You had to be thicker than thieves to get through it, or else you went down. You know, I got through Germany and France without a scratch, but I went to Palestine and I have a scar on my back. A bomb went off.”