I could hear the command post officer hollering: why isn’t number one gun firing, why isn’t number one gun firing? Later on, I found out why. The gun crew got wiped out.
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I was a gunner in those days. I was on the guns and the two drivers and myself, we motored from Ewshot [Common], which is where we were stationed in Ewshot and Hants. We motored to Exeter and it was just a staging camp. And the next day, we motored to Plymouth, where we loaded the guns on the boat. Half of the boys went for the taverns to have a beer, but I didn’t. I sat down against the side of a building and relaxed. We didn’t know that Dunkirk was happening.
A British captain comes along and says, okay you guys, get up, he said, and unload that boat. So you know, there was quite a few of us sitting there, we just looked at this guy and thought, oh my God, he’s nuts. We just loaded that boat. So he hollered again: get up, unload that boat. Nobody paid attention to him. Then he went to a sergeant; and he said, sergeant, on your feet. The sergeant got up. He said, I’m giving you a director order; he said to get those men up and start unloading that boat. And, of course, the sergeant obeyed the order; and we unloaded the boat. If he’d have told us Dunkirk was happening, probably we would have moved a lot faster, but this is what happened then, we unloaded the boat, parked it along the road going back to Exeter. The next morning, we drove to Exeter, the staging camp. And the next day, we drove back to Liepzig Barracks.
And while I was in Exeter, I saw the train coming back with the [British] Expeditionary Force. They were coming back on a train and oh, you should have seen them. They were, you know, bandages around their heads; some of them didn’t have shirts on. Boy, they were really a mess. General [Sir Bernard L.] Montgomery, who was a colonel at the time, he had a battalion there; and his battalion was very well trained and he used that battalion to do the rear guard action, so that the other people could get out.
Being a well trained battalion, they had less casualties than some of the other battalions that were being evacuated. This means that Montgomery knew what he was doing. In Sicily, the battle progressed until it was a success. But the last day of the 2nd Field Regiment [Royal Canadian Artillery] in action, a bomber came down into the 8th [Field] Battery headquarters lines and it caused 32 casualties. Quite a few gunners were badly hurt, burned, badly burned, some of them. I think we had seven dead from that, you know, badly burned people. And that was a sad day because it was a South African squadron that was going over to bomb the enemy lines and one plane got hit and then it came down in our area. I think the reason it came down in that area is, I think, the pilot was trying to avoid going into a congested area. But the pilot died. He had bailed out at the last minute, but his chute just barely opened by the time he hit the ground. So that was a sad day for our unit. And it was a sad day for me because I lost a few friends.
Just before the Ortona battle, in December, our guns were firing a barrage and it was between 5:00 and 5:30 in the morning. The infantry were on an attack, you know, going across either the Sangro or the Moro River, I forget which one, I’d have to look it up. But, anyway, I was, you know, bedded down under, there was four of us bedded down under a tarp because it was misting. It wasn’t raining hard, but it was misting. So to keep from getting wet, we were under a tarp. And the tarp was alongside our Bren Gun carrier [light armoured tracked vehicle], which was our vehicle that we used to go with to the infantry.
But, anyway, I could hear the command post officer hollering: why isn’t number one gun firing, why isn’t number one gun firing? Later on, I found out why. The gun crew got wiped out. The loader, who was loading the gun must have slipped in the mud and the shell, instead of going in the hole where it’s supposed to go, it hit the breach ring and exploded. And it took out one, two, three, four, it took out four gunners. And one of them was a very close friend of mine.