Derrick Carnall

Photo:Derrick Carnall in army uniform aged 22.

Derrick Carnall in army uniform aged 22.

Kate Boxell

Photo:Derrick Carnall aged 90.

Derrick Carnall aged 90.

Kate Boxell

The first day of war

Derrick Carnall recalls the day war broke out.


Derrick Carnall recalls his Army training and the lessons he learnt.

Air raids

Derrick Carnall remembers the air raids on the Home Front.

'When's this war going to end?'

Derrick Carnall talks about the closing months of the war.

Memories of six years of service in the Army.


Born in 1919, Derrick was twenty years old at the outbreak of war in 1939. Although the Army first rejected Derrick when he volunteered because ‘I was so young, I was skinny, I was seven stone, five foot eight, glasses’, he was soon conscripted and joined the Royal Engineers. Derrick was eager to fight for his country:  

‘When my training was finished I went up to the Sergeant Major and said, ‘I want to volunteer for France’, he said, ‘Don’t worry about that son, you’ll be there soon enough’. We’d finished our training in early Feb and in early March we were in France.’

The evacuation of Saint-Nazaire

After only serving in France for a few months, Derrick was part of the evacuation of Saint-Nazaire in June 1940. Derrick was in the Railway Company attached to the Royal Pioneer Corps. He recalls the retreat:

‘When we retreated we disabled both our engines which were diesel electric and then we blew up the petrol depot. Smoke was black you couldn’t see the sky and the Pioneer Corps went up the line to defend. They had to give us a chance to destroy everything that we could all the way through and then we retreated, it took about three days to get to Saint-Nazaire.’

From the beach at Saint-Nazaire Derrick was taken to Plymouth onboard the Oronsay. Although the troops received a warm welcome back in Britain, Derrick remembers, the high number of casualties at Saint-Nazaire was suppressed for a number of years.

Service at home and overseas

Derrick remained on the Home Front until 1944 when he was posted to India. Whilst in Britain he was as part of the Railway Company posted in Birmingham and Donnington. Serving in India, Derrick experienced the tensions between the Muslims and Hindus in the country before the partition:

They were throwing stones and sticks and everything at each other so in the finish they got so fed up that both sides turned on us - throwing sticks and stones at us. My tin helmet had many indents in it, I’ll tell you.’    

From India Derrick was sent to Singapore and arrived in the country after the Japanese surrender. The mission was to round up the Japanese soldiers:

'Every Japanese soldier had to...have his shoes and socks confiscated because the Japanese, the one thing they’ve got is pride. They’re very proud. To take them away was insulting them and that’s the finest punishment you could give them. We had twenty to thirty thousand prisoners and you could hear them marching to the docks and you could hear...the bare feet on the road.'

Derrick returned to England in 1946 after six years of service.


Interview with Derrick Carnall
Interview with Derrick Carnall (200k)
To read the full transcript of Derrick's interview please press the above link.

The first day of war
The first day of war (57k)
Transcript of audio clip with Derrick Carnall.

Training (97k)
Transcript of audio clip with Derrick Carnall.

Air raids
Air raids (92k)
Transcript of audio recording with Derrick Carnall.

'When's this war going to end?'
'When's this war going to end?' (130k)
Transcript of audio clip with Derrick Carnall.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 27/02/2012.