Veteran Stories:
Robert W. Metcalfe

Army

  • This mug shot on his military identity card represents the toll that six years of army wartime service and the uncertain prospects in post-war England took on Robert W. Metcalfe

  • Robert W. Metcalfe pictured at the Eighth Army HQ in Barletta, Italy in September 1943. Before routing the opposition in Sicily the soldiers had been sleeping in holes dug in the ground to shield them from direct air attack.

  • As Western Counties Battalion Commander at the Infantry Training Centre in Geneifa, Egypt, Robert W. Metcalfe dealt with routine items, but also things such as reviewing documents for field general courts marital.

  • Robert W. Metcalfe sits proudly (front row, middle, with black armband following death of King George V) as Detachment Commander, D. Company, 4th Bn. Green Howards in 1936 after winning the silver cup for a shooting competition.

  • On the Mareth Line in Tunisia the day before the Battle of Mareth. Left to right: Lt. Jones, Lt. Wood, Capt. Young, Captain Robert W. Metcalfe, Major Gardener (Company Commander) and Lt. Williams. March 1943.

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"He fired one machine gun burst, but I think he did not detect the small red cross on the front of the ambulance. And he only fired one burst"

Transcript

My name is Robert Metcalfe. I'm a war bridegroom who came over here in 1948 with my Canadian-born wife. Most of my military service, I served with the Green Howards [Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own] Yorkshire Regiment. I joined on the 4th of December, 1935. The first contact I had with the war was in 1939. We mobilized on the 23rd of August. I went to France with the Reconnaissance party of my regiment on the 19th of January 1940. My first battle was the Battle on Vimy Ridge. We battled with Rommel. Rommel commanded the 7th Panther Division. We fought for two days on the Ridge. He drove us off there and then we went north into Belgium. We made contact with the enemy at Ypres at Menin Gate. I was a company commander by this time and the captain. And I received my orders for the defence of Ypres underneath the famous archway of Menin Gate. The next morning we went forward onto a place called Zillebeke Lake. We had in contact with the Germans. And I was wounded at Zillebeke Lake. I stopped a mortar bomb about eight o'clock in the morning. The ambulance arrived to take us to, supposedly, the Casualty Clearing Station, the CCS. Four of my buddies were wounded at the same time. And I was sitting with my back to the driver of the ambulance and, as we went through Poperinge, the Luftwaffe attacked us. We got to the other side, west of Poperinge. And I felt the ambulance pulling up. By turning around I could see through the window in the ambulance. And I saw a German Mark III [Panzer] tank, which was behind our lines. He fired one machine gun burst, but I think he did not detect the small red cross on the front of the ambulance. And he only fired one burst. The driver jumped out and left us in the middle of the road. I could see him in the ditch and I shouted to him, I said, "For god's sake, turn around and go back." Because he eventually came back and I expected a burst from the German tank. But there was a bigger red cross on the side of it and I think possibly he recognized the Geneva Convention and so, we turned around and went back Poperinge. During the Battle of Britain in September 1940, I was back in with my unit on the south coast near... alongside a Canadian 1st Division at Weymouth. And we saw like, three air battles going on and it was quite a thrill. However, that's past. And from Weymouth, we went to Weston-Super-Mare on the Bristol Channel. There we went into training and eventually we were told we were going to the Middle East. We sailed on the largest convoy that ever left the British Isles. We were two months on the water and were chased by the Bismarck, the famous German battleship. And we were in the south Atlantic by this time, turning around the Cape, we went to South Africa. After that we sailed again, up through the Straits of Madagascar. We didn't know where we were going, we had just... reasons. We were going through North Africa. And we did and we arrived at Suez on June 9th, 1941
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