In 1941, aged 19, Dick, enlisted as a recruit in the Grenadier Guards and served with distinction, despite being ‘frightened stiff a lot of the time’.

As a young platoon commander in 1943, he took part in the Salerno Landings in Italy. During the long voyage via the Cape of Good Hope, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean coast of Africa, Dick acquired a collection of chameleons which he became very attached to. Sadly, he had to let them go on reaching Salerno. He also managed to disgrace himself on the trip by getting very drunk on crème de menthe and running around the ship naked, alarming the females in the officers’ mess, and having to be restrained from jumping overboard! He remembered none of this excitement, which was relayed to him gleefully by his friends.

On arrival in Salerno, his platoon, along with many others, fought their way up Italy, which took months. On 12th July 1944, Dick was seriously injured by a British hand grenade thrown by a German soldier. He was only saved from certain death by the fact that he was sheltering behind a tree, which took the brunt of the explosion. He suffered extensive shrapnel wounds and later, when he was back in England, a cerebral embolism, either of which could have killed him.

When Myrle first saw him, in a military hospital in Liverpool, he was a shadow of his former self, weighing only eight stone – his normal weight was more like twelve. As she walked down the ward, peering anxiously at the beds, she would have failed to recognise him had she not noticed a raised arm feebly waving at her. Of this meeting, Dick said:

‘. . . seeing her again was, of course, the greatest of tonics and I began to get better’.

Eventually Dick was sent to a convalescent home in Weston-super-Mare and then, when he was well enough, to his childhood home, Homelea, where he and Myrle lived with his parents for the next two years. Their first child, Juliet, was born in a nursing home in Bristol, in October 1945.

The Farming Years

Once he was well, Dick was keen to return to farming. He spent some time at Tytherington Farm again, and the family lived briefly in their first married home together, Tudor Cottage, Sutton Veny. They also got the first of many dachshunds, Anna. But Dick still wasn’t strong enough to be of much use on the farm . . .

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Dick King-Smith site illustration