Trooper John Gowan, 56 Recce - IWM Interview transcription

Discussion in 'Recce' started by 4jonboy, Mar 17, 2015.

  1. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

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    GOWAN, John (IWM interview)
    Catalogue number 20254
    Production date 2002-02-08
    Subject period: Second World War
    Alternative Names: object category: IWM interview
    Creator: IWM (Production Company), Wood, Conrad (recorder), Gowan, John (interviewee/speaker)
    Category: sound
    Object description: British private served with 56 Reconnaissance Regt in GB, North Africa, Italy and Austria, 1942-1946
    Content description
    REEL 1 Background in Hull, 1922-1939: family; education. Aspects of period as civilian living in Hull, 1939-1941: adaptations made to domestic Anderson shelter; memories of German Air Force attacks; public morale; membership of Home Guard; improvised road blocks; bombing of his place of employment; employment with Blackburn Aircraft Coy at Brough. Aspects of enlistment and training with 15 Troop C Sqdn, 56 Reconnaissance Regt in GB, 1942: call up, late 1941; start of training at Chadacre, 1/1942; character of Humber Armoured Car; relations with officers; bombed state of York Railway Station.
    REEL 2 Continues: story of being placed on charge for being late back from embarkation leave. Recollections of operations as private with 15 Troop, C Sqdn 56 Reconnaissance Regt in Algeria and Tunisia, 1942-1943: voyage from GB to Algeria; landings near Algiers, 8/11/1942; destruction of his Bren Gun Carrier by German Air Force during advance from Algiers; German air superiority; reasons for unit not wearing helmets; loss of unit vehicles on advance to Tunis, 11/1942-12/1942; attempt to hold line at Kasserine, 2/1943; patrol work in Tunisia, 1943; commanding officer's orders relating to air attack; potential danger when 1st and 8th Armies met; relations between 1st and 8th Armies; items liberated from Hermann Goering Divisional supplies; incidents of Germans releasing POWs; memories of German surrender in Tunis.
    REEL 3 Continues: Aspects of operations as private with 15 Troop, C Sqdn 56 Reconnaissance Regt in Sicily, 7/1943: character of landings; move to Adrano area; incident when his armoured car was blown up by German anti-tank gun and return to Allied lines; malaria problem at Patti. Aspects of operations as private with 15 Troop, C Sqdn 56 Reconnaissance Regt in Italy, 1944-1945: character of landing at Taranto; German defence of Monte Cassino area; second bout of malaria at Porto Maggiore, c1944; importance of returning to own unit after sickness or wounding; recovery period in Cairo, Egypt; return to Italy and further hospitalisation. Recollections of Occupation of Austria, 1945-1946: sight of Cossacks who had fought for Germans; relations with Austrians.
    REEL 4 Continues: social life in Vienna and relations with Russian occupation troops; transfer to North Irish Horse in Germany; release from army. Attitude to having served with 78th Div in Second World War.


    For reference the 56 Recce war diaries can be found by clicking this link

    edited: added link to war diaries
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  2. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    REEL 1 John Gowan IWM Interview


    John Gowan was born in Hull in 1922 and grew up in the area. He left school in 1936 and in 1937 got an apprenticeship as an apprentice electrician.

    At the end of 1940 he took a hydraulics engineer course at Brough aircraft factory where they produced the Blackburn Botha bomber, a four seat reconnaissance and torpedo bomber. He worked there until the end of 1941, when he was posted to their works at Yeadon but, before he could start, he received his call up papers ordering him to report to Colchester in January 1942.

    REEL 1 FROM 15.50 mins to end (Only transcribed from signing up)

    How did you feel about being called up?

    Well it was one of these things that we accepted. You waited for your calling up papers because we took our medical exams, and any other exams we had to do, and, you just waited until you was called up, ‘cause as soon as you were 19 or nearly 19 you got your papers to go report to a unit, unless you were reserved, which I would have been if I had gone to Yeadon. There were a hundred of us altogether in the call up as I was one who had to report to Colchester, one from London, ninety nine from up North -Yorkshire and Tyne Tees -places like that. We were sorted out obviously for a Reconnaissance unit, which they were building up then.

    What was basic training like that you had?

    It was very, very hard, and concentrated. We arrived at a barracks, well it was Nissan huts at the regiment at a place called Chadacre, near Sudbury, which is Kent I believe -–is it Kent, or Suffolk? Anyway, south of Colchester. Anyway we were in Nissan huts and in January 1942 there was a lot of snow, so for the first two weeks all our work was done in snow, physical exercises in snow, press ups, so that when you went down no one could see you, you was in snow, very concentrated teaching and, with all that we also had to take gunnery, bren guns especially, because we were going to be the gunner operators in the armoured cars.

    We had gunnery with the bren guns, well with rifle and other things like, morse code which they taught us, the morse code, but in between that if anybody faltered they were thrown straight out, there was no argument, they were out, and I think in the end we ended up with thirty three of us who went into this squadron. We had to learn to drive, map read, everything, every man who was going to be allocated to a crew had to know every other man’s job, even to the commander’s job and ‘cause we got increments, 6p a day extra for passing this, radio, bren carriers, armoured cars especially, and then we were all sorted out in the end so we had drivers, who were drivers, they could drive, they were the best, and gunner operators who had the bren gun and operated the radio at the same time, then the Commander.

    And you were called the gunner-operator?

    Gunner operator I was yes, and they taught us, as I say, this morse code which was never, ever used, for the simple reason that all our radios never had a key, we didn’t have any morse keys to them, we never did use it.

    What did they tell you about this Recce regiment?

    Well, it was something brand new in the British Army, they realised that if the Germans could fly about as fast as they could in these armoured cars and light tanks and stuff why couldn’t we? The first armoured cars that some of the regiment, some of the older hands who had been at Dunkirk, they were there in early ’41, some of them, their armoured cars were a Bedford truck with a concrete pillbox on, which was very crude obviously. Then we had a small Austin 7 with a bren gun mounted at the back and then we tried different things until we found the one we wanted, that was right, and it turned out to be the Humber Mark 3 light armoured car, which we preferred all the time, even when they tried to change it, they gave us those American Greyhounds, 6 wheelers and White Armoured Cars, we didn’t like them. The Humber was, actually it was a Humber Snipe, it was a private car, armoured, and it was so versatile and the drivers, a good driver could turn it round on any road quickly, or reverse it quickly which we had to do if you come to a corner and somebody fired a shot at you and we found that they were the answer to us, no doubt about that.

    As I say, we finally formed ourselves, and we used cavalry commands, so when we finally made up the squadrons and the regiment was almost fully formed, as a regiment, instead of bits and pieces coming together, we were with the 56th (London) Division, but because they were working out this invasion to Algiers, Algiers and Tunisia, and they formed the 78th Infantry Division, and they wanted a reconnaissance regiment, a full one, so we went to the 78th Division but we kept our number 56th Reconnaissance Regiment, whereas others, they had the, the Division had the same number, the 5th Division had the 5th Reconnaissance and so on.

    We went up to Scotland, in the cars, we went by road - bren carriers went by rail - and did our training up there at Carnoustie Golf course, and then went abroad, went abroad from Glasgow.

    What kind of performance could you get out of these Humber Snipes?

    Oh they were good! They were virtually the prestige car before the war you know, the Humber Snipe, all the top people had them. It was the same vehicle except they took the body off and put armoured plating on, bigger wheels, run flat wheels on, and it was go as fast as you liked near enough, and they were a permanent 4 wheeled drive.

    100 miles an hour?

    No maybe not! In them days I don’t think they had many cars, even good cars, could do 100 mph. Well over 60, we could reach over 60 if you was on a road charging about, yes, yes.

    What did you think of the armament?

    Well we were the most heavily armoured regiment in the British Army, because each car and each bren gun, had a bren gun, rifle, tommy gun, that was your 3 crew, then the gunner operator had a pistol, that was his personal weapon, we carried a 2 inch mortar on all vehicles, grenades, mines, 1,000 rounds, replacement rounds, smoke discharger obviously, practically everything, you could make a lot of noise with one car. Oh and a Boys anti -tank rifle with every vehicle as well.

    What type of pistol did you have?

    Well just before we were finally sorted out into squadrons, we got a box from the New York police; and all gunner operators had to go to the Nissan hut, and we were issued with whatever came out of the box, so when they opened the box - the police had handed in their spare weapons, pistols -I got a Smith and Wesson 38 and six rounds. Some got, well, more like cowboys, they had these long barrels on them, I just forget the name, there is a name for them, they are well known, all sorts of pistols that the police didn’t use at the time, they sent them. They had to modify the holsters, ‘cause they were just standard holsters, if you had a long barrel you had to cut a hole in the bottom (laugh!). I only got six rounds, and I was only ever issued 6 rounds and that’s all I had.

    So you say you were up at Carnoustie.

    Yes Carnoustie, Carnoustie, we did some training there, mainly running along the edge of the estuary I think it is isn’t it there, firing at balloons and that, just getting firing practice, and doing things and we were sort of settling in then, getting to know everybody, your mates, who was going to be your mates who you would be working with and that.

    What individuals do you remember from those times then?

    Well I had a very good friend , I was in 15 Troop of C Squadron and he was in 16 Troop of C Squadron, and for some reason we clicked off and I think the reason was, when we first started our training, we were supposed to be attacking a point and there were two rows of barbed wire across, and the Sergeant Major said “You are going to go through there”, he said “you, you”, that was the two of us, “throw yourselves on that wire with your rifle in front of you”, which we did, and the others run over us, which was an experience in itself, but from that moment on we were real good mates and we watched each other, if one were out on patrol during the war and the other wasn’t, when you came back at night, which was always late of course, your cup of tea was there ready for you and your kit was out. So he was a very, very good mate but we were all comrades of course, we all relied on each other.

    What did you think of the NCO’s and Officers in charge of your unit?

    Ah well, with it being the type of unit it was, where your commander could be the officer. There were five cars to a troop, one officer, so he would be in the middle car, two in front and two behind him, and we actually called them by their first names, John, Joe Watts, Digger, unless there was other Officers somewhere about like, but normally we called them by their first names, and they were all good, all good, yes, marvellous.

    What happened to you then?

    They gave us, all of a sudden, forty eight hours leave from Carnoustie. Well forty eight hours was hopeless for the London chaps obviously, I mean especially during the war when trains didn’t keep running. We all got onto the train and got to York station, it took us about three hours to get to York station - maybe a bit more - and it had just been bombed, so I personally had to wait another two hours to get a train to Hull, there were no lifts, couldn’t get a lift anywhere.

    Have you any recollection of what York station looked like?

    Well, it wasn’t as big as it is now, it was just a smallish station, it was a busy station, and all I can remember is the brickwork of what I took to be ticket offices was blown all over the platforms and that, and then it took another hour or more, an hour and a half, to get to Hull, so by the time I got here, twelve hours of my forty eight hours had gone. And then, I spent the next day with my parents and the girl, she wasn’t even really a girlfriend then, just a friend, and, when it was time to come back, which meant I had had only eight hours at home, if that, and then I had to be back the same day, the second day, for six o clock at night. Well you can imagine we was talking and they said, Oh, do you really have to go back and I said yeah, I put it back to the next day, knowing that I would finish up on a charge, but I thought to myself that these Londoners wouldn’t get back until two days later, which they didn’t a lot of them. I was immediately put on charge as soon as I got back.

    END OF REEL 1 30.48 mins
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  3. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron


    I had to be back that night at 6 0’clock, irrespective of the fact that there was an air raid or the sirens had gone, which meant there would be nobody travelling anyhow until later on. I was immediately put on charge, as soon as I got back, and unfortunately the Commanding Officer or the Officer commanding C Squadron, said he had to make an example of me, or somebody, so he gave me, I think it was four days Royal Warrant which meant four days pay stopped, and a weeks confined to barracks, and then I was called back again the following night and some more was added on because he hadn’t given me enough, but I think he knew full well that we were going almost directly to the boats at Glasgow, because once you go abroad it’s wiped out is that, things like that.

    So when everybody had finally arrived we all geared up, got all our gear together, and we went down to Glasgow, and went on a ship called the Haldegard - let me get it right - the Marnix, the Marnix Van Sint Aldegonde, which was a Dutch East Indies liner, luxury liner, and we went on that, and they had a lot of landing craft on, on the deck, well I say a lot, there was probably a dozen. We had no vehicles, we didn’t take the vehicles with us, and we set sail down the Clyde and we later joined the main convoy outside, and we headed out to the Atlantic, on what was the fast convoy. We didn’t know where we were going, didn’t know what we were going to do, but later on, we went on the fast convoy which went out into the Atlantic, to allow the slow convoy to get almost to the same place as we were when we went through the straights of Gibraltar.

    Roundabout when we got towards Gibraltar - we didn’t land at Gibraltar - although the rest of them did, we were told there was still street lighting in Algiers, which didn’t mean a thing to us, and then we found out we were going to make a beach landing, our squadron, just our squadron, six o’clock in the morning on the 8th November 1942. So we had to go down scrambling nets into these - pontoons they were, they didn’t have doors that dropped at the front - they were just pontoons. They took us to the beach, and of course we had to jump over the fronts, and it was surprising how heavy a machine gun, a bren gun is, when you are jumping from the top of the boat, and down onto the sand, you can imagine it, the drivers was carrying the ammunition boxes with the spare magazines in, which was quite heavy as well. And we cleared off the beach……

    Were there any injuries on disembarking?

    Well, I never saw it myself but they said that one of the officers was that keen that he jumped over the front of the boat before it got near the sand, and they never saw him anymore, but I don’t know about that, that’s what they said. Of course all the gear we had was a small pack, the rest of the landing was taking place on 12th November. Our job it appears, and we weren’t told at the time, we were walking up the road after we left the beach, a coast road, and as far as we knew we were to go round the back of the big naval guns at Algiers - we landed on the west side of it - and we was supposed to take an aerodrome which was called Blida Aerodrome, if necessary, ‘cause they didn’t know about the French, but anyhow, there were 6 spitfires. They were supposed to cover the main landings, so we didn’t have any aircraft at all, and we went marching along this road and that was the first time, naturally, that us, the new recruits, had been probably away from home. I had never been any further than Scarborough (laughing).

    We didn’t know what was going on, really, we were marching along both sides of the road like, and that was it. It appears that when they landed on the 12th, at Algiers or round about there with the vehicles, we only had another squadron, one squadron was kept in reserve, there were six spitfires, they could take off from merchant ships but they couldn’t land, and one landed, ran out of fuel obviously, and landed on Blida aerodrome, and they surrendered to them, the French, which was a token surrender, so we went into Algiers to pick our vehicles up. That was the last time we saw our gear, what we call our gear, kit bags had been landed, the vehicles had been landed, and the big packs had been landed, which we hadn’t carried with us, we had all the rest with us, bren guns and personal arms.

    So we had to get the cars ready then, we all had our own cars, and the whole idea was that our squadron would set off from Algiers, and get as near as Tunis as possible, to cut the aerodrome, but it was the first time that a reconnaissance regiment, a British reconnaissance regiment had ever taken a reconnaissance role, and we didn’t know, we had to learn it, same as the British Army had to learn it, what to do with us. So they sent us off, and we had 600 odd miles to go, as fast as possible, along the coast road, and as I say, you could say that two thirds of the squadron were, call them greenhorns if you like, we were green, some had been to Dunkirk but very few.

    Because one of the cars had been lost, I was put in a carrier - bren carrier - and we had the bren guns were on big long sticks, that stuck up you know, you were supposed to stand up to fire them, at aircraft, which meant that when you stood up in a carrier to get to the machine gun your entire body was exposed, they’d never thought of that, and if you was outside the carrier you couldn’t reach it!

    We set off along the coast road, it was a bit tricky, we ran off the road completely, our carrier, lucky it didn’t overturn. So the rest went on, we started building up stones, got the carrier back on the road, and as we did, I said, it was a Sergeant who was our Commander, and he’d been to Dunkirk, and so had the driver, as it happens, and I’m stood at the side of the carrier, leaning against the metal, and I just said “ well, we’re all ready now”, Oh I said “ look at these two Spitfires coming”, and there were two planes coming down the road, not very high, above the road, and as I said it, these two vanished, and I thought what’s up? Then and when I looked, there’s the sparks coming off the wings of the Spitfire, so I dropped immediately straight down alongside the carrier, and the cannons, the bullets from the machine guns were bouncing everywhere, the cannons went through the carrier, bump, bump, bump, there was one behind another, as soon as they’d gone I grabbed this stick, got it out of it’s stand, got my bren gun off it, the carrier by then was blazing, because we had two 45 gallon tanks in the carrier on the floor, and I got me bren gun, and I moved away from the carrier, ‘cause it was in flames then, and met these two, and there was a lighthouse on the border of Tunisia and Algeria, we made for that.

    Were they Spitfires?

    No! 109s! This was a classic thing, you know, Oh it’s one of ours. And we got in this lighthouse and there was a chap there and he’d seen us, we watched the two Messerschmitts and they flew round the lighthouse then cleared off, then we looked at the carrier, which was quite a bit away then ‘cause we made sure we had room, and it was blazing and the ammunition exploding, mortar fired it’s - there was a bomb in it and it fired it off and that was, as I say one of these things that teach you, never, well the Sergeant said to me, “never trust an aircraft” he said, “you can’t tell what they are”. We knew the minute you said there was two Spitfires coming down, there shouldn’t have been, because we hadn’t any, I knew that, but I had forgotten, so I finished up on a soft vehicle, one of our mechanic’s vehicles.

    So was your bren carrier badly damaged?

    It was pushed over a cliff, to clear the road, so we lost all of our gear, except I had my pistol, bren gun and what I had in my pocket, that’s all like, so I’d lost everything there. Then after that, it was a case of, we were like that, all the time, watching for aircraft, because we hadn’t any aircraft, every aircraft in the sky, even Skukas running about unescorted, they didn’t need fighters, ‘cause we hadn’t any to take them on.

    It was a case of putting your foot down, if we had to move during the day, which we did, try and try and get where you were going. After the first two or three days, I think it was two days, our Commanding Officer, the Colonel, came round, he had an armoured car the same, and I was in a car then, got back into a car, he stopped at every vehicle in our squadron, there was only our squadron, which was what, three troops of five cars each, and three troops of carriers, but by then we had lost half of them through enemy aircraft and he came round and said, I remember him, ‘cause I remember him leaning out of his car and saying “Gentlemen, I would ask you not to wear your tin hats”, which we didn’t in the turrets because you couldn’t, the turret wasn’t wide enough to have a tin hat and you in it as well and the bren gun, we did have a soft cap, a brown beret, he said it would give the infantry a lot more confidence if they see you without tin hats, and I am sure that through the rest of the war I never saw one of our lads wearing a tin hat, we just didn’t wear them, nowhere, at least I never saw anybody wearing one.

    That was on the 8th November we landed, got our vehicles on the 12th November and by December, December 20th I think it was, or maybe just a bit before, we had two armoured vehicles left, one bren gun carrier and a car, all the rest dive-bombed or…. And still hadn’t really, well we had met enemy, but we got to within, we covered 600 miles in four days, going to Tunis, so you can imagine, we got very near Tunis, a few miles off Tunis, before we really hit the full weight of the German reconnaissance, but it was their aircraft. The No 6 commando and 1st Airborne Brigade, I remember that was the number, they had landed the same time as us, but forward of course, well forward, to take an aerodrome, we had to go and rescue both of them, because they had no chance, too far out on their own, and we picked up wounded and getting them to cling on the cars while we charged out.

    There was a bit of open space round there, but we pulled back to a copper mine, I think it is, in Salem they called it and we had to have our Christmas dinner on the 22nd December, because we had a few replacement cars coming, and we had to go forward on Christmas day, by then we had started to get infantry up and artillery.

    We had quite a nice time in this mine, and it was about a week later I realised that it had been my birthday on that date, 22nd December, I’d forgotten, I was 20 then, and I had forgotten all about it (laughing). It was only about a week, maybe more, that I suddenly said to this friend of mine “it was my birthday when we had our Christmas dinner”. I forgot! (laughing).

    From then on we then met increasing resistance but we got within 11 miles of Tunis, which was a terrific effort really, 600 miles we covered in four days!

    Did you lose any other vehicles yourself?

    Yes. We finally got some replacement vehicles, I think they took them off the squadron who hadn’t been in action, so we transferred our gear from soft vehicles, from whoever had been carrying it and we started forming up again, but by that time, as I say, we got to within 11 miles of Tunis and started getting held and pushed back, because there was only one division and that had only two brigades, that was the 1st Army, and until we got built up again, we did a lot of patrolling, just meeting resistance here and there, which was our job to go and find out where the enemy were and report back. But in that time we were all getting to know each other, very well, knit in, and by this time knew who was who, what was what, and who to take notice of, and then when they started we got our entire regiment together in the end, three squadrons, and just at that time the Germans broke through Kasserine Pass. The Americans fell back fast, really fast, and we were in harbour one day on a hillside and we heard firing and there were two German tanks just on the road at the bottom of us, so we all made mad dashes here and there, they ordered, it was our A squadron, I think, and told them to go through the Americans to go and hold Kasserine Pass at all costs, nobody had to come back at all, and luckily, and there was a few Coldstream Guards of our Guards Brigade up there and they managed to hold it in the end.

    When they did get back after, they went 20 miles looking for the enemy, the enemy had withdrew at the same time, we had to change all our radios, we got a later model radio, it was night time, and I got one that had been in a car that had been attacked, and I had to wash the blood off it before I could even get it mounted. They were very cumbersome things. From then on it was patrolling, all sorts of things, general, just looking for information.

    What sort of patrolling?

    We were there to find out where the enemy were, so if there were going to be an attack, there were a lot of hills in Tunisia, a lot of hills. If they wanted to know where the German guns were and they couldn’t spot them because they might be not over that hill, but that one over there, but the shells would come, they would send us out on the road as live bait and wait until they fired a shot, so then the artillery observers could - we had to go out and find the enemy, where they were and where was the best way, and when the brigade attacked anywhere, our job mainly, if it was on these hills, was to run down the sides, the flanks, keep the flanks clear. It was a big learning job for reconnaissance, and from that they based all other reconnaissance.

    And you were on patrol in Snipes?

    Humber Snipes, yes - I’ve got a picture of them there, yeah.

    Did you have many incidents when you were out on patrol you can recount?

    Well, for one thing we didn’t know that an ordinary armoured piercing rifle bullet would go through them, or a rifle bullet if you were near enough, a copper one, because we once or twice we were attacked by Spitfires because we got that far forward they didn’t know who was who, and they attacked anything that moved, and then of course there were the Stukas, and that going round. It was very hectic in Africa actually. Very hectic.

    Was your unit taking many casualties?

    Yes we did from the Stukas, until the Colonel, as I said, he came round again, because he led patrols, the Colonel, he said, he was a real military man, Chavasse they called him, and it was all a military family. He always said “Gentlemen, if you are attacked by aircraft, leave the aircraft (sic), take your bren gun if you can”, he said “I can get vehicles but I can’t get the men”, because we had special training, every man was independent, you could go off on your own, I think him telling us that he saved a lot of casualties.

    We actually learned to leave a vehicle- I could leave, if I was riding with, if you lost a vehicle, you rode with what we called soft skinned vehicles, mechanics and that, because we had to have mechanics for the cars, radios and all that, radio men. I could actually, and everybody else could, leave one at 60 miles per hour!


    Aircraft! Straight off. Just tumble across the road. If you couldn’t get into trees with the vehicle, you left the vehicle and dived out, then the driver would, switch off and jump at the same time and let the vehicle run on, which meant you weren’t where the Stukas were going. Oh yes we lost a lot of vehicles.

    I will give you, if you like, my history of it, but the big book I lent it to a chap in Scarborough and don’t think I’m going to get it back, and that is the history of our reconnaissance, I lent him it.

    What other specific memories have you got?

    From Africa? Well. We managed to chase the Hermann Goring regiment which was one of the top regiments off, and we got into their headquarters, and all the gear, all the gear was lined up in the yard outside, lined up, with all their packs and everything, and they had gone and left it. We had a good look through that, because the Arabs were coming and wheeling away handcart loads of boots and stuff away, and uniforms and that.

    It was a bit tricky when we met the 8th Army, because they were coming - we knew they were about, and we were expecting to meet them, so when we saw armoured cars, which were a lot bigger than ours, and a lot heavier, coming down or moving across the top of the road, and we were down here, at our end, they just edged forward gradually until they recognised each other. Then we met the 8th Army.

    Was there a danger they would fire?

    Well you could have done, because there was no fixed line obviously, because they were pushing forward and we were pushing, not necessarily in their area, but it was just a case of, you’ve got to be a bit wary when you know they’re about, obviously.

    How did you get on with them?

    Well we didn’t. Now then, we captured Tunis and Montgomery - General Alexander was our Commander - we were pulled in together to meet Montgomery, and he was stood on a truck, I think it was, and got us round him “Take your hats off, hmmm” - Oh, he seemed very supercilious to me, he looked down his nose and said “Hmmm, I suppose you men could fit into my Army”, just like that, which wasn’t very good actually, we didn’t think so. So after that…

    Did anybody give him the bird?

    No what we did after that, you found that all 1st Army vehicles, ‘cause we were 8th Army then, he said you know, when we went to Sicily we were 8th Army, we finished in Africa as 1st Army, but all our vehicles were marked “no connection with any other Army”. There was a lot of row about it you know, it died out in the end but, it was the manner in which he met you, and yet at the end of Italy, he said he had never known a fighting Division as good as the Battleaxe Division. He said he thought it was the finest in the British Army! Now surely he knew what they’d been doing in Africa, they’d kept in touch with each other, surely the 1st and 8th Armies, they were working together, but there you are, so it went down like a lead bomb when he said you may fit into my Army, my 8th Army (laugh!).

    When you got these supplies of the Hermann Goring Division, did you get any souvenirs?

    No I got a, I got a watch, Oh, a lovely watch it was, with no glass in it, that’s why it was probably left in the thing, and I thought, by that’s nice so I started wearing it, ‘cause I had a signals watch but we kept them in the car really, and it would stand water and everything, and it was a classic and I wore it for a long time, but I lost it in Sicily, and that’s all I took off that, but I did have a liquid compass that I kept on the car - don’t know where I got it from actually - and we had a German wireless set, a little portable wireless set that we could work off the batteries so you could get your messages without having the earphones on.

    And were all these Hermann Goring supplies just in the warehouse or something?

    No, no, they’d lined the Regiment up, with all the gear ready to march off, if you can imagine it, three lines we’ll say, ready to march off, but they’d marched off and left all the gear - they’d had to go in a hurry actually - that’s why it was left, they’d never have left it otherwise, they’d have taken it with them.

    Just left in the open?

    Yeah, yeah, outside what we took to be the Headquarters.

    How did you know it was the Hermann Goring?

    Armbands, and we knew the Hermann Goring Regiment was there. We knew, within reason, the name of every unit the German’s had there, opposing the 1st Army, and they knew who we were as well, because one of their officers, who’d got captured, who was talking to one of the officers, said we always know when the battles are coming, the main attacks, because the 78th Div will be there, and, one or two of our chaps who’d got captured in Africa, they actually were returned, because you can’t handle prisoners, when you’re doing a job, you can’t look after them, you have to get rid of them somehow.

    So they were released?

    Yeah released, if they were pulling back, yeah, yeah, go back, find your own people, yes, which was common sense. You see, in Africa, I think the Africa Corps and all their units, were more like us, conscripts and regular soldiers, there was no S.S. or owt like that there, I mean even the Hermann Goring regiment, though it was a real tough regiment, they were soldiers. There was one of our chaps, I don’t know if he’s alive now, he was badly wounded and a German soldier carried him to the lines, to our leading cars, and then said he wanted to go back, so we let him go back to his own unit, which is, I don’t know what you’d call it, not fraternising, but common sense. I had, I had a German prisoner, and the only way we could take him back to our unit, on the night time, was on patrol and he’d come up from somewhere, I had to sit him in me turret and I sat outside me turret, waved my pistol at him, and I never had that pistol loaded all the time I had it. I fired one shot and that was a test shot, when I got given the pistol , and I never loaded that pistol. I only had six rounds, well five, I had to look after them (laugh!), but then again you had your bren gun because you could carry your bren gun all right.

    What do you remember happening next?

    Well, we got re-organised in Africa when it finally fell, we were rounding up, and I remember all these German prisoners, thousands and thousands of them in their trucks, all streaming down to the prisoner of war cages, and it made you think gosh, ooh, all these going back, why weren’t they fighting? They had been let down obviously.

    END OF REEL 2 30.45 mins
    Buteman, sanchez, dbf and 1 other person like this.
  4. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron


    Right, so we got reorganised, we were stationed at a place called Sousse, in Africa- did manage to go and have a look at Carthage-and then we went on landing craft to Sicily.

    For the landings?

    For the landings, we landed in Sicily.

    What were the landings like?

    Well, not too bad actually, ours wasn’t, ‘cause we came out of the landing craft with the cars and the bren carriers, all organised you know. We just drove off and went - we didn’t hang about - we went, so you could say 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the beach, that was it, that’s the last we saw of it.

    Whereabouts did you land?

    Ah now then, the name of the place is in one of them books, but I couldn’t tell you without looking.

    Anyhow we got settled down, got used to the different place - it was a lot different to Africa - Sicily, and our division had three really tough battles to do. We had to take a place called Centuripe, which was thousands of feet up in the air and they did it, and then our squadron was ordered to…

    Any action you were in at Centuripe?

    No, because it was infantry work, our vehicles were just waiting on the road to go, it was one of these up the hill and then, (laugh), back down again. We went to a place called Adrano, on Mount Etna, which was on the main road, and, we had a troop or two troops at one side, and our troop at the other, what I would say was the southern side, I’m quite sure about that. It was one of these roads that when you went round it was like that, you were under observation all the way. When we got to Adrano, my orders -‘cause I was in leading car -was as soon as we started entering it I had to say to Sunray “We are now entering Strawberry”. I thought we might as well say the name of place because they know we are here - if anybody was listening.

    Anyhow I just said that and the car went up in the air, and we came down on all four wheels. Going up in the air, everything was stripped off the car, mudguards, all our packs and everything, gone, and the bren gun came up and smashed me in the face - well, still broken is me nose! We landed down on the wheels, and while we were doing that I spotted a small anti-tank gun barrel sticking through the railings, so the driver meantime had tried to get moving but we couldn’t, lot of nasty noises coming from the engine and that, like so, and this is where everybody relied on everybody else. I could see what was going on, they couldn’t - the commander had his head down obviously, and the driver, so I said bail out, so we bailed out, and as we did, this anti-tank gun put a shell through the armoured doors of the car - we had armoured doors in front of the radiator. The commander went first, the driver went first through the same side, which was the side of the road went up in the air so they were shielded at that side, and I followed them and I just got clear of the car and a shell landed, and it picked me up and threw me over the edge of the road and down the cliff side.

    There were machine guns going, and mortars, everything was going; ‘cause there was the other 4 cars were still stuck there you see ‘til they got turned round or backed off, and I finished up right down at the bottom of this, well, one of the chaps said “You went down the cliff bouncing from lump to lump”, but I didn’t think it was a cliff, but he said it was, anyhow I landed at the bottom, crept along, took cover, crept along, bit of water in the bottom or something, and all the time there was these guns, then, the Canadians who were down below us, they joined in sending shells across, all over the place, so I had to hang on, daren’t move in the end, ‘til it got nearly dark.

    And I found out there was a mortar troop of Germans on top of this high ground, they were actually looking down into, they could see into the Canadians who were at the bottom - into their trenches, you were like looking down, the Canadians probably thought Oh! but they could see down anyhow, in the end it got a bit dark and I knew I had to move, and I made me way all the way down, I’d weighed it up - I thought if I could make my way to the Canadians at the bottom I would be all right.

    It was about 2 miles to walk so, I made my way down the roadside for a bit and I left the road and went along the slope, and I seemed to walk for a long time, but all of a sudden I could hear the Canadians, ‘cause you can hear, it doesn’t matter, wherever there’s soldiers, there’s noise, don’t matter if they are keeping perfectly still and quiet, there is a clank or a tick or something. I could hear them!

    The only thing I could do was stand up and whistle and I was whistling as I walked forward. The chap, I took to be an officer, he halted me, he said “I’ve got this tommy gun at you and I’m squeezing my finger on it”, he said, ”Who are you?” So I told him my name and number, he said, “How do we know,” he couldn’t see me properly ‘cause it was dark, he’d seen my figure obviously and he said “What’s the password?”. Well we didn’t have a password ‘cause we weren’t working with them - we had run across their front. That’s why they were down there, and all I could do I said to him “Aren’t YOU going to challenge ME?” and though my mind was racing, what’s the password, what’s the password, and he said one we had used in Africa -–Oh! I forget it myself now! -I forgot the password myself - but the answer was ‘On to Tunis’, from somewhere on to Tunis.

    From Alamein?

    No, no it was the 1st Army password.

    From Algiers?


    Well never mind anyway.

    Was it from Reggis???? Anyhow he asked me that you see, and I said “On to Tunis”. Right he said, I said well I wanted to get back to my unit can you tell me where it is, and he said, go down to some iron gates and across the fields, behind us, and the chaps will send you across to somewhere else and you might find your chaps. I went round and I found these other Canadians and they said there were some of your chaps on the road over there, so I went and found my way across, they held me up, of course, they all held me up, and one of these chaps, the British chap, he said, “Call you Gowan? I said “Yes”, he said “Well we have been told to keep an eye open for you and you have to go back to our headquarters”, and it was the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders - I think they were 36 Brigade - anyhow I went to their headquarters and reported in and I was given a cup of tea and sandwiches, like. They were going to attack this place in the morning, or go up through it, we were supposed to have collared it - but we lost six armoured cars just going to that place. So I asked his permission to go up with them, he said yes, ‘cause I didn’t know where our unit was, so I went back up to Adrano with them and there’s my car with not a thing on it - completely stripped - inside and out, in a big crater (laugh)!, where the mines had been.

    There was a doorway, and a dead body alongside of it, a German, I think, and I jumped over him into the house ‘cause the infantry were advancing through the street, you know with a troop at each side of it covering, and I picked up a lovely Iron Cross off a German jacket, as I went through, and I went across the street into another building, don’t know why, and I found a dagger, these daggers they used to have, the Germans, a fancy dagger, and I did bring them home, but I gave them to a young lad next door, who lived next door to me, as a souvenir, who said “Oh I like them”, so I said you can have ‘em.

    Anyhow, we went through Adrano in the end, and I spotted one of our vehicles, so I went to it and he took me back to the harbour, and one of the Sergeants - Oh no, it was my friend - he was there as I walked up, and I walked up and he just looked, and he shouted to the Sergeant - they called him Backhurst, the Sergeant, for some reason - and he said “Hey, Backhurst you owe me ten bob, he’s back!” They’d all had bets to see if I was coming back or not, so the Sergeant paid him an all!

    Then after that, there was a lot of fighting, but it didn’t take us long to finish in Sicily and we went to a place called Patti, which was on the coast near the Straits, ready to, get built up ready to go across to Salerno then. And this Patti, when we went in, it was empty, nobody about and that, and it was no wonder- it was a hotbed of malaria - even the Sicilians didn’t go near it - so I think we had been there 2 days and the Sergeant Major, you had to have your sleeves buttoned down there on a night and your long slacks on which we always wore anyhow, and he was the first one, he just collapsed, and I was walking towards our troop headquarters, and the next time I woke up I was being shaved by a chap in a hospital somewhere, I’d got malaria as well, that fast it was, it was a place where it just bred, no wonder nobody was there, but we didn’t know obviously, we just harboured up there, there was quite a few got malaria. So when I came out of hospital, it must have been, well I don’t know how long it was, the squadron, well our squadron, you only have your own troop, our squadron was ready to go across to Salerno, so because we’d had one or two with malaria, there was a shortage- so myself and a Corporal who was a driver - we were given a carrier and told to take it to Taranto, in Italy and join up there, so they made me a temporary Corporal so I wasn’t bossing him about, because he was the driver and I was commanding, and we managed to get a lift on an American landing craft which was going to Taranto. And he took us across to Taranto, went straight through into the inner harbour and, I don’t know what he was doing, but we bounced straight through into the inner harbour, in between two submarines which were being repaired, must have been Italian obviously, when he dropped the door it was on the main road! (laugh), so we just drove straight off on the main road and set off to find our squadron on our own.

    We went miles and miles up to Foggia in Italy, before we came across ‘em and then we were in the front line. In Italy, I don’t know what happened, we seemed to do a heck of a lot of walking, we took over from infantry now and again to give them a relief, and of course there are a lot of hills and in winter, snow piled sky high and you couldn’t drive anyhow -too much mud - so we took over as infantry, let them have a rest, until we got to, half way up Italy then we had a lot of fighting around, from Rimini right across to Bologna.

    Were there much German resistance?

    Yes! Yes! Because every time you moved, every time they dropped back, they dropped on to the defences they had built ready, so even a small unit dropping back had somewhere to drop into, they didn’t have to start digging in or owt - it was there waiting.

    We went across to Cassino, and that was terrible, that place, it was, terrible, and some of the assault troop, they were sent up to relieve some of the infantry on the slopes. You couldn’t dig in, you had to build stonewalls round yourselves, so there was a lot of head injuries because there were stones flying all over. We were there when they bombed it, they bombed it like mad, it didn’t do any good, there was still observers up there, and then, when we finally attacked it, we were going to recce with some tanks, I don’t know if it were Lancers or not, half a dozen tanks coming with us, and the minute they got - it was the Poles who took the Monastery itself - as soon as they took that, we were told to set off on what they call Route 66, but we couldn’t go through the town, ‘cause it had got that badly bombed, so we had to go down the railway line and set off then, us and them tanks, we got round past it and we all stopped to see what they were going to do, and literally from the slopes they were throwing mortar bombs, they were that high up, you don’t need a mortar just sling it, it’ll go off, and then we set off and we went a long way from there before we came up against, I don’t know if it was the Gustav line or Hitler line. I have it all on maps.

    Where were they throwing these mortar bombs?

    From the slopes, up at the top. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Monastery have you?

    Well I’ve seen pictures of it.

    You’ve seen pictures? Well you know it stands up, and that is how it is. The part that overlooked Cassino itself goes up, they have a funicular railway that goes up it, that’s how steep it is you see, so literally you could throw a bomb like that and it would go down - it is very, very high, it is something worth seeing though, they’ve made a beautiful job of it, they really have.

    From there, of course, what we was waiting for was Mark Clark from the 5th American Army - he wanted to be first to Rome and he wouldn’t let us break - he wouldn’t. He could have made Anzio you know, they should never have been held up there, but they were, because he wanted to be first in Rome, and it wasn’t until he started heading for Rome that he let everyone else get cracking. There was a lot of arguing about that, really was. There again this is it, ‘cause we went across to the American 5th Army and served with them at one place, where they couldn’t make any movements, and they sent for our Regiment.

    I don’t know what it was - it was a good Regiment. They didn’t take chances, they weighed everything up, really weighed everything up, knew what to do, and they managed to clear this gap and they sent for us to clear what was called the Argenta Gap, and they gave our Colonel a few tanks and artillery and told him to go and clear it - and he did do an’ all!

    We ran for miles and we got to Lake Trasimeno, and then we got up to Venice, and was making a battle to go across two canals before you can get to the River Po at Portomaggiore they called it. And I was stood alongside a hut looking round the corner and the first-aid bren gun carrier pulled against me and “Oh yeah, put this thermometer in your mouth”, and I put the thermometer in me mouth, and he said “Right you have got malaria”, and yet I didn’t feel that bad, if you know what I mean, but he’d spotted it. Actually we went back to Egypt to get refitted because we finished up with nothing, the Division, we even had khaki drill you know, half way up Italy, and they told me there then - they sent me to hospital for a fortnight - and they told me then I had MT malaria which was malignant type, which I still get the odd touch now and again.

    So when I went back we were across the Po then, or nearly across the Po - it was, because I reported in at Udine - that was almost on the bend of Italy, where it joins Yugoslavia, but one thing that they always did in our Division, and it keeps coming back to the Division, because that was your home really - Battleaxe. If you went into hospital, if you were wounded, or ill or whatever, they sent you to a transit camp, when you came out, with your papers you know, which meant you could go to any Regiment, that’s why they had that lot of trouble about them refusing to move off the beaches, I don’t know if you read about it.


    Italy. They sent a lot of chaps over to Italy and they refused to get off the beach because they were going to a transit camp because…

    That was at Salerno was it?

    Yeah, yeah, well that’s another story, maybe I’ll tell you if you like when you’re not recording.

    Have you got some personal experience of that?

    No, but I knew the chap who was on it, I read about it in the papers, because they were regarded as mutineers you know.

    Can you tell me what you know about him?

    Well, he’s dead now, but he stuck out for years and years, to say it all boiled down to the fact, that when you leave your Regiment you want to get back to it, because it’s your mates there and your friends, and that’s what we did. In our Division, if you went to a transit camp, you’d find, if you stood near the gates, there would be one of our Division’s vehicles pass - you only had to look for the Battleaxe - you just had to go (presumably makes a hand gesture) and they’d get you off back to your own unit, and you didn’t bother with papers, you see you didn’t go to tell them I’ve found my unit can I have my papers. You just got on that vehicle and got away, at least you were with your own Division which meant you’d get back to your own unit. They didn’t understand that, the British Army, they think if you come out of hospital, they can post you where they like, they ignored the fact that you’d got mates you’d been with for three or four years fighting, relying on each other, they don’t realise that.

    Who is this gentleman that has died who told you about Salerno?

    Let me think now - they did a programme on television - the BBC have it.

    Yes I remember.


    Never mind it might come back to you later.

    Fred Joight?????, they called him. He lived in Hull and I went to school with him actually, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that, this bit in the paper, they were calling them mutineers and that, they had been in hospital with the 8th Army, the East Yorkshires, they’d been in hospital, and they dragged them out to go to Salerno, and when they got there they found they were going to be posted to different Regiments, not the East Yorkshires. This is what I say, surely somebody had the sense to think, well ‘cause their Regiment was over there - it’s so stupid, but there again redcaps don’t think that way, I don’t think, can’t do, you can’t take a man away from his mates you know when it’s like that. I don’t think so anyway.

    So what happened after you recovered in Egypt?

    When I recovered in Egypt, we went back, all of us went back, they gave us a month’s leave in Egypt to get gear, because we never had full gear since we landed in Algeria. So we went back to a place called Qassassin in Egypt and we were going to have a month, and half of the division was going to have two weeks leave, and they could go to Cairo, and then the other half, and I went into hospital for a fortnight, then, when I came out - the week I came out - the Divisional chaps who had been in Cairo, they revolted, they wrecked the place, because they were being gypped so much by the Arabs- getting ripped off by the Arabs, no doubt about it - so they sent the rest of the Division to go bring them out! (Laugh). It was a fiasco because they were all together, but anyhow we got shipped back to Italy quick!

    Did you have anything to do with bringing them out?

    No, I had just come out of hospital. It had happened just as I was coming out actually.

    So you mean they wrecked the place?

    Well a lot of places, yeah.

    For being overcharged?

    Overcharged. They had to pay so many thousands, reparation, you know, compensation, but even then they say they were overcharged on that!! (Laugh)

    What do you remember next?

    Well, I remember, when I got back to my unit the second time when I was taken from this place, Portomaggiore, I was put in the ambulance and the ambulance driver said, “Would you hold these chaps on?” There was four stretchers in it, two on the bottom and two about waist high, and they were badly wounded, and I had to hold them on while he bounced over the fields to get to a road like. Then we were taken to a first aid place first, to get sorted out and shipped off, and I went to a Canadian hospital, it was in Milan if I remember, but I went to the British one there first, and there were British nurses and that, and that was in 44 - 1944 I think - yeah. I think it was Milan or Naples, it was in what they called St James Palace, I think it was either Naples or Milan, it was down that side anyhow, and the funny thing is, one of the nurses who ran the malaria ward - I met her 10 years ago! She joined the 1st Army, our little get-together, our little section, yeah, and she had been the nurse who nursed us, (Laugh). After all that time.

    We went to Udine, where the squadron was settled down, because they had almost surrendered by then had the Germans, and then we went into Austria through one of the passes. Our regiment was the first into Austria before the war finished in Germany. We was rounding up SS Regiments, Carpathian Lancers on their horses, and all these white Cossacks, the white Cossacks who were fighting for the Germans, rounding them up from Croatia, Yugoslavia and sending them back to the Russian side, not knowing they were being slaughtered after, they were being killed. We didn’t know that; we were told they were to be sent back home.

    Then we settled in Klagenfurt for a while, checking buses for suspected people but, how we could find anybody, I don’t know, because all we had was the name of the people we ought to look for, no photographs, and I mean if you had a bus full of, what we took to be refugees, could be anybody, so we probably let more through than we ought to have done.

    What do you remember about these white Cossacks who were sent back?

    Well, not a lot, because they went in big units you know, a crowd, all you would see is a crowd of them pass, and they had their wives with them, and carts and families and, Oh dear, it made you really wonder how they performed.

    Were they in a distressed state?

    No, not really. They weren’t as well looked after as we were obviously, but then again I suppose they just took what food they found anywhere. No, there were a lot of refugees travelling backwards and forwards.

    How did you get on with the Austrians?

    Oh good. We got on real good. For all I’ve been thinking about it since, for all they were true Nazis you know. They supported the Nazis thoroughly when they were in power.

    But, we were in Klagenfurt and I got a month’s leave home because I had been abroad 4 years without leave. They drew your names out of a hat you know, you came home by 3-tonner. It took 5 days, and I came home, should have set off on the 1st June but we were snowed in Klagenfurt, so I had August ‘45 at home. But before that we went to Vienna, we went through the Russian zone you know - we had to get permission to go through the Russian zone - we went on the three party occupation, and it was really, really good in Vienna, we had Christmas there.

    END OF REEL 3 30.46 mins
  5. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron


    When we arrived there, (Austria) I was asked to run the Sergeant’s mess, which was a café in Vienna itself - in the British zone. So, it was a Romanian couple who ran the café and we had decent billets - I had a decent billet - and there was a lot of girls came across looking for jobs, and to be in the British zone, because the Russian zone was terrible for them - very bad it was.

    In what way?

    In what way? The Russians, they would rape a girl of twelve or ten and so if they could, they came across, any job would do them to get in the British zone, or the American zone, or French. The Russians were really terrible, they really were.

    And so I had a good staff, and, I used to go into the Russian zone to get the beer twice a week. There was a brewery just outside Vienna, and, I used to go twice a week with a big armoured car, a whites armoured car, which was open, an open car, and, the Russians always stopped us - they always stopped us, because there were lines and lines of model T Ford lorries and they’d no petrol, all Russian, there were no petrol. I don’t know if it was the same Regiment, probably was, probably the same officer, but he used to stop us, wave his pistol about “Where’s your petrol?” - “We ain’t got any” - “You must have, if we find any you’ve had it”, you know really threatening and that, and they used to search the car, no, no petrol, let us go, we collected the beer, come back, not once did one of them think of looking inside the hood - you know they had a big canvas hood, and when you folded it down you could get a jerry can inside, (Laugh) but they never looked, not once.

    I used to go into the town, order opera tickets, ’cause there was a lot of opera then, anything like that now was included, so I saw quite a lot of things - and it really was nice - and we had Christmas there, in the Sergeant’s mess, and it was really was, different somehow, I don’t know why, they maybe celebrated different to us, I think they did it the day before actually their Christmas, the Viennese - yes it was very nice.

    Did you go to the opera?

    Oh yes, yes.

    What did you see?

    Carmen, Barber of Seville, Rigoletto, quite a lot actually ‘cause we were there for a full month.

    Was there any black market there?

    I would assume so, I would assume so. But we didn’t get any because we had our issue from the NAAFI like that you see. The beer, I went and collected that, that’s all we bought outside from what I know. We used to get a lot of logs in, I used to take logs round the billets for them who had stoves and that. Oh yeah, being in the forces like, I could say it was the best time of being in the forces in that respect because it was pleasant - it was pleasant - ride on the trams, yeah (Laugh). From there we were put into another regiment, North Irish Horse and went down to Dusseldorf.

    What was that regiment like?

    Well, it had been with us in Africa, but when we got to join them at Wolfsberg in Austria, and we went down to Dusseldorf, there were, too many youngsters in it, who had just come straight across into a unit where most of the men who had been in 4 years, non-stop near enough, fighting, maybe the odd month away, like we did in Egypt to get re-fitted, and, we had quite a few run-ins with one in particular in our room. As I say, we all mixed together where our Sergeants and Corporals were all in one room and this young Corporal came in and did his nut - “Why don’t you stand to attention when an NCO comes into the room”, and Oh, he was going off, never seen owt like it! One of our Sergeants stood up in the end, and he really tore a strip off him, and we never got troubled any more, but they were too keen, all right, good enough, they weren’t going to have a fight over here, you know they weren’t going to fight, but they didn’t give anything to them who had been fighting!! We left Dusseldorf…

    Were you in Dusseldorf for long?

    Yes, we were in the aircraft, flack barracks they called it, the anti-aircraft barracks. I don’t know - a month.

    How did Dusseldorf compare to Vienna?

    Well, Dusseldorf is on the river of course. There was quite a few café’s and that, we could go in, but I never really saw Dusseldorf as itself - well it was all wrecked anyhow - all the places we come through were wrecked in Europe. We went down to, I don’t know, 53rd Division, they put us in, because we were all being demobbed.

    How did you get on with the Germans in Dusseldorf?

    We didn’t mix with them, we didn’t mix with them really, at all.

    But you had mixed with the Viennese?


    So why was there a difference?

    I don’t know, because in Dusseldorf - I can’t really say why. We was in a barracks, that might have had something to do with it, although we were in barracks in Vienna, we was in Meidling barracks. No, I couldn’t say, I honestly couldn’t say what the difference was -–but there was.

    From Dusseldorf we went to -–it’s a well known place where troops go now - to the 53rd Welsh Division, and from there I came home. The company that I worked with, repairing roofs, before I was called up, asked for me out and I got an early release like, and I went with them.

    How do you feel now about having served with the Recce Regiment in the Second World War?

    Well if we had to serve at all that was the Regiment to be with, and the Division to be with - that was the main thing the Division. It didn’t matter who you were, if you had a Battleaxe on. I mean, I came home on leave, this months leave, went in a pub in Green Lane there, just across the river, and this chap, the landlord actually, came across and said “78th Div?” and I said “Yes” - he said “My lad is” and he turned to one of the barman or somebody and said “Give him what he wants on me, don’t charge him”. This is the sort of thing that was through the Division though, you all relied on each other - I’ll tell you who was in our Division, strange it seems- he’s just died- the singer - roly-poly (Laugh).

    Harry Secombe?

    Harry Secombe, yeah, he come to the last reunion, he was ill then though. Yeah him, and others of that gang.

    Spike Milligan?

    Spike Milligan, he was wireman. They made a good concert party up!

    Did you go to their concert party?

    Yes I went to one in–- Modena - I think - or somewhere right north in Italy when things had eased down a bit, when waiting for winter to dry up and get going again, you know, and, it was in an opera house they did it, a 78 Div concert party.

    Did Secombe and Milligan do it?

    They were all there -I can’t think who the others were now. What I remember, and why I remember that place, was that the roof itself - it opened in two halves and rolled back, - which was something I had never seen before, so you can imagine the smoke, (Laugh), the tobacco smoke, yeah…

    END OF REEL 4 09.59 mins
  6. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    John Gowan.JPG

    Picture taken from Forgotten Voices, Desert Victory by Julian Thompson, in association with Imperial War Museums

    Thank you for your memories John
    John Gowan Born Hull 22/12/1922, Died 01/03/2010 :poppy:

    (Once again I called upon Tony56 for his time and help with all my queries and for his patience listening to the transcription-a BIG thank you Tony)

    Thread now completed.

    Guy Hudson, Buteman, sanchez and 2 others like this.
  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Well done Lesley - hope your fingers aren't raw after all that typing!
  8. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Ditto from me. :)

    Perhaps I should do the same for Mad Mike Calvert's equivalent; just the 19 Reels. :lol:
  9. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    Lesley great effort, thanks for posting

  10. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Why not? It will only take you a couple of years Steve
  11. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Thanks everyone for their kind comments and all rep points too :)
    This interview, as some of you will be aware, is my father's story too as he served with John. Lovely to hear John's story and it fills another gap of what my father did.

  12. sanchez

    sanchez Well-Known Member

    A great read and a job well done lesley
  13. Plantymon

    Plantymon Member

    Thank you Leslie for taking the time to transcribe this, I really enjoyed reading John's account.

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