How granddad lost a bottle of whiskey (and a Sherman tank) in Normandy

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Ramiles, Jan 10, 2016.

  1. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    I have this hazy account scripted post war from recollections by my granddad, he was the tank commander of the second tank of the 1st troop of C squadron 24th Lancers. A lot of the memories he wrote are like this so I’m tenderly pacing myself around them trying to get them all into some sort of context:

    "Two troops had to take a hill with a wood on top. It looked from an aerial photograph as if part of the hill had been cut making it impossible to get the tanks nearer than 400 yards of the woods. We had a creeping barrage to take us in and all went well until shells began landing around us, it took me a few moments to realise we were going faster than our own barrage, it always amazed me how quickly the artillery reacted when they were called. Everything went nicely after that and we found the cut in the hill didn’t matter so we took the infantry all the way and they were duly grateful and were last seen going through the wood.
    We then had a bit of back luck, we were clearing an area, I must say that the country in this area is bad for tank men, there’s too much cover, bocage country it’s called. We were approaching the corner of a cornfield when five Germans popped up out of the corn then disappeared. Told to go in to the corn after; I came up and said it looked too much like a mine field and anyway I couldn’t see them now. Told to go in and hunt them I went and promptly got blown up by a mine. It blew away the N/S (near side) rear bogey and gave my backside one hell of a bump. Giving the order to bail out I looked back and my crew weren’t moving, I suppose they were shocked. It meant I had to jump up and hitch up my plug before I could speak to them. It did (give?) me the chance to remind them to jump off the back into our own tank tracks. Having got into the field where my other tanks were I took a tow rope through and pulling the rope from my own tank I coupled them. The crippled tank was then pulled back to soft ground, I then took the rope back and pulled the broken track. I then rolled the tank back onto the track and in two or three minutes could have joined it and driven the tank away, even had we been attacked at that point I could have fought with the tank from a static position and still gone on and joined it up. Imagine my surprise when called to the radio to be told to blow it up as they were going to shell the area. I did point out that in five minutes I could have it away. Blow it up, we got out and my corporal blew it up. My only regret was the almost full bottle of whiskey. (he inadvertently forgot and left inside the tank)
    My crew then took a ride on the outside of a tank to Hill 102 north of Fontenay-L-P. The rest of the Regiment seemed to be up there and a tank battle was going on towards St.Pierre. Having nothing to do I parked myself near the first aid post, the Doctor has a radio and it’s easy to keep in touch. Some trucks pulled in from B Etchelon, I went and chatted to the drivers, they were very nervous, coming from near the beach head and being near the action for the first. There’s nowhere to go, none of the people you see are your friends, you have a truck with a load and you wish they’d take it so you can take your truck and dash away. Just at that moment they started to shell us, the first one hit an apple tree about 40-50 yards away, there were three men at that point and I saw them fall, two more shells were close, but I didn’t see them."

    Where I think perhaps (from what research I have done) this occurred is recounted in the 24th L war diary thus:

    "25/6/1944 – 24th L WD - This second phase of the attack again was preceded by a tremendous artillery barrage directly behind which the infantry moved supported by ‘B’ Sqn on the left and ‘C’ Sqn on the right. The enemy’s reactions was fierce and short and while the infantry were engaged in the unenviable task of clearing the northern half of Tessel Wood, supported by strong machine gun fire from the two Sqns mentioned, the Regiment positioned ready to resist the inevitable counter-attack with ‘C’ Sqn still on the left, that is the East of the Tessel Wood feature, ‘B’ Sqn observing to the West just North of the feature with ‘A’ Sqn sitting astride the Fontenay – Juvigny road facing East and West.

    Throughout the day the Regiment experienced very heavy and intense mortar fire on its positions and sustained casualties. ‘B’ Sqn on the right constantly engaged German Tanks seen moving 2000 – 3000 yards West of the position, while ‘C’ Sqn maintained its protective role on the left flank and engaged suitable targets in the area South and S.E of Fontenay."

    First ref. in the 24th L war diary to pt102 seems to be: "29/6/44 - The Regiment remained at Les Hauts Vents area during the day, moving out and deploying on Pt. 102, 8769, in the evening to be prepared to resist the possibility of an enemy attack. Later in the evening the Regiment resumed its original positions."

    Nb. Though there was a brief spell around the time of the great storm (during the period from 19th-22nd June 1944) when the Mulberries were damaged, where things were a bit more touch and go and less supplies were getting through, the loss of this particular Sherman did not seem particularly to concern them, he just went and got another tank, they weren't it seems in such short supply that they really had to husband them like the Germans did. Still it was a shame about the whiskey though ;)

    All the best,

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  2. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    BTW... does anyone happen to know if the British army tankies were actually issued a particular brand of whiskey? Or was it instead very much a case of just bring your own, slip it under your coat and hope an officer doesn't see... ?

    At one point much later in the war granddad mentions that he's able to get as much to drink as he wants, but of course given an easing in the supply and a partial "slow-down" in the hectic level of assignments there he doesn't think he actually "needs it" and is "much happier" just drinking cordial...

    Sobering thoughts...

    All the best,


    Ps. There's an article here on "A farewell to sobriety - drinking during "World War II" :

    That mentions morale etc. and the situation in a number of countries during WW2.
  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    British Tankies were NOT issued any brand of Whisky - only Sergeants and upwards got any whisky once a month - other ranks got beer - if they could get it

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  4. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Later the issued ration seems to have enabled him to have switched to Brandy and still later Gin and I wasn’t sure if some “geography” wasn’t involved. Brandy (France) and Gin (Netherlands). He occasionally mentions pouring his men “drinks” – so the appearance there (to me) is that he was sharing his “ration” around, usually he mentions doing this after some event and it steadies nerves etc. He also mentions the doctors doing this - as well as their "giving" various people "potions" with a similar intention / effect.

    I had assumed, when he mentioned “cordial” he meant something like a fruit flavour squash however, here they say that the Italian’s are still given alcohol in the form of a 40% measure of cordial.

    Can you guess an army's nationality by its ration pack? | Daily Mail Online

    And by the looks of this (he wrote in a letter from the Netherlands just before Xmas 1944)…

    “I saw in the newspaper that there’s to be better rations for Xmas, but no (extra?) wine or spirits, I have a bottle of Whiskey, have had it for about a fortnight and today we had ½ bottle of gin and a bottle of cordial.”


    By cordial he too meant something “alcoholic” there?



    1. 1.

      a sweet fruit-flavoured drink.
      "wine cups and fruit cordials"
      synonyms: squash, crush, concentrate

      "I often drank water with fruit cordial"

    2. 2. a pleasant-tasting medicine.

    Last edited: Oct 17, 2016
  5. I'd say that in this case "Cordial" should be understood in its North American acception, i.e. "liqueur", and was probably appreciated more for its alcoholic content than for whatever it was made from :)

    This acception is the same in French, I guess because it's supposed to lift your spirits up to a cordial mood. Lots of such words in French vaunting the supposed virtues of anything alcoholic, e.g. "remontant", "fortifiant", "digestif", "apéritif"; "tonique" and so forth. The English "refreshment" sounds much in the same vein...

  6. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Thanks Michel,

    I was pondering whether Benedictine might in someway count perhaps as a "Cordial" :

    Or indeed whether WW2 had much affect on its supply etc. It's one of those funny things as I am trying to remember if he had this (Benedictine) "on his shelf" in the 70's etc.

    Re. Favourite "Cordial brands of the British army" etc.

    I'll have to dig out some of the comments he made on "Calvados" sometime... though I have seen one or two comments / even posts in threads about this also already elsewhere.

    (As regards the "loss of the Whiskey" tho. I have to wonder - if it was a part of the "ration" etc. could he "claim it back" ? I'm guessing from his comment and the fact that they had to blow up the tank themselves he could not).

    Another question on this thread though, how did the British "blow up a Sherman tank" ? I remember the Band of Brothers episode where they were "disposing of the German" guns and the action there seemed to be to "spike the barrel" etc. Given Gd and his crews "rush" to get away and avoid their own artillery bombardment they must have set some charge etc. and set off their own ammunition I guess? Such a tank on the "field" of battle might have looked like a total loss, one track off and "completely brewed-up" - but it ought really not to count as part of the German's tally perhaps? Plus did the German's actually lure my grandfather into a minefield by pretending to want to surrender and then tempting them in? I guess a case could be made that they did actually want to surrender, but when they realised that to do so they would have to "cross their own minefield" they had second thoughts and backed back down out of sight. I don't know if this is an acceptable "ruse of war" ? But I suppose you can't force potential POWs to cross their own minefields either...

    All the best,

  7. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    In "None Had Lances" - the Story of the 24th Lancers pages 69-70 it says that after a mishap with their Rhino (which was almost swamped on their "arrival" in Normandy)... Ian Kerr and Pat MacIver were "welcomed" onboard an LST that took them in tow and let them climb onboard where they were welcomed with hot coffee and a glass of neat spirit with grapefruit juice (presumably from the American crew, and the grapefruit juice coming from there).

    Some posts on the LSTs and Rhino's of the 24th L here:

    Interestingly also in this Guardian article:

    It mentions "In world war two, Churchill's government realised that blackcurrants represented a reliable domestic source of vitamin C after the U-boat campaign had all but stopped Florida oranges from reaching Britain. Since 1942, as the ads still boast, almost the entire national crop of blackcurrants has been pulped and sugared into Ribena. Large numbers of British children were given unbranded blackcurrant cordial to stave off scurvy for much of the war."
  8. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    I think officers were allowed to buy a bottle of Whisky a month.

    There must have been a drill for disabling a Sherman tank. There was one for disabling different types of field gun. The equipment of German tanks included an explosive charge with which to demolish the tank.
  9. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Thanks Sheldrake,

    Tried googling "drill for disabling a Sherman tank"

    And it came up with this:

    Crew Drill and Sevice M4 Medium Tank (apparently a US War department field manual for the Sherman

    To quote from a section of which is a bit tricky as it is a pdf, however on page 52 of 132 it has a couple of paragraphs on how to...

    30. To Abandon Tank


    31. To Destroy Tank

    ...and directions there to the ominous sounding "Section XI - Destruction of Equipment" (page 122 of 132)

    Where on 125 it says in section 64 - in effect after removing the fire extinguishers and puncturing the fuel tanks with a .5 machine gun or fragmentation grenade a Sherman could be destroyed in 1-2 mins provided TNT charges are available and correctly placed.

    Can't help thinking though it might have been quicker (and significantly easier ;) ) - just to fix the track, though I've no idea if the method of destruction that they actually used there was "completely by the book" :P

    Interesting document anyhow. I wonder if the Brits had access to this FM 17-67 - or had to script their own similar document(s) (Nb. It says within it on p2 that 5 Aug 1944 supersedes FM-67 from 9th April 1943):

    FM 17-67

    Crew Drill and Service of the Piece, Medium Tank M4.

    5 Aug. 44

    All the best,

  10. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Steve (SDP) recently posted the "Lancer Life's" - 24th Lancers Newsletter: 'Lancer Life'.

    - which were a morale boosting weekly newsletter produced for the 24th Lancers by their Padre Mark Green - and of course they are well worth a good read through ;-)

    I have seen lots of fascinating info. in there.

    I was especially pleased to see the quote in there - in the 3rd Edition of Lancer Life - under the "News of Casualties" -

    "Has Ben got over having to leave the whiskey behind?" by Trooper Ward of "C Squadron" writing on June 28th 1944.


    With great thanks to Steve (SDP), I've the info that there were at least 4 trooper Ward's in the 24th Lancers, and two of these were in "C" squadron, one of whom was apparently wounded in Normandy.

    Tpr C E Ward. HQ Squadron
    Tpr G D Ward. Driver/Operator in C Squadron
    Tpr F P Ward. Driver/Operator in C Squadron
    Tpr T A W Ward. HQ Squadron.

    According to the 'wounded list' there is (thankfully) just one: Tpr G Ward C Squadron, who would seem perhaps to have been the wounded corespondent, mentioned above in Lancer Life.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
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