Bert Barritt was just a lad of 18 when he was called up for conscription and sent to train miles away from his home in Bermondsey to Nairn, to prepare for the D-Day landings.
And now 75 years later at the age of 94 his memories are to be brought to life back here in Scotland, in a verbatim play called Bomb Happy which is part of Army@TheFringe in association with Summerhall.
Bert, an infantryman with the East Yorkshire Regiment remembers his battalion moving first to a camp near Dumfries called the Barony, and then to Lockerbie and Lochmaben, which he got to know quite well.
They were then moved north to Nairn on the Moray Firth. In his war diary Bert wrote “There we took up serious training for beach landings and went to sea in large ships and then transferred into landing craft and made the practice run-ins to the beach.”
He also recalls on one training practice the sea being particularly rough and the landing craft rocking about as he tried to jump onto it. “Most of us were sea sick,” Bert recalls, “and I remember lying on top of the side of the craft, I was horizontal and being sick. It was a dreadful trip. Fortunately we did not have to land on the beach which saved us getting wet, as the operation was called off.”
Bert, a Christian, who went on to teach children in the deaf community in Africa after the war, remembered going to church in Nairn, where, he recalled “the Scottish people certainly made us welcome. Some soldiers attended and pretended to be good Christians so that they would get an invite home to supper!”
Some Saturdays Bert went into Inverness to the Baptist Church which held a large rally for soldiers in the evening. “Service people came from various towns and camps around. Getting home was a hit and miss affair and one night I had a walk of over six miles back to camp.”
The play starts at the point Bert is sent from Scotland to Portsmouth to take part in the D-Day landings and follows him and four other veterans all the way through to VE Day, highlighting the lifelong impact of post traumatic stress disorder.
Two of those veterans, Ken Smith (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) and Ken Cooke (Highland Light Infantry), both of whom landed on Gold Beach will attend the show on 16th, 17th, 23rd & 24th August.
Unfortunately Bert is now not well enough to make the journey to Edinburgh, but toured with the show in 2017 and was able to attend recent Edinburgh preview performances in his home town of York where he was presented witha commemorative edition of the playscript, published by Methuen.
Bert will be portrayed by actor Thomas Lillywhite in performances at the Fringe. Thomas said: “I’m honoured to be portraying Bert’s experiences once again. It’s an incredibly important play and for all us actors in the show to have the opportunity to represent these veterans and their wives and share their personal accounts with the Fringe audiences- particularly on this important year- is a huge privilege. We can’t wait!”
For more, and for tickets, see the website http://armyatthefringe.org.