Private Joe Womersley at the age of seventeen. 1943.
Soldiers at different stages of recuperating after plastic surgery to repair facial wounds. Joe Womersley stayed in England for 8 weeks getting plastic surgery before returning to fight in the Liberation of Holland.
"So my first personal experience was out behind German lines after crossing through a minefield, which every next step you're going to have your leg blown off."
My name is Joe Womersley, and I served in the war at age seventeen. I lied about my age, and did my training with the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch up in Firth, Scotland. I learned all about soldiering, discipline. I learnt how to - put it crudely - how to kill.
I was then sent out to a regiment that was going to land in the invasion of Normandy, which I did. We had some trouble coming in. I lost my gun in deep water and picked another one up and used that. We fought quite a way up into the evening, and we ran into some stiff resistance.
So my first personal experience was out behind German lines after crossing through a minefield, which every next step you're going to have your leg blown off. And we were going to go out to capture a German somewhere. The night was cloudy, but every once in a while the moon would break through. Away we went, and we got maybe half a kilometer out and we got into the German lines. And the light... the moon came through the clouds, and I could see the silhouette out in front of me - a German soldier standing by a Tiger Tank. My officer nodded at me. He just nodded. I'd been trained and knew what to do. I went around the back of this tank, and I had a knife and I jumped him from the back. I got the tip of my knife and I put it into his adam's apple, not all the way. My officer came forward and... this person... anything I could think of, I was telling the guy to take it easy, he's not going to get killed. But he wasn't going to have any of that.
He started to struggle and I did it... so fast. I slit his throat. And he dropped down so fast, blood and guts coming out. I was actually crying when I did this, because in my early days at school at the choir I used to listen to the Ten Commandments, and the one in there was, "Thou shall not kill." Anyway, I killed him and I grabbed his coat, got his wallet, got everything. Cut the epaulettes of his shoulder, and we headed back through this minefield to the headquarters where the company had their interpreters and their interrogators and stuff.
This was all done at night, and I'm going into this place where there's a lantern. And I look at my hands and there's blood every bloody everywhere, and down the tunic to the boots. I pulled this wallet out and his name was Gunther Meyer, and he'd been at home on leave in Dresden. And this was about three weeks before D-Day. He had a picture of his wife and himself. His wife was holding... I would think a three-month-old baby, and a two or three year old boy on his knee. That particular occasion has been in my life forever.
However, I came back and I had to go back to my position, and that night the Germans came in with a terrible counter-attack. The Germans broke through and they came running up to us, and without hesitation I just pulled the trigger on my Bren gun and I mowed three more down.
And the next day... I guess they got their revenge on them because I got shot right through the face. It came through the tongue, through the vocal cords, through the windpipe. The cheek was torn apart and the bone was broken. The stretcher-bearers usually take the least wounded away from the battlefield and leave the seriously wounded, because some of them are going to die anyway and we want our men to fight another day. So I did hear the words said, "We won't take him, we'll come back." And they came back and I heard him say, "Christ, he's made it!" As they carted me something happened. I don't know what it was, but I understand from my comrades some months later that, "They picked you up and as they were carting you away, they both got shot and killed."