- Rifle Brigade during the Second World War -
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21st May 1940 Orders to Move
21st May 1940 Orders to Move
20th Jul 1942 Change of Command
21st Jul 1942 On the Move
25th Jul 1942 Intelligence
26th Jul 1942 Orders
27th Jul 1942 In Action
29th Jul 1942 Intelligence
If you can provide any additional information, especially on actions and locations at specific dates, please add it here.
Those known to have served with
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Arthur George Charles John. L/Cpl.
- Brinsmead John.
- Brittain Frederick William. Sgt. (d.5th April 1943)
- Chadwick Horace Hector. Cpl. (d.1st-3rd April 1940 )
- Clarke Ronald Charles William. Rflmn.
- Coggin Henry Hubert. Pte.
- Denton Herbert W.. Sgt.
- Desborough Charles.
- Franklin Joseph. Cpl. (d.27th Feb 1945)
- Fraser John Edward. Rfm.
- Freeman John H.. A/Major
- Greene Derek Charles. Lance Corporal
- Greene Derek Charles. Cpl.
- Jacks Alfred Henry. Pte.
- Jefferyes Henry Edward. Cpl.
- McDonnell Reginald Charles. RSM.
- McEwan Francis Fowler. Rflmn. (d.21st Sep 1944)
- Miller Nathaniel.
- Miller Nathaniel Frank. Rfm.
- Oakley James William Charles.
- Parker Walter John. Rfmn.
- Patrick Eric Alfred. Cpl.
- Rollinson Ernest Arthur John. Cpl.
- Ryder Victor. Rfn.
- Sladen D. R.. Lt.
- Stevens Cornelius. Cpl. (d.21st April 1945)
- Surtees John Freville Henry.
- Swan Edward William. Rfm.
- Taylor Edward.
The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List
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There are 2 pages in our library tagged Rifle Brigade These include information on officers service records, letters, diaries, personal accounts and information about actions during the Second World War.
Nathaniel "Frank" Miller 1st Tower Hamlets RiflesMy father was a POW at Lamsdorf from 1943 until the Death March. He was employed at Arbeitskommando E288, a sugar beet factory at Bauerwitz. (now Baborow, Poland) He was captured 3 April 1941 at Agedabia, Libya. He was interned at Sulmona, Italy until 13 July 1943 and then transferred to Camp CC.53 P.M. 3300, Italy. Then on 19 July 1943 he was transferred to Stalag IVB, Germany. On 10 Aug 1943 he was then transferred to Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf. At the end of the Death March, he was liberated by the Americans and flown back to England.Alan Miller
Edward "Ted" Taylor Rifle BrigadeMy father-in-law, Ted Taylor, survived the Battle of Calais in 1940 and spent the rest of the war as a POW. I am trying to put together his story from when he was deployed on 23rd May 1940 to the time he returned to England in May 1945.
I would love to hear from anyone who can help with this. Ted is now 90 and has just suffered a stroke leaving him unable to communicate clearly. Although we have a summary of his war I would like to write it up in more detail.Carole McEntee-Taylor
Rfm. John Edward Fraser 1st Btn. C Coy.My Grandfather, John Fraser was a Rifleman in 10 platoon, C Coy, 1st Rifle Brigade. He joined up in the summer of 1940, trained with 27 ITC in Winchester. We have C Coy photo and 1 platoon photo dated 17th Sept. 1941, which suggests that they were still in the UK but shortly after this he departed for North Africa. Its not clear when they sailed or when they arrived in Egypt but his name and service no. were reported by Vatican radio around the latter part of Feb 1942 as having been taken into captivity by the Italians.
He remained a prisoner in Italy and then in Austria, until the end of the war. His time as a POW is well documented, however I am trying to build a picture of his movements between arriving in Egypt and becoming a POW. As a child he did confide in me once, he mentioned what could have been a jock column which had been attacked from the air and having lost all their transport they tried to make there way to a position where they expected to find the Free French, along the way they ran into an Italian patrol and that was that.
If anyone can offer any advice as to where to look or whom I might approach to gather any more information I would be very grateful.N. S. Fraser
Lance Corporal Derek Charles Greene 1st Btn. Rifle BrigadeMy Father Derek Charles Greene served in the 1st battalion of the Rifle Brigade in the 2nd world war, he was captured at Dunkirk and ended up eventually in Stalag VIIIA prisoner of war camp in Upper Silesia, Lamsdorf. During his time there he learnt to converse in several languages and was able to talk to other prisoners from different backgrounds. At some point he acted in one of the many plays that were put on at the camp, the play he remembers was called `Golden Boy ' by Clifford Odettes and it was produced by A.W Cullingham at the camp I have put a copy of the actors on here and if anyone recognises any please get in touch. While my father was at stalag VIII he had to work as a punishment breaking rocks up and one fell onto his leg and crushed his ankle which has never really healed properly as he did not recieve any proper treatment but he managed to walk on it eventually , during this time he couldnt get out of bed and a fellow prisoner used to share his food with him , then Dad got a fever and nearly died but somehow he pulled through , his weight had dropped dramatically and he , told me that they once ate one of the german officers dog it was a sausage dog and Dad said the officer called them babarians but never found out who actually killed it.
My father eventually came back to England in an American plane in the bomb hatch as he had by now become infected with T.B he told the pilot that if he died please drop him out over the English sea ... but Dad survived. Eventually back in an English Hospital where he stayed for some months, he met his childhood sweetheart Joan [Kenward} and went on to have five children, Dad will be 92years old in August 2009 and has endured ill health form his chest problems all through these years and after a year long battle, is now in remmision of cancer, he is a true surviver ... he is now in the process of writting his life story ...Marjorie Giles
James William Charles Oakley 1st Battalion Rifle BrigadeI was wondering if anyone had any information on where my grandad James(Jim) Oakley ( 6911761 ) was imprisoned as a POW during WW2. Unfortunatly it was a traumatic event for him - like all of those involved and he never spoke of his experiences to us. We know he was in the Rifle Brigade and that he had served in India as an army regular in the later part of the 1920's. He fought at Dunkirk where he was captured during the fighting on about the 2nd of June. We think he was ordered north from Bastion 1 in Calais to Dunkirk as reinforcements possibly being captured on the way as we have spent time in France looking for information and found references pertaining to this in the Calais war museum. My sister and I would dearly love to see where he spent most of the war-as some sort of closure for all of us. He remembered a long journey through Belgium when he was liberated and before he died would always holiday there. We do not, however, know where he passed through all those years ago.
If anyone knew him or could help us then we would appreciate the help. Thank you.Chris Reeves
Rfm. Edward William Swan 2nd Btn. (Tower Hamlets Rifles) Rifle BrigadeMy da,d Edward Swan joined Tower Hamlets Rifles (Territorials) as soon as he was 18 in 1937 and was an enthusiastic weekend soldier following on from his days in the Boys' Brigade. He was encouraged to join the Rifles by his Boys' Brigade leader who had fought for them in WW1. His mother was dead against it, his brother offered him a job as an apprentice at Plesseys assuring him that he would be in a reserved occupation, but my dad would hear none of it. I think he was attached to the 2nd batt. Rifle Brigade and it was the 1st that Churchill sent them to Calais where most of them were captured in 1940. Dad spent his time in England and Scotland where he trained as a PTI and played in the band (2nd cornet!!).
His first posting was to North Africa I think in 1941/2. Here he was attached to the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) and was involved in an action at a place called Snipe Ridge where his "mob" and members of the Royal Artillery were charged with holding up the Afrika Corps for 24 hours while the rest of the army retreated to Alamein. This they succeeded in doing and I believe some VCs were won there for their actions. He was mentioned in dispatches. I only found this out by doing a great deal of research - he only once said anything about it and that was to his grandson who asked why he had a bar on his Africa Star. His reply was "That was for killing Germans son". Just about the only reference to his wartime fighting experiences!
He was in Africa until the end of fighting there and was then involved first in the retaking of Sicily and then in the Italian Landings - I believe he may have been attached to the American group that landed at Anzio and got stuck - he had a very low opinion of the Americans as fighting troops, but as people it was completely opposite. From here he was posted to Monte Cassino as a stretcher bearer with another guy from the Tower Hamlets Rifles whose name I sadly failed to take down when I went there a few years ago. The other guy died, my dad survived but at some cost to his mental health. I have no idea what he witnessed but I know that he was there for the entire period of the operation and must have seen some terrible sights. He went on to Naples where my grandmother was convinced I had an older half brother or sister. He received regular letters from Naples well into 1947/8 when he was already married to my mum. He was transferred to admin. staff and continued north through Rome where his grudge against Lady Astor was born - apparently she called the troops in Italy "D Day dodgers" finishing up in May 1945 in Austria where he was demobbed classified as B2 health-wise.
He loved the early part of his army life, but the mental and physical toll on his health only really became apparent in the late 1980s when he suffered a breakdown leading to depression and then was diagnosed with throat cancer from smoking - he had given it up but the damage had been done at Cassino where he reckoned it was normal to smoke upwards of 100-150+ cigarettes a day.John Swan
RSM. Reginald Charles "Mac" McDonnell Rifle BrigadeMy father, Reginald McDonnell, told me of his time with the Desert Rats in North Africa and of his capture at Tobruk. He was in the Rifle Brigade. He said he was promoted in the field to RSM because all those above that rank had been killed.
After his capture he and 4 colleagues were transferred to Northern Italy where it was freezing cold and they were still wearing their desert gear. He escaped with his colleagues by killing their guard using his thumbs in the side of the temple. They then swam over a mile down a sewage infested canal and walked the length of the border with Greece and back only to get through near where they had started from. The only casualty among them was the only married chap, he was killed.
When my father was repatriated he was full of Beri-beri and dysentry and suffering from what would now be called Post Traumatic Stress. He was hospitalized but discovered that his fiance was marrying another man, a sailor much to his disgust. He dragged himself to the church and confronted them but it was too late. Her excuse was that his mother had recieved "the telegram" 3 times and refused to believe he was dead but on the 4th she thought he must have perished.
He went on to live another 43 years until he died on my birthday in 1988. For years I played with his medals but never fully understood the horrors he went through. This was the only time he opened up about his wartime experiences. I sincerely wish I had been less of a me me person in my youth but its too late now. God bless you Dad, and thanks.Ian C McDonnell
Cpl. Cornelius Stevens 3rd Bn Tower Hamlets Rifles (d.21st April 1945)Corporal Cornelius Stevens died age 32 on 21 April 1945, was the husband of C. Stevens, of Millwall, London. He is buried in Becklingen War Cemetery. I'm looking for information regarding my daugther-in-law's father who died in action so close to the end of the war. I believe he died saving others from his battalion but am looking for hard facts. I appreciate any informationBarry Buzer
Cpl. Henry Edward "Jeff" Jefferyes 9th (London) Battalion. Rifle BrigadeMy father was Cpl. Henry Edward Jefferyes known as Jeff. He had joined the TA in 1936 in Whitechapel, His regiment was 9th London Rifle Brigade (Tower Hamlets Rifles). He was taken prisoner at Tobruk and his first Camp was Lavoro in Italy from where he escaped and was recaptured. He was taken to Campo PG78 Sulmona and escaped again with 7 others. I would like to know who they were. He was taken by Italian Partisans to live in village of Monta d'Alba, Northern Italy and had an interesting time with them. The Monta Town Hall has details of him and 2 others who were brought in by Partisans. He left there in September 1943 and walked to the American lines arriving on 11.11.1943 and was repatriated to UK. Dad was presented with a religious medallion by the Cardinal from the Vatican who visited Sulmona.Ann Jefferyes
Charles "Bill" Desborough Rifle BrigadeI have started a family tree for my sister and myself and have just found out that my father, Bill Desborough was a prisoner of war and at POW Stalag XXA. He never really spoke of the war and so everything I am finding out is quite a surprise. He was in the Rifle Brigade and was a prisoner of war at Stalag XX-A Thorn podgorz, poland. He was injured during a march where he had to pick potatoes, he was so hungry he ate a potato and was caught by a german officer and was injured then as a result. I would love to hear from anyone else that was in the same camp or anyone who remembers my father, if you have even a little smidget of information.Janet Samson
Sgt. Herbert W. Denton 1St Btn. Rifle BrigadeThe memories of Herbert W Denton, Sergeant 7th Armoured Division (Desert Rats), Compiled 2010, with additions from a recorded interview.
The war had started in 1939 and in 1940 I was called up. On receiving call-up papers I went to Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire for Army Training, consisting of drill, rifle shooting and lectures. This was the Rifle Brigade 1st Battalion and where I remained for the whole of the war.
The Driving Test
Well, there was a strange driving test. A vehicle was driven in between two trees with one foot to spare that side and one foot to spare the other side. The driver being tested had to back out, round and then reverse into the same space “without hesitation”. The Chief Tester of Sunbeam Talbot was one of our fellows - he failed. I was the next one to go and I went off and round “as clean as a whistle” and I don’t think it was good driving it was just a fluke. I passed so I became a driver. I did all right out of it because one of the officers in 8 Platoon had to go to Ashford in Kent. He asked for me to be the driver and I wasn’t even in his Platoon. I didn’t like him anyway so why should I be selected. Anyway, we went to Ashford and there was another car with another officer as well. The officers went into a hotel for lunch. We looked around Ashford for where we could have lunch and found nothing. So I said to the other chap “We’ll go in the hotel too”. He said “We can’t go in there with the officers”. I said “We’ve got to eat and Officers or no Officers I’m going in”. Of course, he followed me. The officers looked across but I ordered the meal and, of course, I paid for it. If we hadn’t eaten then we would have had nothing all day. I drove all sorts of funny things after that, including a 20 ton Lancia truck which was captured in the Western Dessert.
Off To Africa
When training was finished we drove up to Glasgow and boarded the “Strathaird” troopship. We sailed past Ireland, Greenland, down close to America, then back across the Atlantic to Freetown, Sierra Leone where the boat was refuelled. There we stopped a mile off shore and did not land there. Our escort of 1 Battleship, 2 Destroyers and 6 Corvettes left us at Freetown. After only one day we then sailed on the Capetown where we stayed for four days. As far as the army was concerned when we went ashore everything was paid for. We were wined and dined by the South Africans in every place where we ate or drank. When we asked for the bill we were told “Oh, this is with the compliments of Mr. or Mrs Van Heuten or So-and-so over there, they have paid the bill”. It became quite embarrassing. I phoned Johannesburg to talk to my uncle, heard he was in Cape Town and coming home that day on the “Blue Train”. While on the phone I saw the train go out of the station. When my C.O. heard about that he said if he had known I could have gone up to see my uncle and joined the ship at Durban. That was the next port of call before we sailed to Port Tufic on the Suez Canal.
Into The Desert
From Port Tufic a train took us via Cairo to a spot somewhere out in the Egyptian Desert. We went to a camp there for a few days then we got our trucks and our desert journeys began.
A Dusabled Truck
We went via Tobruk to El Agheila where our first battle took place. We got as far as Marsa Brega but then we were bashed back to Alamein - not quite to Cairo, more Alexandria. I went into Tobruk when my truck had virtually broken down. It was a six cylinder truck and it was only working on two cylinders. I must have been the last vehicle out of Tobruk. Germans were using very lights, green and red - it was the green ones I was watching because that’s the movement forward. I said to the Corporal who was with me “As long as we get beyond the El Adem road we’re safe”. He said “Where’s the El Adem road”. I said “about a mile further down from here”. So, we’re watching these very lights and we passed the El Adem road with the lights very close. We only just “made it”. So, I staggered on at eight miles an hour, flat out, and got right the way down to Bardia. From there we got a tow all the way back to Alamein. We didn’t go along the coast road but through the desert. We had to get over “Hell-Fire Pass” as Halfaya Pass was known, dragged over that and then plain flat desert all the way back to Alamein, in all about a hundred miles. I’d had very little sleep for a couple of days and I nodded off and woke up just in time to slam on the brakes before hitting the truck in front.
A German Surprise
I had stopped late at night; it’s no good going on after dark because you can’t see what you are doing. Some tanks must have come in and Laagered during the night and I was on the edge of it but they were all facing the opposite direction to me. I was so tired I must have slept through all the noise of the tanks arriving. When I woke up I was surprised when I looked at the tank tracks and saw they had quite little wheels. Only the German tanks had little wheels on their tracks! In the distance they had discovered a South African Laager and when the battle started next morning as I was on the outside edge they never saw me. I nipped out and away. I got into the vehicle without my trousers, without my socks and drove like mad. I heard a bang and I thought they were firing at me but they weren’t, they were firing at the South Africans. After a time I stopped and put my trousers and my boots on again and we went on. We didn’t see much of the German Air Force once the RAF got cracking out there. They seemed to give up and go back to concentrate on Europe. As for the Italian Air Force I saw one Spitfire see off six Italian bombers at one go! We didn’t see much of them after that!
R.A.F. and German Tactics
The RAF were in, bomb, bang, and away! The Germans, you could watch them and you knew who was going to be the target. So, you just got out the way. If they had done the same that the RAF were doing we wouldn’t have stood a chance. At Alamein the RAF came over us to the Germans and whoosh, bang and within a matter of two or three minutes it was all over. The German Air Force came in and you can stand there watching them, to see where they were going, and if they turned there and came back you knew who was going to be the target. So, you merely just wandered away out of the way. Of course, the bombs dropped and when they left we just went back to where we were. You learned rapidly in the war!
El Alamein and Italians
When Gen. Montgomery took over we were sent down south for a rest but arrived in time to stop the Italians from outflanking the Alamein line. We remained in the south for a week or two and then we were brought up to the main front line. We were sitting right at the south of the front looking at a hill. One night I went forward to get some information from the forward troops. I misfired - there were one or two sitting in very deep slit trenches and I thought, “this is funny”. Our forward troops were not in slit trenches! I then heard somebody talking in Italian - I was only behind the Italian Lines. One popped his head out and looked at me – I put my first finger up vertically against my lips and he bobbed back out of sight. After that I just walked out. I didn’t run - I thought take it easy and hope for the best. Nobody challenged me. Of course, I got back to my lot, our lines and I was promptly challenged. A gruff voice said “Who goes there?” I said “friend”. “Advance friend” So, Friend advanced! It was a bloke I knew. He looked at me and said “Where the bloody ‘ell have you been?” I said “Unfortunately, in the Italian Lines” He said “How the hell did you get out again?” I said “Well, nobody challenged me so I gently walked out again until I got here!”
El Alamein and Germans
We were attacked at Alamein by Germans, 110 Tiger Tanks. They came at us in single file! We knocked out the leader and as the second one pulled out to pass him we knocked that one out too. We knocked out 96 of them and the other 14 retired! That was the last battle before Alamein and the breakout, and from then onwards I don’t think we lost anywhere.
Just before Alamein, the Sergeant Major’s arm was going black so I told him to go to the MO. “I’m alright” he said. So I said “you’re a Bloody Fool if you don’t go”. He said “Don’t call me a Bloody Fool I’m a Warrant Officer class 2” I said “I don’t care if you’re a Warrant Officer Class 1 I’ll give you five minutes to go or I’m fetching the MO”. I got down to one minute before he decided he had better go. I never saw him again but I had a letter from him. He apologised for all the harsh words he’d used and he said “You did right and if I had left it another day I’d have lost my arm”. When I applied for an NCO to take over from him I was told “There isn’t anybody available - you do it”. I was an ordinary Rifleman then so I promoted myself to Lance Corporal and it went through. Somebody had to be in control, so I ran the “A” Echelon as a Lance Corporal.
The Battle of El Alamein
The battle for Alamein started with Gen. Montgomery in charge. That was some battle - I was right in front of the guns and I’ve never heard such a racket in my life. There was one gun every twenty-five yards and they all opened up at the same time. After a short time the tanks went forward with us following. You did things that if you had thought about it you wouldn’t have ruddy well done it! At Alamein we had a tank get a direct hit about 20 yards away from us and it was going up in flames. I just went forward and helped them get out of this burning tank. That was all I did and afterwards I thought “What the hell were you doing sticking your neck out like that”! But, you just do it, you don’t think about it. It was a British made tank but it didn’t occur to me that I might get hurt. Lots of funny things got done. We had one Victoria Cross, Colonel Turner. I don’t know what it was all about, he was in the 2nd. Battalion not the 1st. I did know him but not what he did.
One fellow was walking around and he saw something on the floor, he kicked it and it blew up and he lost his foot. Two or three days afterwards I was sent to pick up some recruits. They came along and there was a fountain pen on the floor. One of them was about to pick it up and I said “Don’t touch it!” They looked at me startled so I picked up some stones and threw them at it. When I hit it, it blew up. I said “That’s why I said don’t touch it”. There were a lot of booby traps like that at the start. They soon gave that up because it didn’t take long to learn. I had heard about these fountain pens but I thought” If it is a fountain pen and I seem a bloody fool then there is nothing lost”. I explained to them if you see something on the ground do what I did, and if it doesn’t blow up, then you can pick it up.
I knew the battle was on but I was always doing something else. We had lost all the officers and the Orderly Room Staff after one battle and because I was the only one with clerical experience I ended up running the Orderly Room. The first thing I was asked was who were casualties in the Rifle Brigade. I had no Idea of who was in the other platoons, numbers 5, 7, and 8; I only knew of mine No. 6. But I had to find out, so having found a phone that worked I phoned the Records Office in England. I said I wanted to know who was in the Rifle Brigade and they gave me all the names of who were in the whole of the Rifle Brigade. I wandered around to find out who we had left and the rest of them I posted as “missing, presumed captured”. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and that was that! From then on as I was the only clerk in the office I became the Orderly Room Sergeant – I had very quick promotion. When we went forward we kept on going. Captured Benghazi on our way back across the desert.
The Lancia Truck
The funniest one was the captured Lancia twenty ton truck. You get into the cab, one two three, you pull a lever then get out of the cab, go round the front and you wind, wind, wind then you get back in the cab and pull a lever and if it doesn’t start you do it all over again! And that’s why the Italians were always getting caught in the Laager. Being an NCO I didn’t drive. “Who’s driving the Italian Wagon?”. Silence. “Well, Corporal Denton can drive he can drive the Wagon”. From then on I had that for a long time - went up and down the desert in it. It would go over anything.
One time I took it up the side of an escarpment. It was being used as a ration wagon. I had got everything unloaded and then there was “a flap on” and everybody vanished! So I picked up the remaining stuff and put it on board and moved off, to be chased by a little German scout car. I came upon an escarpment, changed gear from top down to lower boost without scraping the sides and went up the escarpment! The little fellow couldn’t get up there so we got away that time. I’d never been able to do that since - there were two gear levers and it went in as clean as a whistle. And I’ve never done it since.
Opposition to Deal With
We kept going out of Egypt into Libya where a small battle took place near Tobruk. After that we kept going till we got to Sousse where we were stopped. During the night the Gurkhas and Maoris went in and came back with 1 prisoner - they had killed all the rest.
On one occasion I was out at the forward lines and went into an ambulance station we had just recaptured. At the other end of the camp I saw a German Staff Car occupied by an officer. It was Rommel – he stood up and saluted as he was driven off at high speed. I had no chance to catch up in my truck, and my rifle was stowed in the truck, so I missed a chance to get him.
I was armed with a pencil and paper most of the time but I always had my rifle with me. As a “marksman” I could hit a bull’s-eye at 200 yards with all five bullets [in the magazine]. But, I never had to use my rifle during the battles. It seemed much harder gathering up all the required information than lying down firing at anybody. The rifle was always loaded, in case. I knew that if I had to use it, whatever the target was I’d hit it. We had a rifle competition in a quiet period when we were stationed at Tobruk and I won 10 Piastres, that was the prize. The target was one of these pop up things and I had five shots and hit it five times. One or two of the others hit it but not five times. I found it perfectly simple
Once I became an NCO you didn’t drive but we were running so short of drivers I was always driving. Just before we attacked Tripoli, we travelled at night, and the convoy stopped. I heard the convoy move off and we didn’t. I nipped out the truck, found my driver had gone to sleep, so I hoiked him out of the cab, got him in the back and I got in and started driving. Pitch black - couldn’t see a thing -just hoped I was going to catch the others up! It took me fifteen minutes before I caught them. All I could see was just a little light on the back of the vehicle in front, which was very very fortunate.
Tripoli; The Italians
That was just before the capture of Tripoli. When we captured Tripoli a boat came loaded with Italian soldiers, as they came off the boat we said “Right, just come this way”. I had a couple on my truck for a week and they were quite happy there. One of them who spoke English fairly well said the Italians didn’t want to fight the British. It was only the fact that Mussolini was with Hitler that meant the Italians were drawn into the war against us. We discovered as far as the Italians were concerned in the desert they were “easy meat”. It was quite obvious that they hadn’t any intention of doing any real fighting. The only time they did any of that was when the Germans were with them, when they hadn‘t much option.
Tripoli; The Germans
When we had just captured Tripoli I was walking around, turned a corner and came face to face with a complete Platoon of German Soldiers. They were armed to the teeth. The officer came up to me and saluted, so I gave him one back and he said they were surrendering. So I said “Carry on. Prisoners are being accepted round the corner”. I didn’t want anything to do with them. They marched off, presumably into captivity and I never saw them again. I had had enough of a shock coming face to face with a fully armed Platoon of soldiers. I could easily have ended up dead. The capture of Tripoli was a “walk-in” which finished the Desert War, we were able to push on steadily until we reached Tunisia. Having got to Tunis we then met up with the American First Army.
A Royal Visit
Before we left Africa we were all on parade while the King made a visit, but he just drove past us at about 50 mph.
We sat in the desert for some days before boarding boats and making the landing in Italy. At Salerno there was no opposition on the beach whatsoever. We just landed and the Italian Ladies that met us were quite happy to see us. We kept on going until we got to Monte Casino. There was nothing for us to do there, we would leave it to those who were already there, so we came back to Naples. We stayed at Naples for two or three weeks where it was functioning as a normal town. While we were there the Colonel asked me if I liked opera and I replied that I did. I was a lance corporal. The Brigadier said “I am Charles”. How does a lance corporal call a Brigadier Charles? Right, be ready at 6, there is a good opera in town and the Opera House is functioning normally. I got in the Staff Car at the appointed time and off we went. There I was sitting with the Colonel. I don’t know why he picked on me but I enjoyed the evening and we went back after to the billets about 20 miles South of Naples. Anyway we had a very pleasant evening. Two days later we were on a boat on the way home.
England and “D” Day
Leave was granted and then we were billeted in tents on Wanstead Common. “D” Day came and we were first to land in France. The Canadians on our left and the Americans on our right had terrible battles. For us it was just like Salerno with nothing to stop us at all as we went in with the first wave. The Sappers had cleared the beach in almost minutes and we just followed up, going two or three miles inland before the Colonel decided we were “getting a bit ahead of ourselves” so we went back a bit. We then headed out of France into Belgium where we stopped at Liege for a few days refuelling, etc. There, the Air landing at Arnhem took place and the old Desert Rats went up to help out.
We came back down and were billeted with a Dutch couple, elderly, but insisted on us having a fruit flan. This was the biggest flan I have ever seen. The dish was round and at least two feet across. This flan was delicious and we, 6 of us, used up half of it so took the other half back to the old lady who said “No, it is all for you”. I had some cocoa sent in a parcel by a cousin in South Africa so I asked the old lady for some boiling water. She made the cocoa and used milk. I made sure the old couple had some as well. When we left I had a pint bottle of Rum. I used to bottle my rum ration. I gave this bottle to the old couple plus my cigarette rations when we left and they burst into tears.
The next day we crossed the Rhine over the most rickety bridge I have ever seen. The Brigadier looked at it and said to me “That looks as though someone is going to finish up in the Rhine”. He went first carefully and I followed also very carefully. It was a bit dodgy. As soon as the fighting part of the brigade was over we went flat out for Hamburg. The German forces had left Hamburg an open city so there was no fighting. While sitting in the truck a woman came up to us and said “That car that has just gone out, that was Ribbentrop” so we set off after him. We chased him up one side of the Schleswig-Holstein peninsular and down the other and caught him back in Hamburg and handed him over to the Signallers while we went on our way east. We got as far as Gluckstadt when the armistice was declared so we stopped there.
A “Friendly” Dog
At Gluckstadt there was a dog tethered on a chain as thick as my wrist. This dog stood about as high as a young Shetland Pony and it was terribly vicious. When I threw it a biscuit it first sniffed it but then picked it up and found it rather liked it. The next morning I went out and it half heartedly growled so I went a bit closer to it and threw a biscuit which it promptly picked up. Day three as I approached it the tail was wagging, no growl, I went right up to it and it took a biscuit nicely and I was stroking it just as the farmer came out. He “nearly did his nut”; he thought I would be “savaged”! I said “What him; Bruno’s an old Softy”. What was a vicious dog hadn’t taken me long to tame. This dog was used to pull a milk cart. I went out for a walk one day, fully armed I might add in case of accidents, turned a corner and what do I meet - dog pulling a milk cart. Dog saw me, dog follows me and I finish up doing a milk round. Everybody thought that was most humorous, a fully armed British Soldier doing a milk round. I hadn’t got any option, the dog wouldn’t leave me. It was one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen.
When the battles were all over and we were in Germany the “powers that be” decided that all the Orderly Room Sergeants would run their unit from Brussels – my unit was at Gluckstadt in Germany. I thought to myself this is bloody silly, running a unit 200 miles away. Not that I minded, I had the time of my life in Brussels. You could go to theatres, cinemas, they were all open. Shops were open, restaurants were open. I didn’t ever eat in the Mess; I used to go out to a restaurant. Getting off the train another chap who got off and said to me “Do you know where GHQ is?” I said “No, but I am going there”. He introduced himself and I did likewise and we became good friends. His name was Colin.
The Work in Brussels
The work was not much different from what I had been doing and pre-war I had been a clerk working in an office so it meant nothing to me. It was perfectly simple. Poor Old Colin who was given the job of running the Worcester’s, he didn’t know whether he was on his arse or his elbows. I went in and showed him what to do. In fact I did it. For two or three days I ran the Worcester’s until Colin had got hold of the “Brass Tacks” of it. Then I left him to it. As far as I was concerned it was simple, I was used to it. One afternoon in the street, I was talking to Colin when he suddenly sprung to attention and saluted. I turned round to see who it was and was greeted with a handshake. It was the Brigadier who had taken me to the theatre in Naples. I did not get a chance to salute him as he grabbed my hand and shook it saying “I thought I recognised you”. He was in Brussels to get orders and I noticed he was now a General. He chatted for some time before saying “I have to see the governor” meaning the Field Marshall so, shaking my hand again, off he went.
My regiment had a new commanding officer who insisted all ranks would do drill so the Orderly Room staff could not get their work done till late. I in Brussels was getting information for publication late afternoon instead of 9 o’clock in the morning. I went and saw the Brigadier who wrote a letter and said “Go back to your unit and sort them out”. I left Brussels at 4pm that day (Thursday) and arrived midday Saturday. The train had no windows, it was 7 January and bitterly cold and my temper on arriving at the regiment was at boiling point. The first person I saw was the R.S.M and I was not very polite to him. The Orderly Room staff were trying to catch up with work and I said “This doing parade is going to stop. The returns for publication are needed at 9 am not 5pm”. I then went to see the C.O. and handed him the letter from the Brigadier. He read the letter and said “I am in command of this battalion”, so I said “I will inform the Brigadier of your decision” and left. The cook made me a bundle of sandwiches for my journey back to Brussels where I arrived at 9am Monday. I went directly to the Brigadier to report. He greeted me with “A good job, your Colonel has agreed to all you recommended and everything should go smoothly from now”. It did for a while. Before long there was another problem with the Colonel and I knew what to do now! I went to see the Brigadier who took me to the General. The General then said “John”, to the Brigadier, “go and sort this Colonel out!” The Brigadier and I went to the Colonel’s Office. Without looking up the Colonel shouted “Get out!” We ventured further in and were greeted with “Get out!” again. The Brigadier roared “Colonel!”, and that got his attention, “you are no longer in command. Pack now and report to the Officers’ Allocation Unit.” The Colonel protested and apologised but was sent off “with his tail between his legs”. The Brigadier now had to find a replacement CO and was going to look to other Units for someone. I suggested that our Major was very good and would be very suitable. I went and found him and he was promoted on the spot! He was surprised and mentioned to me later that it was not something he would have ever expected.
Brussels was very nice. I went to see a game of Pelota. That’s the game with curved racquets that you swing – and you could bet on that! I bet on Mr. Jose, and he won. So, I came away with twenty francs better than when I started. I didn’t do any more betting but I watched a game and realised that whoever you bet on, they played six sets, and they would win one of them! Didn’t matter whether it was the first, second or the last. I had worked all that out so the next time I went down I bought my ticket for the first one – and he lost. So I bought two tickets for the second one – and he lost again. So, the third time I bought three tickets and he won. So, I got all my money back plus a bit extra! I had worked all that out like that and we would go and see this Pelota two or three times a week.
Belgium was working as if nothing had ever happened – well, Brussels was. This Pelota business, I won so much money that by the time it was time to come home I couldn’t change it! I changed as much as I could into English money and the rest of it – I went out on a shopping spree. I bought six pairs of silk stockings that I brought home, all for Kath. I bought all sorts of things and spent the rest. There was a kid standing around so I gave him some and he stood there with his mouth open! Never seen so much money in his life – it was no good to me, coming home! It was his lucky day. It wasn’t all that much but I had changed all I could and bought God knows what with the rest.
The following day I packed all my kit and went out to catch a train. I felt bloody awful. There was a Sergeant Major standing there and he said “are you all right?” I said “not really, but I’m going home”. “Well”, he said “there’s no train till 4 o’clock”. This was about 12 I think. “Go and lay down on one of the benches” he said “I’ll wake you when the train comes”. I did go to sleep and about ten to four he woke me up saying “train will be in, in 10 minutes”. Of course, I felt a lot better by then, not right - but better. The train came in; he picked up my kitbag and carried it for me! I was very happy to see England again knowing I would not have to cross the Channel again in uniform. The very next day I got my civvie suit and that was the end of my Army career.
Lt. D. R. Sladen The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)I have two certificates with the name of Sladen. One to Lt D Sladden is signed by G.G.Lawson, Secretary of State War Defence on the date of 20th September 1945. The second certificate to Mrs. Sladen from the War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. This certificate is signed by George R.I. and Elisabeth R.Van Dyck Leo
Pte. Alfred Henry Jacks 1st Battalion Rifles BrigadeAlfred Jacks was in this prisoner of war camp and we found photos on the internet of him with lots of other people. He was taken prisoner in Calais and was a prisoner for 5 years before returning home. One of his friends that we know of was Jimmy who was also in the photos and returned home with him, he also had a bird which he trained and some people used to call him 'Jack Sparrow' as his nickname. He never spoke much of his time during the POW camps but he started to write a book but suffered nightmares due to his experiences so unfortunately never finished it.
He was awarded 6 medals including the 'Dunkirk' medal as he and his company stayed behind to allow the other soldiers to comeback on the boats during Dunkirk, 'Operation Dynamo' in May 1940. He was missing presumed dead for a year after his capture.
He has just recently passed away aged 93. And he left behind his two daughters, 9 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren and 4 great great grandchildren. There is so much more to say but for now we would like to see if anyone remembers him and has some information, particularly Jimmy if he is still with us.Perry
Cpl. Horace Hector "Joe" Chadwick Rifle Brigade (d.1st-3rd April 1940 )We lived in Bow, London, my father, Horace, although known as Joe, Chadwick was 28 and in The Rifle Brigade. I was only 8, the eldest of 3 daughters, and evacuated to Cornwall June 1940. My Father was stationed in Wellingborough, Northants, he came down to Cornwall to see my sister aged 5 and myself on his embarkation leave as far as I knew. Then he went to Egypt. My Mother subsequently received a message saying he was presumed missing between 1-3rd of April 1941. Fourteen months later my mother received news that, owing to lapse of time my father was presumed killed. Nothing of him was found, no dog tags etc. Only stories the family heard was he'd been wounded, then what happened no one knows.
I would be grateful if any one could give me any info. Was he stationed in Wellingborough? Was he wounded? Anything would paint a bigger picture for my family.Grace Chadwick
Rfm. Nathaniel Frank Miller Tower Hamlets RiflesMy father, Frank Miller served in the Tower Hamlets Rifles from 1939 although he was in a territorial Unit prior to war being declared. He was taken prisoner in North Africa in 1941/1942 and was imprisoned at Sulmona Campo 78 till 1943 when he was moved to Lamsdorf Stalag 344 in German occupied Poland. He then took part in the Long March till liberated by US troops in 1945. Finally made it back to the UK and was demobbed in 1946. His German POW number was 220158.
He died in 1997 aged 79. I recently found a quantity of old photos and notes amongst paperwork after my mother's death which relate to his wartime service and which I am still examining.Alan Miller
Cpl. Joseph Franklin 2nd Btn. Rifle Brigade (d.27th Feb 1945)Joseph Franklin who dies aged 30 was the son of Ephraim and Louisa Franklin of 10 Charles Street Jarrow.
He is buried in Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery, Poland and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
A/Major John H. Freeman 1st Btn. Rifle BrigadeMy father, John H. Freeman was with Desert Rats and then in Europe with Montgomery. He saw a fair bit of action, took shrapnel in his leg but never wanted to talk about it. I believe he achieved rank of Acting Major having been commissioned into 1st Battalion of The Rifle Brigade. Family lore has him as part of Monty's staff. Don't know if that's true. Perhaps he operated a radio or wrote dispatches. After the war he was a journalist. He was a tall man with bright red hair. Very curious to know more about his war. I wondered if any 8th Army expert has heard of him. Trying to find info on my father's service.Thomas Freeman
Cpl. Ernest Arthur John "Barry" Rollinson Royal Northumberland FusiliersAlthough my father, Ernest Rollinson would not talk to me about his captivity, mum told me about a couple of failed escape attempts he made in Italy which resulted in him being held in chains on the journey to Germany. It was there he was forced to work in salt mines and treated so cruelly as a result. Later on in life we would go on our holidays and dad would never go swimming with us and would never be seen in shorts. When I asked why this was, mum said that due to the cruelty suffered in the hands of the Nazi soldiers where he had his shin smashed open by a rifle butt and the scars of the chains, although faded, could still be seen. He never wanted to present the opportunity to anyone to ask questions about these scars, he just wanted to forget.
John Freville Henry Surtees 1st Btn. Rifle BrigadeI have inherited a book, in Dutch, on Holbein the Younger. The fly leaf has a note "from 95538 J.F.H. Surtees. POW no.1204 Oflag VII Germany. January 1940, to Major R Surtees, 13 Barrow Road, Cambridge, England.
Obituary published in the Royal Green Jackets Chronicle, Vol 31, Jan-Dec 1996: "John Freville Henry Surtees was born on 26th January 1919 and educated at Eton. Being unsure of his choice of regiment, he took the exams of both Woolwich and Sandhurst and came top in both. John joined 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade at Tidworth and was a carrier Platoon Commander with them when they, and the 60th and Queen Vics were set to reinforce and defend Calais. On 25th, Brigadier Nicholson received the order to hold the Calais to the last, and that every moment the enemy could be held off was of the utmost importance to the safety of the BEF. They delayed the Germans until the following day and Winston Churchill wrote in his history of the Second World War that “Calais was the Crux”. The time gained by those who so gallantly defended Calais was to help with the evacuation of 300,000 British troops from Dunkirk. John with his carriers was given the task of trying to defeat a strong enemy road block in the suburban area. The block had already overwhelmed the advance guard tanks and the attack by John’s platoon was also unsuccessful, but he managed to pin the enemy down and the block was outflanked. Those who know the sand dunes along the beaches will understand the difficulty for the movement of carriers, and shortly after the road block incident, John’s carriers were to become stuck in the sand so he and his men took to the trenches in “C” Company’s earlier position. The battle lasted four days against impossible odds and eventually the town was taken by the Germans. John was captured but not before being wounded in the leg and moved to a German Field Hospital which had been set up in a Convent in the middle of Calais. John used to speak of the kindness offered to him by the nuns and the German guards alike. He spent five years as a Prisoner of War and in that period made several ingenious attempts to escape and once managed to get away for five days before being recaptured. On his release from captivity in 1945, he was to learn of the award of the Military Cross for his gallantry five years earlier in Calais. He then joined 2RB as a Company commander, before becoming GSO2 Allied Liaison Branch in 1946/7. Then a short spell as 2i/c of a company at the Green Jackets depot at Barton Stacey until July of 1948 when he was invalided out of the army. In civilian life he eventually became Chairman of wine importers Percy Fox and Co. He was Master of the Grocers Company in 1966/7 and a member of the Institute of Masters of Wine. He took a prominent part in government entertaining, and was appointed OBE."
Rflmn. Francis Fowler McEwan 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade (d.21st Sep 1944)Frank McEwan was killed and buried on 21st of September 1944 in my town Mol, Belgium. He was a talented footballer, he played for Scottish Division Two side Airdrieonians and played his first game for Tottenham Hotspur in December, 1939.
Does someone remember him? I'm searching his relatives.Gil Geerings
Rflmn. Ronald Charles William "Nobby" Clarke 8th Btn. Rifle BrigadeMy father Ronald Clarke was killed in action on 11th of September 1944 by a sniper in the town of Peer in Belgium. The family who found him buried him in the garden at the rear of the house, until he was moved to the British war cemetery at Leopoldsburgh. When the war was at an end the family contacted my mother. I have for some time been out to Leopoldsburgh and stayed with them and I am still in contact. They invited me to the 60th anniversary of the town's liberation and I was given my father's steel helmet with the bullet hole in it. I will always be thankful to the family for their kindness. I did not know my father, as I was born in 1940. My only regret is that I do not have a photo of my father in or out of uniform.Robert Clarke
John Brinsmead Rifle BrigadeI served in the Home Guard for a short spell, then as a Bevin Boy underground. Finally, I served with the Rifle Brigade in Germany. My father was a POW in Stalag XXB having been captured at Dunkirk. He also served in WW1.John Brinsmead
Rfmn. Walter John Parker 1st Btn. Rifle BrigadeI have a certificate with my grandfather's name on it and all the places he served.Simon Taylor
Rfn. Victor Ryder 2nd Btn Rifle Bgde. 7th Armoured Div.My father Victor Ryder was a Desert Rat. He was with MEF 7th Armoured Division Rifle Brigade, 2nd Btn, C Coy, Carrier Platoon RFN.Christine Hall
Pte. Henry Hubert Coggin Rifle BrigadeThis, unfortunately, is a story told totally from memory. It is my father's story and as he is now deceased I am unable to corroborate any of it.
Having been captured somewhere in Italy after his unit had run out of ammunition in a fire fight with Germans. I believe that this was sometime in 1944. They were reluctantly forced to surrender. Subsequently taken back to Munich and interred at Stalag 7B.
During his time there, my father and his comrades were used as working parties to carry out road repairs in the Munich area. On the return of such a working party one day, my father mentioned to the guards that they had no bread for the men and as there was a shop nearby could he go and buy some bread? It gives the impression that this camp was lightly guarded and the atmosphere must have been somewhat relaxed. The guards gave my father permission to go to the shop unattended. Suddenly, finding himself free from being in captivity he made the most of it and decided to keep going. An extremely risky decision one would imagine. However, not knowing what to do next he decided to try and hide somewhere for the night. This he did by climbing into a roadside salt bin, where he spent a cold and uncomfortable night. The following morning he peeped out of the bin lid and saw some people queuing for a bus. He took a chance and apparently unseen left the bin and joined the bus queue. He was of course immediately recognised as a British soldier, luckily for him it was by a woman who turned out to be French. She helped somehow to disguise him and took him back to her apartment. She at great risk to herself hid him there until the Americans arrived in Munich. I guess this was early 1945?
He then surrendered himself to the Americans who helped him get onto a Dakota bound for England. He was then reunited with his regiment based in Winchester. Soon after this he was posted to Chichester Barracks where he worked in the stores.
This is as much as I can tell you now but I am in possession of many of his letters dating from the time that have much more information. I will try to go through them asap, but I am very busy researching a WW1 project involving my wife's grandfather's war diaries.Raymond Coggin
Sgt. Frederick William Brittain 7th Btn Rifle Brigade (d.5th April 1943)Fred Brittain was my dad. I was born in May 1939. When he went abroad my mother was one of those who didn't know when, or even if, they would see their loved one again. On his death, mother was reclassified as a single woman (with a young child and amid all the stigma associated, and a grateful government even deducted one shilling and ninepence for the blanket he was buried in). It would be interesting if someone has collated the life expectancy of people who were in the army at the start of the war and how long they survived.John Brittain
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Rifleman: A Front-Line Life from Alamein and Dresden to the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Rick Stroud & Victor Gregg'Completely fascinating. This feels like one of the last voices of a vital generation. For the first-hand account of the Dresden fire-bombing alone, this is gripping reading. It has an immediate power throughout that makes war fiction a pale shadow of the real thing' Conn Iggulden 'Second World War memoirs are commonplace, but very few soldiers had Victor Gregg's breadth and depth of experience. Rifleman is a thrilling story of a young man in extraordinary circumstances. Yet what makes Gregg's story so enthralling is how he was shaped by his wartime experiences and primed an eventful - and dangerous - life behind the Iron Curtain. Rifleman is an outstanding book that deserves to become a classic' Lloyd Clark, author of Arnhem 'Many people performed extraordinary feats of bravery and lived through an astonishing array of campaigns during the long years of the Second World War, yet few can have seen more action than Rifleman Victor Gregg. His hugely entertaining and often moving memoir iMore information on:
Rifleman: A Front-Line Life from Alamein and Dresden to the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Rifleman: A Front Line Life
Victor Gregg & Rick Stroud`Completely fascinating. This feels like one of the last voices of a vital generation. For the first-hand account of the Dresden fire-bombing alone, this is gripping reading. It has an immediate power throughout that makes war fiction a pale shadow of the real thing.' --Conn Iggulden, author of the bestselling Conqueror series `Second World War memoirs are commonplace, but very few soldiers had Victor Gregg's breadth and depth of experience. Rifleman is a thrilling story of a young man in extraordinary circumstances. Yet what makes Gregg's story so enthralling is how he was shaped by his wartime experiences and primed an eventful - and dangerous - life behind the Iron Curtain. Rifleman is an outstanding book that deserves to become a classic.' --Lloyd Clark, author of Arnhem `An engaging account of an eventful life' --Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller `This hugely entertaining and often moving memoir is as action-packed as any fiction, and yet this is no novel - Gregg's adventuMore information on:
Rifleman: A Front Line Life
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