- 2nd Lothians Border Horse during the Second World War -
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2nd Lothians Border Horse
The Lothian and Border Horse Yeomanry was part of the Royal Armoured Corps during the Second World War. The 2nd Regiment served in the Western Desert and Italy.
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Those known to have served with
2nd Lothians Border Horse
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Dundas-Taylor James Buchan. Tpr.
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Tpr. James Buchan "Buck" Dundas-Taylor MID. B Squadron 2nd Lothian & Border HorseJames Buchan Dundas-Taylor is my hero, my Dad. I remember him on this April 23rd, the anniversary of the day that changed his life forever on a distant battlefront:
Buchan was my dad. He was born in Edinburgh on July 31, 1919 and went to school at Daniel Stewart's College. A few months after graduating he joined the army, it was 6 months before the outbreak of WWII. Initially he was a dispatch rider on BSA and Norton motorcycles for an armoured unit, before being accepted into training and specialisation as tank crew.
When I was a young teenager, I knew Dad hated recalling the war and didn’t like discussing it. When mum’s lounge chair was vacant, I’d sit down beside him and ask him what he did during the war. Often he’d sit silent, watching the telly or reading a book and pretending he hadn’t heard anything. He was easy to discuss things with, but when it came to the war, it was a whole lot different.
One day he eventually responded, saying he was a driver. “What, a driver!?” I’d said the very first time he told me with little tone of joy in my voice. I wanted to hear he was much more than that. I thought, no way, he was more than a car driver! My grandfather won the Military Cross in the First World War but wouldn’t speak about it either; I later got to read his diaries covering 5 years of WWI including the Battle of the Somme and found out why he didn’t like talking about it, but he had a story.
I wanted to know what Dad did and what it was like, after all, I had to grow up with a dad who couldn’t play ball with me or chase me around for fun like the other kid's fathers did. He had a wooden leg, numerous scars on his body and several shell and gunshot fragments still embedded in his limbs and body. I felt I deserved to know why he was this way. Yes, it may have been very selfish and even rude of me, and of course I would think twice about it now, but back then I was a typical teenager, inquisitive and naive.
There had to be more to this than him being a simple driver, not that there was anything wrong with a driver, but I couldn’t accept that as the summary of his war experience. “What you drove cars and trucks?” I remember asking. “I was a dispatch rider. I’d ride motorbikes at whatever speed I wanted where ever I wanted. Dispatch riders had top priority. I’d ride at high speed on my motorbike down busy Princess Street, Edinburgh weaving in and out of the traffic. Not even the police were allowed to stop me!”
He obviously enjoyed it as he told me about some of these machines, but if he enjoyed it why avoid the conversation I thought. “So you rode motorbikes in the war?” I said, having a similar conversation with him months apart in my attempts to know more. Then finally one day he added, “After I was a dispatch rider, I became a ‘Tanker’”.
However this really confused me. “What’s …a… ’tanker’?” I’d ask in ignorance. I was thinking it might be something like a trucker driver. I could often feel tension in the air between us in the conversation, but the tension meant I was getting somewhere. “Tank crew” he finally said. My mind churned over and he explained a little more. “I drove tanks and was a wireless operator, gunner and loader”. What kind of tank, and whereabouts?”. “I trained in Crusaders, Matilda’s, Sherman’s” came the response, then “Tunisia”. “Where’s that?” I’d pester. My geographical knowledge outside of my hometown was pretty weak. “North Africa.” Slowly the months of attitude started paying off and his story began to slowly reveal itself.
I asked him, “If the war started in September, why’d you join in June when there was no war?” thinking that it was really a dumb thing to do. He then told me, "I knew war was inevitable, we all did, Hitler had built up an enormous army so much bigger than ours with really modern equipment. I wanted to be trained and prepared for it, know what to do, then get it over with as soon as possible, and get back to normal life".
I looked at him, it was such a methodical answer, like a mathematical equation, I guess He survived the war and so many didn’t, so it made good sense to be trained and ready. I remembering wondering what I would have done faced with the situation. I felt a little guilty for asking as my question really seemed so dumb, but feeling guilty was non-productive if I was to get the whole story out of him. I didn’t care that my 3 elder brothers had already been here before me with these inquisitive questions, but I knew nothing and wanted to know what it was like for him to be in the war.
Dad was one of a rare number of non-German citizens to personally meet the infamous mastermind and villain of World War II. It was 1936, just 3 years before the outbreak of war, he was just 16 years old and visiting his German cousins in Hamburg, when Adolf Hitler was also in town and at the same popular Hotel. Dad spoke fluent German and incidentally, so did Hitler. Dad was cruising the upper corridors of the hotel, as teenagers do when looking for something to do in a new place, and coming the other way was a large bunch of Gestapo Officers. The Gestapo intimidated everyone, even German citizens. As they came down the hallway in their heavy black outfits, they shoved people in the corridor against the walls and held them there. Dad just stood there in the middle of the hallway waiting to be thrust against the wall as well, but they passed around him. "One good thing about being Caucasian is that we all look the same and know body can tell if you’re a German teenager or a young Scots boy: members of the Hitler Youth and the future enemies of the State all look the same in civvies. As they passed around him, the body of soldiers opened up."
You Know Who was strutting his stuff directly towards Dad and out came his hand to greet him like at a prearranged appointment. Instinctively, Dad put out his hand, after all this was the most powerful man in all Europe and he was momentarily at his beckon, plus he was surrounded by a bunch of mean looking men in fancy black suits still angry about the outcome of World War One ….and they watched his every move. They shook hands and spoke briefly for a few minutes in the hallway of the hotel. Adolf soon admitted that he couldn’t pick which part of Deutschland Dad’s accent was from, and so asked where he was from. Adolf had no idea where Glengyle Terrace was. So Dad told him it was straight opposite Bruntsfield Links, the world’s oldest golf course. Bruntsfield Links is in Edinburgh. After learning that Dad was from Scotland, Hitler praised his strong knowledge of the German language. No doubt he didn’t consider that it might come in useful down the track and help Dad knock off a few of his fancy soldiers, as he later did by ears dropping in on their radio calls during combat and knowing what they were planning.
Hitler soon lost interest in the young British teenager, obviously he wasn’t going to be able to recruit him into the Hitler Youth and pin any medals on his chest in the years to come. After barely a few minutes, they parted; which is just as well, as Dad may have let it slip that his father kicked his arse on the Western Front in the Great War!
Not wanting to let a chance go by, Dad ran down the stairs as fast as he could and bought a postcard of Hitler in the foyer, which wasn’t hard as there was a choice of Hitler’s face in close up, Hitler in medium shot, Hitler in wide shot in Uniform standing like Napoleon, Hitler this and Adolf that and little else of Germany. He bought the one of Hitler standing in uniform, and quickly made is way up to where all the Gestapo were gathered. They were not hard to find, the fancy dress get up and the line of disgruntled citizens hemmed up against the wall easily gave their location away. He wanted Hitler to autograph the postcard, and he may even have had better harassing skills than me, but it wouldn’t be enough. The large burley intimidating Gestapo surrounded him, news had obviously travelled that this teenager was from the wrong side of the English Channel. I guess it took all their combined brain cells to work this out and find a way to keep him away from Das Führer. Fortunately for them the brainpower of the combined Gestapo in the building was enough to outwit the little Scots boy, or maybe it was shear intimidating knuckleheaded brawn. Either way, it didn’t happen. The postcard is still in the family and I’ve marvelled it many times.
Dad later said to me, "If only I'd met Hitler while out hunting, I'd have shot him instead!" He’d say this with such built up anger and determination in his voice that if the future could do something that the past was unable to account for, Hitler would have stopped buckshot and WWII would never have occurred. But it did….
In early November 1942: after 3 1/2 years of armour and tank manoeuvres in and around Scotland and tarring up the fields all over England; the phoney war had long since turned into a real war; Pearl Harbour had been visited by the Japs; the 1st Battalion Lothian and Border Horse had been overrun and captured in Dunkirk; and the 2nd Regiment Lothian and Border Horse of the soon to be legendary 26th Armoured Brigade of the 6th Armoured Division, 1st Allied Army embarked on troopships on the west coast of Scotland, with them B Squadron with their swift Crusader battle tanks. Although the crew were trained for all tank crew tasks so they could replace injured or killed crew immediately, Dad main task was the wireless operator/gunner loader operator and co-driver in B Squadrons’ command tank. He packed with him a small number of small musical instruments, plus his favourite guitar. The unknown months of fighting ahead would require evening campfire sing-a-longs along the front line, and this was to spread some evening joy among the tankers talking their thoughts away from their daily dice with death.
The British-American armada was the largest in history and left in ships for an unknown destination: France? Northern Europe? Spain? The huge invasion fleet became known as ‘Operation Torch’ and was the prelude to Operation Overlord, aka “D Day” just 1 ˝ years away. En route, orders were opened at sea and they learned they were landing along the northern coastline of the African continent.
What they probably didn’t know after reading the orders that of all the entire Anglo-American invasion force, they drew the short sticks and were to land at Bone, a seaport right on the Libyan side of the Tunisian border. At Bone, no one was closer to the Germans than 2nd Battalion of the 26 Armoured Brigade other than the Italians, but they were on the same side as the Germans and much like the Vichy French, they were quite reluctant to die for fascism. The rest of the invading Allied armada landed along to the west of Bone all the way to Casablanca and were confronted by Vichy French Forces who were confused on which side they were fighting, how they’d be liberated and who by (as if it wasn’t now obvious) due to the German occupation of France and all it’s territories.
I guess it soon became apparent they were very close to the Axis forces as it seemed that most of the German Luftwaffe were there to greet the tankers and the supporting regiments as they unloaded troops and tanks at the docks. The German bombing went for days. A few years earlier and a long way from the frontline in London during the Blitz, Dad had been wounded by a small piece of shrapnel, but fortunately was able to escape injury on the Germans doorstep with waves of Stuka dive-bombers, and the bigger Heinkel and Dornier bombers welcoming them to Africa.
The German Army, Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK), occupied Tunisia, as they did all North Africa and the Middle East. Their armies were yet undefeated. Operation Torch was to wrestle North Africa from the hands of General Erwin Rommel who led Germany's ‘Panzer Army Africa’, the combined DAK and Italian Army. If this could not be done, the Germanic Army holidaying on the French Coast would inevitably overrun Britain. Therefore both sides had an important strategic agenda and winning the war in Europe was completely dependant on achieving victory in North Africa first. Operation Torch shone a light on Hitler’s cardinal rule which he was forced break, never fighting 2 wars at the same time: He’d won Europe, struck out against Russia, but failed to take the British Isles before the combined Allied armies could strike back - thanks in part to Herman Goring spending more time art-raiding French art galleries than air-raiding British arms factories.
In the 6 months of fighting on the front line, Dad saw many young soldiers come to their end: British, American and of course German. He participated in front line action with many tank battles and because he was spoke German, he was always assigned to the Troop Leaders /Sqn Leaders tank and they always had a habit of being the pointy tip of any spearhead attack such as at the Battle of Kasserine Pass (Rommel's first defeat by the combined British and American Forces). His unit fought against German adversaries such as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg's (Tom Cruise's character in Valkyrie) 10th Panzer Division (they were on opposing battlefields at the time when Stauffenberg was wounded in the film), the battled hardened 21st Panzer Division (that like the 10th Panzer, had on their resume successful battle hardened campaigns all the way through Poland and France) and Herman Goring Panzer Division to name a few. Dad was to hide these memories away, but the sad way he chewed his fingernails completely off his fingers, even across the tender surface tops where they first appear on every finger and thumb, said to us children that some very nasty memories lingered below the surface. This fuelled my curiosity and I always felt for him when he chewed away at them every evening watching TV. Eventually he was to reveal a number of stories after I selfishly hounded him, too many to complete here on this page.
Speaking German gave some tactical advantage in tank warfare. During combat, he would tune into the frequency of enemy tanks in the distance or concealed with camouflage, and hearing their plans could counter tack their intentions. He also spoke ‘Penny Miners’, known in Australia by many wayward street kids as ‘Pig English’. It’s a rare and informal speech where you drop the first letter of every word and place it at the end of the same word. The Germans tuning into the British radio frequencies were bamboozled by this and couldn’t understand. Penny Miners is a very hard code to learn for non-English speaking people.
Often in tank battles, the fighting was in so close range and intense that they couldn’t always tell who they were bumping into, and often it was the first to get the barrel round to striking position that took the first shot. Many times when they traversed the barrel to the tank bedside them a large German cross suddenly appeared on the hull and it was “Fire!”. All British and American tanks had the large white US star on the side and this may have helped to quickly identify friendlies in close quarter tank battles. Displaying the US Star was also the best way for the British to avoid incoming fire from the trigger happy American units, but sadly that didn’t always work!
To have an appreciation of the short life expectancy of the British tank crews, a brief understanding in the armoury difference between the German and British tanks in needed. The fast and manoeuvrable British Crusader tank of the 26th Armour Brigade was only a match for the Panzer Mk.II and Mk.III battle tanks. To be fast, the Crusader design shed heavy armour and had lighter firepower that was acceptable in 1942 but was now punitive entering 1943. When they landed at Bone, the Afrika Korps were quickly resupplied with the Panzer Mk.IV, a superiorly engineered, powerful and heavily armed and it overpowered the now outdated Crusader. When 26th Armour Brigade finally upgraded to the heavily armed Sherman tanks gifted from the Americans 5 months later, they were finally equal in firepower and armour protection to Mk.IV Panzers, but then the huge Mk.VI, aka Tiger Tank, began to appear. For a Crusader to knock out a Mk.IV, it took about 4 or 5 direct rounds as they often bounced off or failed to penetrate enough, but the Mk.IV would penetrate and knock out a Crusader in 1 or 2 efficient hits. In Combat to the heavily fortified Tiger tank however, a shot from a Crusader would never penetrate the Tigers skin because the steel was so thick, they simply bounced off the hull - one sloppy shot from a Tiger, blew a Crusader into a million pieces. The crew would be history and the rare occasion there might be a survivor, they were in very poor shape. You can imagine the jubilation when B Squadron were finally issued US Shermans in March 1943. Although it was not quite on par with the Tiger, with skill, speed and courage they could destroy a Tiger tank and level the playing field. The Sherman had 2 more big advances, one additional crewmember and gun barrels that locked onto their target as they bounced over the terrain at high speed. No more trying to find smooth ground or coming to a stop like a lame duck to lock in a target.
The Panzer divisions also had advanced technology and the bigger deadly Tigers were now roaming the North African plains in large numbers supporting MkIV’s and powerful 88's (an extremely powerful and deadly accurate mobile artillery weapon). Incidentally, the big cat names of Tiger, Leopard, Panther etc were not known to the Allies at the time so when they saw a Panzer Mk.IV they yelled ‘Mark 4!” or a bigger Panzer they screamed “Mark 6!”. I imagine these few words resounded in their minds and dreams for years after the war.
Though they mostly were battling other tanks with their supporting German Grenadiers and their anti-tank equipment, the enemy kept coming from the sky as well. Early one morning as they boiled the billy and made breakfast, a flight of German Me109 fighter planes rudely interrupted proceedings and strafed their tanks, tearing up the ground around them in a low level attack; obviously unhappy that the British have much better tea. Dad grabbed the nearest Bren gun (a long and accurate .32 calibre light machine gun with tripod) and fired away on his hip as the lead fighter approached him head on, he fell to his knees to maintain his balance, no doubt thinking that being a slightly smaller target was a good idea right about then, and then fell over onto his back as he followed the fighter directly over head, firing off the last of the Bren’s magazine upside down. The Me109 went in behind a hill and a fireball appeared. Although he was quite willing to help the Germans keep their oath to die for Hitler and Nazi Germany, other than the true Nazi type, he didn’t hate them. He had German cousins he knew well and loved, and they feared they might one day face each other on the same battlefield. This was not a thought he liked to entertain. I’d like to know if that thought was reciprocated, and knowing how Dad’s sister maintained a close family ties with their Hamburg cousins after the war, one can only assume it was.
Almost 6 months and several occasions where the Anglo-American force almost failed in taking North Africa from Rommel, the completion of Operation Torch was in sight, but tragedy soon struck and Dad’s luck quickly came to an end. Less than a week from pushing the now tattered Afrika Korps right out of Africa, the 2nd Battalion of the 26th Armoured Brigade, 6th Armoured Division of the 1st Allied Army was just two days into the final push; They were headed for the city of Tunis and Dad's Sherman was again the lead command tank in the spearhead of the allied thrust in their sector. Unbeknown to the them, a string of big cats, mostly Mk.IV’s and the bigger Mk.VI’s supported by a number of 88’s, lined a distant ridge ahead with all eyes pointing eastward for the 1st sign of prey. Dad was 24 years old. It was 1630hrs in the afternoon, 23rd April, 1943.
As their American made British Sherman’s went over a small ridgeline, they saw with awkward surprise another ridgeline ahead lined with MkIV’s, MkVI’s and 88’s and all muzzles pointing directly at them. They were completely exposed and in harms way when bright flashes appeared from all the barrels simultaneously. They barely had time to scream, “Mk.IV’s! Mk.VI’s!” before they were immediately hit with a volley of fire. They were hit with 'solid shot', a solid round designed to penetrate a tank, anything inside and make its way into the magazine, engine compartment or fuel stores. They often called these Sherman tanks ‘Ronsons’, after the box of matches, as one good strike down the side and their large internal fuel tanks could be ignited. However, solid shot was better than 'molten lead', which on penetration sprayed the crew inside with deadly high velocity red hot shrapnel.
On this occasion, the force of the German volley thrust their heavy Sherman backward a few yards to just below the ridgeline, which probably saved some of their lives. However, the escape hatches were exposed to machine gun fire and it raked around the crew as they bailed out in quick succession. Dad didn’t know if any of thee who leapt from the top hatch before him had made it to the ground alive, but he was 2nd last to take his chances with the hatch exit when he finally drew his last short straw; as he exited the turret hatch, he looked down and saw the driver had remained steadfast in his seat. John Hunter, known affectionately as Jack, was a new recruit from England and had not been with the tank crew for very long, but he was well liked. Dad acted instinctively. Eye-witness accounts from his tank commander, who made it out and was sheltering from the machine gun fire, said he acted with courage and without regard for his own safety; he climbed back down into the hull of Sherman tank as it began to burn. It rocked with explosive rounds striking the hull. Inside, Jack was in a bad way, Dad felt something wasn't right, he couldn't see either of Jack's arms, then realised both of them had been blown away. He immediately lent down and grabbed Jack, grasping him tightly with both hands and all his strength, hauled him out of his seat and up the turret with him. Pulling Jack out through the turret, the tank was hit again and then Dad noticed something else wasn't right. He couldn't get his right leg to grip on the rung to step up the turret. This stopped him from exiting the hatch. He looked down ....and saw his right leg spinning round in a circle, blown off just below the knee, but held on by a single piece of fleshy skin.
There was no blood from the loss of his leg. The large metal fragment that had cut through it was so red hot it cooked all the flesh on remaining lower part of his limb as it passed through, instantly sealing the blood flow. Wounds like this give off smoke, and it would have been an alarming site. The DAK were now pouring molten lead shot in to the tank, a strange stroke of luck? Maybe, because sealing the blood stopped his major arteries from failing, which would have instantly depleted his body strength and he would have fallen to the bottom of the tank entombing him and possibly Jack in the growing inferno. He was already covered in blood with multiple gun shot wounds to his arms and torso, which litter a whole page in his army medical record. A shell fragment had ripped into the palm of his left hand crippling it. It would remain there for the rest of life, unable to be surgically removed without amputating his hand and never allowing him to clasp or clench his hand for the size of it.
According to his tank commander, Dad's only thought was to get the Jack out. Smoke would have been coming from more than one of the burning wounds and burnt fatigues of both men. He was still in the turret and pulled Jack out from the top. Gunfire still raked the turret adding to their wounds. He then rolled Jack over the side of the tank away from the machine gun fire. Finally Dad rolled off the turret onto the ground beside him, where they were just out of sight of the shooters. As the tank brewed, Dad lay on his back, breathless, dazed and confused by the sight of his leg and the bleeding from every other part of his body. Thankfully, a brave medic arrived almost immediately. The tank commander was to later tell my grandmother, Dad yelled at the medics in no uncertain terms to leave him alone and attend Jack first, his condition was far worse than he. Soon after, Dad watched a medic use a simple pair scissors to cut away the remaining skin attaching his lower leg and he told me the last thing he remembered was the leg separating itself onto the ground, and then he passed out.
More tragically, Trooper John Hunter died the next day from the severity of his wounds. His name appears on the honour roll, along with the many others killed in that final push to finally rid the Afrika Korps and Nazism from Africa. As a teenager, I pestered dad to tell me about how he was wounded and finally he caved into my juvenile demands. I felt shocked and moved by his story but also difficult to process it. It affected me more deeply as my thoughts revisited it, and even more so a few years later after Dad passed away when I had the opportunity to read some of eyewitness accounts and letter praising him for his courage under fire. He was mentioned in combat dispatches to military command and there may have been talk of a gong. My grandfather who won the Military Cross in the WWI, said his actions warranted the Victoria Cross, but VC’s had to be witnessed by a high-ranking officer and it was not. This was no loss to Dad but somewhat a relief as wouldn’t have to recall the account of 23rd April. As it was, he could never bring himself to ever wear his war medals. I believe he would never have wanted this action and Jacks death made trivial by a piece of dress medal no matter what it was. All he longed for was the world to return to peace and normality and to get on with living life. He was very nearly one of those not to return and with that I have also often wondered many times of Jack Hunter and his family, and of their very sad grief. I think this is something Dad harboured deeply in his mind, for the rest of his life, and I am sure he went through it in his mind many times searching in vain for a different outcome ...and why he continually chewed his fingernails completely off all his fingers.
After being shipped by stretcher to the west of England, he was soon visited in hospital by his sister, glad he was alive, but very tearful for the condition it left him. Dad was very proud of this service, but not that you would ever know it. He never contacted any of his unit after the war. Instead, he appeared to have a deep sense of failing: he said he was looking forward to taking Tunis and having a victory parade with the Africa Korps defeated; it also appeared he wanted to personally clean out all the Nazi’s from Germany and he could have fantasised a reunion with Herr Hitler with he and his Sherman tank; there was a sense from him that he let the team down by getting wounded and this upset him; and of course not being able to save Jacks life. He spent a year on his back recovering from the severity of his wounds before finally being discharged with 5 years of ‘exemplary’ service, and allowed to go home on crutches.
He told me he didn't want to work with people anymore, but with animals. He studied at Edinburgh University (where he met mum through the University SRC) and graduated as a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS) and eventually became a renowned Surgeon, defying the sceptics on the Medical Board who tried to deny him his dream because they didn’t believe he could never operate surgical equipment properly with his left hand. He married, immediately started a family and worked all over Scotland, England, and Ireland and then ironically once again the British Government posted him to Africa, but this time to Nyasaland (now Malawi) in the central east of the Dark Continent. Here he led research to combat a deadly virus that was wiping out local animals and livestock. This was a little reminiscent of the popular BBC TV series, Wild at Heart. It took 3 to 4 years to win over this disease, and I believe I was part of that celebration in discovering the vaccine remedy as I was born just weeks before we left the country!
Not wanting to live in a cold climate again, he had been looking at a calendar that hung from the wall in the kitchen as they planned to leave Africa. It showed a peaceful fisherman's shack surrounded by coconut palms on a beautiful romantic isolated beach. He said to mum, "That's where we are moving to!" and they looked at the bottom fine print, it said the beach was in Far North Queensland, Australia - the other side of the world and in the southern hemisphere! Unfortunately I can no longer remember the name of the actual beach, but he dragged a family of 7 all the way from Africa to Australia (via a final visit to Scotland) in the early 1960's over a simple picture on a wall calendar! He found and bought his beach house (which incidentally had the name "The Shack" framed on the front) that stood just a few yards from a hot sandy beach and it remains in the family today.
He loved music, especially Calypso. He enjoyed international music from all over the world like Trinidad, Jamaican and Irish music. He liked the Seekers, Nana Mouskouri, Harry Belefonte and others of the 50/60’s generation. He could play any instrument by ear, you name it - he could play it like a true musician, and often turned our home into a musical extravaganza. He loved to dance, but was prone to falling over because of his wooden leg. I first saw he and mum really take to the dance floor at the wedding of my eldest brother in 1974, and the crowd cheered them on and one could see the glint in his eye he had for mum. He still spoke of annoyance of having lost his favourite guitar in that last tank action when he was wounded. He never spoke of the war unless heavily drilled about it by over inquisitive sons. He hated racism and bigotry. He loved animals, respected people, liked brandy, scotch, a good port and other beverages; fishing by a stream or from a small boat miles off shore in the ocean, and being at our very much loved beach house on the waters edge he found on the Central Queensland Coast - where his ashes were spread. But most of all, he loved mum.
In the last few years of his life, he was planning to backpack around China with mum as soon as I finished high school. I was about to commence my final year at Senior High when the wounds he's received in combat finally began to take their toll. His body was still sprinkled with that shrapnel he received under fire on 23rd April, 1943, and some were not so small chunks and it remained in him to the day he passed away.
He passed when I was 16, leaving my mum a war widow barely in her 50's. It was early in the morning and the day after he performed one of his best operations on an albino feline the previous afternoon, saving its life. Mum later told me he was really proud of himself that day with the outcome of the operation as albinos often died in or shortly after surgery. I also remember getting home from school that afternoon, Dad leaning over the kitchen table, with his hands stretched out on the table to rest his aching back. His wooden leg was always a burden on his spine. He was not looking the best and he looked at me with a certain look. I didn't understand what it meant at that moment, but I do now, he knew his time was very near and China might have to wait for another lifetime. He knew what was happening, but I didn't. I remember seeing him as I went to bed later that night sitting in his chair watching TV with mum and I remember him early the next morning, when my mother cried out from their bed for my help, and how we both tried in vain to revive him.
He will always be my hero.Hereward
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