INTERVIEW WITH STAN COX by James Holland
Where were you born and brought up?
In a village just across the fields here.
So you’re man and boy in this part of the world.
Yes but I’ve been a way. I was a grocer; worked for the Co-op and when I came back after the war, I went back to my old job as a shop assistant. After about a year I got a job as a manager of a little shop in Didcote on the estate. I went to Carterdon by Brize Norton and then I came back to Abingdon and finished up as manager of the supermarket down here where I started as a boy. Then I got a bit fed up with that and there’s a shop on the corner here – it’s a vets now – I bought it and the wife and ran it as a little grocery store. I gave that up at 58; found things were getting a bit much for me. I used to go up to Reading to the Cash & Carry and carrying a bag of spuds and that was no fun. I got wounded in the leg and my arm as well and it began to get on top of me with one or two other things and so we sold out and never regretted it really.
What did your father do?
He had his own greengrocery business and then when the war came he gave it up and worked down at the ordnance depot here during the war. He was a policeman in London in his younger days in Bethnall Green. He used to take me up there and tell me that’s where somebody was murdered…….! when the general strike was on, I think they all got the push and he came back here to live and started this little business of his own.
Were you a big family?
I had 2 brothers and a sister and I was the baby.
How old were you when war broke out?
I was born in November 1924. I was called up at 18. I was 18 in November ’42 and actually got called up in January ’43.
The envelope arrived through the post?
Yes; it’s a funny tale. When I was at the Co-op, we used to go round the houses collecting their order for the week and taking their money for the last week. There’s a little village near called Westhowbourne (?) and we used to call on a couple and they had a son in the Middle East – Percy Dearlove – and I used to ask how he was getting on and she’d tell me about the letters she’d had and all that and sort of got to know his history quite well. When I got called up, he said have you any preference and I said yes I’d like to go in the tanks. Of course it was fatal to say that because they’d have probably put me into brick laying or something! Any how I went to Beverley in Yorkshire on the race course……
Posted up there?
So you got your letter saying you’d been called up, where did you have to present yourself?
They said go to Beverley. Here’s a train ticket. Off you go?
Yes; I went there and we had different tests like Morse Code and that sort of thing and I said I wanted to go in the tanks. East Yorks was our training regiment; an infantry regiment. I got posted then to Farnborough and did a course there. I used to go out with the instructors on the tanks and we had all these foreign blokes come; a lot of fellows had joined the Pioneers. A lot of them were Germans who’d fled from the old Nazis and that.
Oh yes but they weren’t allowed to go in a fighting unit; not until the beginning of ’44 I think.
So this was at Farnborough?
This was everywhere this happened I think. We had to take them out and they joined the 55th armoured corps. I used to go out with the old instructor and there was a big area down there – think we used to call it Death Valley – all churned up by tanks and we used to sit on the hatch and we were going down a steep descent and he didn’t slow down and they didn’t understand much English and I was shouting slow down! He kept going but in the end I got him to stop and he lifted up the gear stick – I suppose nit had worked loose and he pulled the whole thing out! Then I got posted to Barnard Castle in Durham. That was a conversion course to Sherman’s which were coming over from America.
So when you were in Beverley and said you wanted to be in tanks, they said ok fine?
Well they just made a note of it.
And the next thing you know, you’re down in Farnborough and you are training on tanks?
Did you get tactical training?
No it was just gunnery, mechanical and radio. You spent the first fortnight in the tank part.
Did you quite enjoy it?
Oh I enjoyed it. I was 18; it was quite interesting because Farnborough airfield was there with only a fence running between us and they used to bring all these old planes out; all the old German planes and Spitfires up against Fokke Wolf where they were experimenting with rocket propulsion and that sort of thing and I saw the first jet there. They had Whittle’s first…….
The trial one before the Meteor.
That’s right and we were sworn to secrecy over that.
Then up to Barnard Castle to go on Sherman’s?
Did you do any training on Fireflies?
No; didn’t know anything about them til Normandy.
How did you find the Sherman?
It was quite a good tank; it was fast.
A lot bigger than a Centaur?
Oh yes; I liked the old Centaur though. The Sherman was alright except when we were coming up against the Germans of course! The Tiger.
How long did all this take? So you joined up in January ’43.
Yes and joined the Sherwood Rangers at the end of December.
It was basically the best part of a year training?
I know you were only 18, but did you feel you knew what you were about by the time you joined the Rangers?
Yes; it was quite good. It was funny when I joined the Rangers, because I knew this Percy Dearlove was in the Rangers and the first night there we were in Nissen huts and they had a NAAFI and in we went and he was sat there! We both ended up in A squadron.
What did your brothers do?
Len was in the Royal Army Service Corps.
Looking at photos…………..
I recognise that face. I don’t even have to look at it; he always sat like with his legs slightly splayed.
When was this taken?
At Sway, just before D Day.
Which is John Simpkin?
He wasn’t in A squadron. He was a technical adjutant wasn’t he? That’s Keith Douglas; that’s Henry Hutchins sergeant major; I think he was Grieves –he was badly wounded; had his jaw shot away I think. That was Vernon – he was killed just off the beach at (?); that was my officer, Mike Howden and that one got wounded on the beach and was away quite a long time. He came back and was killed just before the end of the war. That’s George Green (?).
He was legendary wasn’t he? I remember hearing – those hand held things to knock out tanks – what were they called?
He was extraordinary wasn’t he? Wasn’t it at St Pierre he did his thing?
The PIATs …….the tall chappy there was my driver; that’s my wireless operator and that’s me next to them. What happened to those 2 I don’t know; I’ve tried to find out but never did.
This was taken just before D Day was it?
3 or 4 weeks before. We were at Sway; it’s a big nursing home now; down in Hampshire. I should think 50% of those were killed or wounded. Joe Butler – he was killed; Lt Vernon – he was killed.
Who was your troop commander?
Mike Howden; only trouble with him was he used to stutter.
I’ve heard some good stories about him.
So Len was in the Royal Army Service Corps?
Yes and the other one was in the Royal Berks but he had an easy war; he was in the officers’ mess. Here’s my older brother in Italy; Cassino. He was a corporal. That’s on the front of some book.
So how come your brother in the Berks had an easy war?
Well the Berks was the county regiment. We were all blessed with funny feet; some trait in the family. I had an operation on mine and they weren’t too bad but he was classed as P1 or whatever and got this easy job.
How come you were sent to the Rangers?
Just luck of the draw I think. They’d just come back from Africa.
It was just pure chance that you turned up in the same regiment as Percy Dearlove?
Oh yes; I didn’t ask for anything.
Did Percy survive?
Yes; I think he’s in that photo there.
What was your first impression when you arrived at the Rangers?
I thought what army have I joined?! Out by Newmarket it was; a great big park with Nissen Huts and the first night…….we were in bunks and I looked at my watch and it was 7.30 and no one got up; 8.00 and no one got up and I said what’s happening and a chap said you just sit there; we’ll have a roll call at about 10am and then the rest of the day’s our own. A bit later on he said to a chap called Freddy “Go down to the cook house and get a bucket of water!” He got a bucket of hot water and they all mucked in and had a shave and that and then he said “We better get ourselves up together now” and I said “What dress do you want?” He said “Put your battle dress on; that’ll be alright.”And we went down there and paraded by the orderly hut and a bit later on Henry Hutchins came along and they said “Anything happening Henry?” “No, you’re off all day today!” They took a roll call and that was it and it went on like that for about a fortnight. We had no tanks you see; nothing to train on or do anything with and then these tanks turned up and it started from there.
So was this the beginning of ’44?
This was after we got to Sway; beginning of May; end of April.
So what had you been doing between your course at Barnard Castle and ……
I went to Barnard Castle for 4 or 5 weeks; trained on a different gun; the 75 instead of the 6 pounder.
So that took you to the end of ’43?
Yes and I got posted to the regiment at the end of ’43.
So you were just hanging around?
So for 2 to 3 months, that was the routine?
No, no…….the tanks arrived about February time.
So when you joined the regiment, they were already in Sway?
No they were in East Anglia; at Chivenor (?) which I think in the end was a sort of holding area for fellows when they went on leave; they had to report back there or something; or those who’d be wounded and were being returned. They went back there.
They’d obviously had a very busy 2 years the regiment hadn’t they?
Oh yes; that was it. You gave the sergeants respect but it was like a big family. You dad was like a great big uncle to us!
What were your first impressions of him, when you first met him?
He was a lovely old country gentleman. What was he? About 30 then?
He was born in 1912.
When you’re 19, a man of 30 is an old man! He was a lovely man; no doubt about it. I never had much experience of him dealing with me or anything like that. I know Red……..Stuart Hill’s gunner I think……..he got wounded and went to hospital – this was in France – I’ve read this; I’m not talking from experience – he was sent back to the holding regiment in France to be put back on the road to re-joining your regiment. He’d only been there a couple of days and he broke camp I think and went off to see his girlfriend in Brussels or something and he was away about a fortnight. If he’d been away any longer, he’d have been classed as a deserter. He went back and your dad was commanding officer then and he had to deal with him and he’d known him from the Middle East and he gave him a good ticking off and told him he was going to put him in A squadron under John Simpkins cos he knew John Simpkins would sort him out. I think everything went well from then on. It was a sensible decision really cos he was a good man; good soldier; good gunner.
If you did that in the German army it would have been good night!
He’d have been shot.
What did you think of Keith Douglas?
I never had a lot to do with him but he was a bit eccentric. He was alright but I never crossed his path very much.
So in the build up, when the tanks started to arrive you started training presumably. Did you do DD training?
No – B & C squadron were on the DD tanks cos they went right off. We were called the back woods boys or something; I forget.
Were you apprehensive about what was to come?
No; I volunteered for the navy when I was 17. My mother got the reply envelope and hid it; wouldn’t give it to me. She said “Forget it; you’re going in the army like your brothers.” And that was it. It was just a big adventure; always played soldiers as boys didn’t you and cowboys and Indians and that sort of thing.
But you all knew you were building up to the invasion?
Oh yes, of course we did, yes.
Did the training intensify as it got closer?
No, it was just waterproofing the tanks and that.
But no training with infantry?
We had 2 or 3 practise landings; used to go to Studland Bay and places like that.
Did you ever do any training with artillery and infantry?
No; not that I can remember but it was a long time ago now.
Then you went to Sway?
Were you all caged in at that point?
No; it was a big country house. I was one of the advanced party that went down to get it ready; picked out a lovely room and of course when the rest came down, the sergeants took over the whole lot – it was you go up in the attic sort of thing! Was it your dad – old Montgomery brought the order out that we all had to get up every morning and go for a run and I think it was your father – he always led the …….you used to have to go 3 miles then back again. It was funny because in the front of this house there was quite a big copse and all these old soldiers they’d run down to the copse and then disappear in the woods and run over to the other side and when they came back they used to join in again!
Dad would do that?
He’d be leading.
I think he had a bet with one of the sergeants over a case of beer or something.
So it was all pretty casual?
Oh it was yes.
I love the idea of it all being like a big family and everyone looking after each other.
That’s what it was, yes.
Discipline but not really strict?
No, no, no. There was one or two who fancied their chances……..the orderly rooms were in a bungalow in Sway itself – lovely bungalow in big grounds and I had to go there one day as orderly batman which meant looking after the fires and that sort of thing. I got told off cos I didn’t salute when I went in with a bucket of coal or something! That was one of the younger officers but that was the only time I got told off I think.
You were a good boy really?
I kept myself……….. it paid you to really.
What about all the kit; uniform and stuff? Did you find that all right? Not too itchy?
I was in the Home Guard at Hagbourne and I took my old uniform with me – we had to I think. I can’t remember much about it really.
But you’d stick in battle dress rather than those big overalls you could get?
I we used to use those – denims and that – in the tanks. Your battle dress was only for smart occasions; parades and that.
You were a gunner?
Was the 75mm easy to operate?
Yes, it was the stripping down and putting it back together that was the complicated part.
Taking the breach to pieces and things?
How often would you have to do that?
You had to keep it clean and oiled all the time but not a full strip, but after firing you had to do the barrel – swab it out with hot water and that. You had a co-driver and he was a sort of gunner as well. He used to look after the machine guns – the Brownings.
I am very interested in this rather laid back idea of the regiment. I wonder how much that is the regiment and how much A squadron.
I think it was general.
I suppose a lot of it was due to the fact if they’d been through the desert………
That’s it you see. You asked me about Keith Douglas – we didn’t work with him very much; we just worked with our troop which was 3 tanks and about 20 blokes and that was our little family there and when we went out on these landings and that, the officer used to sleep with you and that and muck in with you.
I get the impression from talking and reading that the Sherwood Rangers did have a very distinctive culture which was fairly unique to them as a regiment.
Oh yes; the CO that came, I think he thought he’d change it all but he had a hard job.
I think dad wrote about him in his diary.
They say that one quote was that if you hear a clanking noise coming along the road and tanks pass you by with frying pans and all that on the back it’s the Sherwood Rangers!
There was a professional informality was the impression I got.
The other point is that if you’ve been through the desert and had all these people killed and wounded, you realise what’s important in life and maybe doing everything to the letter is just not necessary.
In the Guards it was “Don’t scratch the paint!”
How many in your troop were veterans of the desert and how many new like yourself?
I should think 50/50. My sergeant had been in the desert.
Did they ever talk about it?
Not a lot; once we were out of cigarettes and one of them said “I’ve got some V’s if you want one.” He gave me this Victory V cigarette. I put a match to it and it flared up in my face. They were quite wise I think these chaps.
They would pass that on though?
Oh yes; usually when you go to another unit you get the old blokes and they sort of look down on the new boys til you’ve been there about 6 months, but there you were accepted straight away.
Then D day was getting closer and closer and you were all sensing it I suppose?
Oh yes; after Sway we went to Hurley in Winchester; that was a big tented camp and we were there 2 or 3 weeks. I got a weekend leave from there. One Saturday afternoon the orderly corporal came in and said “Anybody live local?” I said “Near Oxford.” He said “Want to go home for the weekend?” I said “Yes please!” He gave me a pass and I went from Winchester station. I asked for the next train to Didcote because then there was a rail link with Didcote via Southampton. He said “Tomorrow morning at 10. Why don’t you thumb a lift?” a couple of Yanks came by in a jeep and said they’d take me to Andover where they went into a pub and dumped me and I walked through and there’s a place there called El Alamein and just past there I was walking and there was nothing coming by and I came to a sort of road menders caravan which had lights on and knocked on the door and he invited me in and there was an old farmer sitting there and he said “Where are you going?” I told him and he said “You’re lucky, this chap’s going to Ilsley. He’ll take you as far as there.” Then I was on the A34 and it was full of convoys up and down, mostly Americans and no one would stop so I walked all the way from Ilsley to Didcote. Got home at 3am. Knocked my dad up; had a cup of tea; put my feet in a bowl of hot water for a while and then went to bed! Then I more or less turned round and went back. Must have got the train from Didcote on the Sunday afternoon!
Can you remember boarding the ship and heading off for the invasion?
Oh yes; we were down by Fawley in the woods there behind barbed wire and from there we went into Southampton and got on the LCT’s. We were there about 2 or 3 days beforehand. On the Monday night we started out but in the end we had to come back; it was cancelled because of the weather.
What was the mood like then?
Well everything was in doubt and then they got the order late Tuesday night would it be and off we went. When we came back the first time we didn’t come back to the moorings in Southampton.
Was everyone disappointed?
Well, ???? here we go, and that was it, you know. Those LCT’s – we were round the back of the Isle of Wight and every time the old tide went came in, the front went up and then down again and kept flapping.
They’re only about a 3 foot draught aren’t they?
Yes; we had a little room, not as wide as this, and a table down the middle and benches on each side which could house about 16 I suppose. Three tanks – that would fill it up. We had 2 or 3 lorries and we found the winch house that raised and lowered the ramp and there were chains in there but it was sheltered because the rain was coming down and there was sick everywhere and everybody was sick.
Were you seasick?
I was; I think everybody was!
Not a good start! Do you remember hearing aircraft and seeing them going over?
We were just steaming ahead though the night and the only thing you felt was the ship rising and falling. I don‘t know if they asked for volunteers or if we were detailed but they had a big roll of coconut matting and when the ramp went down you had to push it out onto the beach so the tanks could grip on the shingle or whatever and I was detailed for that.
So was Padre Skinner (?).
Was he in the same LCT as you?
No; when we landed the ramp when down and we pushed this big bobbin out and the tide was so strong it just in and swept it round and the further it stretched, the further the matting trailed and we were in the water trying to right it. The skipper shouted “I’m going back and going to run in again!” the power of the tide on the bobbin was turning the landing craft around.
So did you get back on board again?
No; we were left stranded in 4 or 5 foot of water.
With bullets flying right, left and centre?
We were all right; don’t know why but we were ok and we pushed on and got onto the beach and the LCT pulled back about 100 yards and that took about another half an hour for them to manoeuvre around and come back in again.
So you were standing on the beach? With no rifle; nothing?
No; we had revolvers with about a 6 foot range!
That’s not going to do you a huge amount of good!
We went up and there was a sea wall there and so we sat underneath it and waited.
And watch the scene unfolding. It must have been an incredible sight wasn’t it?
Oh a terrific sight.
Did it give you confidence? It must have been quite overwhelming.
It was; seeing all these boats landing and that. Our beach wasn’t too bad; I will admit that.
The din must have been incredible.
Oh it was. They were still shelling and that and of course the DD tanks that had landed had gone off to Ansells (?) and did most of the fighting there and I didn’t fire a shot on the beach.
What sort of time was it when your Sherman eventually got off? You were supposed to land at 7.30 weren’t you?
It would have been about half past 8 or 8.45 I suppose. It had quietened down a bit and so we got up to the top and there was a cart track along the top of the sea wall and there were some self propelled guns of the Essex there and I remember the officer said to us “What are you lads doing?” And we told him and he said “You’d better get back” but there was barbed wire and signs everywhere ‘Achtung Minden!’ whether they were there or not I don’t know.
How did you recognise your tank? Because of the symbols on the side?
It didn’t go out of sight; it came back but they were all numbered LCT 123 or whatever.
And your individual tank had its own…….
Yes; when they came…….they landed quite successfully and came off. Lt Howden came off first with his crew. They’d gone a few yards and they stopped and they’d broken down. Our tank was second; Sgt Rust came off and Howden jumped out of his tank and took over Sgt Rust’s tank and that’s how I got to be with the officer.
So only the sergeant left your tank? Not the whole crew?
Only the sergeant; he took over command of this other tank.
So the sergeant was left with the disabled tank?
Yes; I don’t know if it’s right or not but the driver was a proper old soldier and afterwards they reckoned he’d fixed it so it’d break down. That’s what I was told; don’t know if it’s true or not.
It must have been very confusing about what the hell was going on?
Oh it was.
Lots of people; lots of traffic.
I think they had bulldozers and made an entrance off the beach and we followed and on the hills we could see an area of tanks climbing up there and I remember Howden saying “That’s where we ought to be! We’ve got to catch them up.” And off we went and tanked up the hill.
And met up with the rest of the regiment?
Yes; we went right across country but we didn’t have a lot of opposition. There were a few snipers about and we were warned about those. The first time I fired the gun was at a sniper. We were going along and somebody said “Did you see that movement?” They used to get into the trees and strap themselves in. We were all inside with the officer poking his head out and we saw this movement in the trees and Mike Howden said to me “Give them a burst of machine gun fire.” I trained the gun on it and pressed the button but I hit the 75 instead of the machine gun – few nerves! I hit it right on the trunk about half way up and over it toppled.
That was the end of the sniper.
I remember old Howden said “B B B bugger Cox, that was a b b b bit b b b bloody drastic!! Then we went on and got to Bayeux in the evening.
You were among the first in weren’t you?
Yes; we were there that evening, D Day. We were should have taken it that evening but the infantry wouldn’t go in – the Essex. You can understand them really. They’d gone through – same as we had – the landing and all that sort of thing and marched up from the beach and must have been at it all day; must have been dog tired.
Do remember the French firemen (?) zooming around the place?
No; I think that was in the morning.
You went through Bayeux?
No we were on the outskirts of Bayeux on the night of D Day.
So you leaguered up for the night?
Yes, leaguered up. We got in by the cathedral on D Day and then they decided not to bother with it and they pulled back.
You got a little bit of sleep did you?
Well, it was double summertime and darkness was about 11pm and by the time we’d checked everything and filled up with petrol it was about 12 and we were greeted with the news that we were first out in the morning on a recce through Bayeux and we left at about 4 in the morning.
But when you do sleep, you just sleep by the side of the tank do you?
You’ve got the tarp which you generally put down from the side for shelter and you all just muck in together; sleep together. We went off down the Tilly road I should think. The other road wasn’t there then; the Caen/Cherbourg road. That was built by the engineers a few days afterwards. We went through and on about a couple of miles and didn’t get anything. Up the road there was a Dutch barn and outside that on the road there was a German lorry – like our 15cwt, or 25cwt I suppose and we weren’t sure what it was so we went up very cautiously and when we got there it was empty; they’d left it; probably run out of fuel and so we hitched it up and towed it back. It had a big wireless transmitter in the back and various papers. Towed it back into Bayeux and when we got back to Bayeux it was getting on for 9 or 10am and everyone was running about in long johns and vests and German boots! They’d raided the German stores. We reported back and joined the regiment. If I remember rightly, B & C squadron joined us as well.
So you then headed on down towards Tilly?
We didn’t do much for the rest of the day I don’t think; we sort of consolidated our position in Bayeux I think. The next thing I can remember is all our brigade forming up in columns; I think they were going to try to get to …….was it Bocage? Should have got through to there but when we got to Tilly, the old Germans had got there – the Panzer Lehr – we all had to take turns to be on guard……
This was the night of the 7th?
Yes……6th – 7th – they said take over here and they said the Cheshires would be up during the night. We were there with Sten guns and Smith and Wesson 38’s or whatever we had and that was it. there was a big bramble there and I said to this other young man, about the same age as me, “I’m getting in there.” And I burrowed into there. A bit later on we heard creeping about and I said “Halt! Who goes there?” He said “Friend!” I said “Advance friend and be recognised!” He said “How the bloody hell do you expect me to get in there? Do you think I’m a ferret?!” next thing we knew, the Cheshires came round with a Vickers machine gun and started saying “You go here and you go there” and I asked where I should go and they said “You can go” or something and actually only a few years ago we were in the museum in Tilly and General …….what’s his name of the Cheshires……he was there and I said “Did you come up with machine guns when we were at…….” He said “Yes, I was there.” I said “I was there too.” He said “Were you on sentry?” “Yes” I said. “You soon bloody disappeared!” he was only a captain then.
So you survived the night of the 7th?
Yes; whether I got wounded on the 8th or 9th I’ve never been able to remember, but going by what we did, I think I must have got wounded on the 8th; I’ve always said the 9th but……..
We were on hill 103……..when we were on sentry there I’d reported to the officer that we’d heard tanks moving about in the night down in the…….you could tell they were moving in during the night and I reported that. Anyhow, when we were on hill 103 we were in woods and came out and the next thing we knew was the old driver said “We’ve been hit.” Howden said “What’s the trouble then?” He said “We’ve been hit in the defence ? at the front.” The big round bit on the front of a Sherman.
You must have felt being hit didn’t you?
Well, yes but I think it was only a small shell; I think a 35-er. If it’d been an 88 we’d have had it; it would have gone through the whole tank. There were sparks all over the place and Howden said “I think we’d better get out then.” They all got out and being the gunner, with the old gun, if it’s off centre – not 12 o’clock – if it’s at one o’clock or two o’clock, the co-driver can’t get out because his hatch…….and if it’s opposite, the driver can’t get out the other way. Then the old breech block doesn’t give you much room in the turret; it’s quite a big block in there and the operator has to………
So if you are in a tank and it gets hit and the turret is sort of welded into position at an angle, that’s really bad news for whoever’s in there; you can’t get out?
And that’s just tough.
I let all the crew out and they got away safely and I can still remember now – I clambered off the back of the turret.
So, you got out of the hatch at the top of the turret?
Yes, and down the back and as I went I’d still got my earphones on and I remember them pulling me back and I stopped to take them off and throw them back into the turret and I jumped off the back and as I jumped, he hit us on the left hand side.
Showing photo – Here’s your tank……..
I jumped off there and as I jumped down, he hit us there and I caught all the blast and bits of shrapnel.
Was it another 35?
I don’t know; I should think it was, yes.
If it had been an 88 it would have been all over wouldn’t it…………..battery operated! So you could actually make it go round…………
I’ve never opened it! Ken ?? gave it me. You’ve heard of him I expect?
He’d be able to tell you a lot more than me.
So you got hit in the arm and leg?
Yes; I ended up behind the back idler and I just lay there; knew I’d been wounded.
You weren’t unconscious?
No, I kept my wits about me and lay there for a while.
And it got you mostly down your side did it?
I got wounded just there and here; had operations to try and get the nerves together but it didn’t work.
He’s got major shrapnel in his back.
When I broke my hip I went into the John Radcliffe in Oxford for x rays and came back to the casualty and they were looking at my x rays and asked me what was going on and it showed on the x ray. I had the same thing in Southampton when I had to have an x ray on my kidneys or something. There were all these little black marks on it.
So you were lying on the ground?
Yes, I suppose for quarter of an hour or so.
Did it hurt?
No, I didn’t feel a thing actually; it was all numb. The lads had run back into the woods and were sheltering in a ditch and a couple of them came and dragged me back in there with them. Within about 10 minutes or quarter of an hour, the old tank went up in flames. Whether they’d hit it again I don’t know or whether it was the previous shells that’d hit it. It went up and the smoke with the ammunition exploding an all that. The next thing I knew, a Jeep pulls up and 2 or 3 blokes were strapped on there and I got strapped on there as well and off we went back to the casualty place.
You were stitched up there?
Yes, you’re more or less stitched up there and then I was taken back to the beach. I can’t remember going to the casualty place; they must’ve given me Morphine or something and put me out, but I can remember being on the beach in this big, long hospital tent and they told me that a bit later, when it was dark they’d put me on a landing craft to the ships; they had all boats round. I was put on one and ended up either in Southampton or Portsmouth; Portsmouth I think. From there I went to a hospital in Epsom and had more dressings and gradually went up the country and finished up at Gateshead near Newcastle and was in there for 9 months.
So that was the end of your war?
Yes; I was in there for 9 months and then the old doctor…….surgeon came round and said “We can’t do any more for you. I’ve recommended you get your ticket,” and that was that; I came home.
Of the 20 of your little family as you describe it – how many survived?
I don’t know to be truthful. Howden died last year; he was 90-odd.
It’s incredible how many were killed or wounded. Front line troops in Normandy – I never get over this statistic – in the 77-day Normandy campaign, the average daily casualty rate across both sides was 6,674 PER DAY and that was worse than the Somme, Passchendaele and Verdun; it was incredible. Your chances were almost zero.
I generally go to church at Haybourne and the priest came to visit me once or twice and we got talking and I was telling him about Padre Skinner and I had his diary and the casualty book and I asked him if he’d like to look at them and he said he’d love to and I let him have them and he’s still got them. But he said he couldn’t believe the number of casualties we had. I said “When the war was over, hardly any of the old regiment was left; most were killed or wounded.”
We were saying last night that in the desert Dad had 5 tanks knocked out beneath him in one day. It’s extraordinary. I don’t know if a regiment had a higher rate.
If you were front line troops in the Second World War, your chances of getting through were not great; it was as dangerous as it was in the 1st World War.
I do love the story of the sniper in the tree though!
END OF INTERVIEW