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Sword Beach to Bremen., A Veterans tale. Sapper

Discussion in 'Honor, Service and Valor' started by sapper, Sep 18, 2002.

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  1. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Hey sapper:)

    Just been going over some of your first posts from 2002 and they are great, even though I have read them a few times now, I especially like the post about the different fighting qualities of the different armies, with "when the Americans bomb, everbody ducks", and the post about how you served with a man from the Boer war, that is pretty cool.:)

    Just a question, What german weapon did you fear the most, whether it be planes, tanks, artillery, or small arms?
     
  2. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    The 88 artillery piece. very simple straightforward answer!
    Sapper
     
  3. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    I am not sure if you are interested Sapper, but I was talking to my Grandmother and she told me that the information I had about my granddad was wrong. He was in the 6th Airborne, but during D-day. He joined his unit just before the Fall of Germany, and then was posted to the Pacific to watch over captured Japanese soldiers. Either way I am still very proud to be his grandson.:)
     
  4. Kieran Bridge

    Kieran Bridge Member

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    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Hi Sapper,

    That's a quite famous image. Here's a description of how it came to be:

    "Shortly after that [during the night of August 20-21] a tank was heard clanking down the road from the direction of Trun, and it came right into town past our slit trenches and was heading towards Chambois. By this time, one of the 5th A/T Regiment's 17 -pounders had been set up covering the road, and although it was pitch dark, they sensed the whereabouts of the tank, and let fly one round. It actually seemed as though we could see the shell in flight, which travelled not more than 50 yards and splashed into the tank. The tank stopped abruptly. The next morning we found it knocked out, with two dead German infantrymen who had been riding on its top, and the crew inside all dead."

    http://www.ashofc.ca/BridgeFalaiseArticle.pdf

    Kieran
     
  5. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Often when men are burned to death, they are in the process of trying to escape. At the point where death happens, they are frozen in time. Dead men standing up in tanks was unusual. Though sadly the number of times we found men hanging over the side. Draped downwards from the turret was quite common, specially in the Reconnaissance regiments.

    One other poignant moment was in the cauldron of the Falaise pocket where the enemy used anything to get away. We passed a little car with its front door open. The driver had his hand on the car door handle, and one leg out. The blackened but still recognisable figure of a man......Frozen in time. For ever.
    Sapper
     
    krieg likes this.
  6. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Hi Sapper
    Since you posted this I have looked back over it again and again trying to find the right things to say and the right way to put it, and I think now that I have it.

    I have read this post about a hundred times now, trying to imagine it and I can't do it. It seems like it just cant possibly be real, but I know very well both from pictures and from veterans I have talked to, that such things are a real fact of war and it is very real. I hope such things don't effect your life and that the do not bother you in your sleep as I have heard that is happens, I wish you and all other veterans a long and peaceful life, since afterall you deserve it.

    All the world is gratefull for not only the things you and many other men did but for also what you saw and had to go through so that many others did not have too. But I still would never have wished that sight apon anyone.

    Thankyou for everything.
     
  7. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Hi Tomcat.
    There is an essential that must be learned in action. That is the ability to "Turn off" about what you see about you. Having been wounded twice, the second time very severely, I am told by my family that I used to create a bit of noise in my sleep, back in 1945.

    But I had been in hospital for a very long time, with several injuries, the worst being a spinal fracture. For that I was encased in plaster from head to foot, rather like a mummy case.

    But for those of us that were badly wounded, the war is never far away...sadly!
    For there are memories that some of us can never forget.
    Amidst the scream of shells and the flat "crack" of mortar's the sound of a very young soldier mortally wounded....

    I can still hear his cries of "Don't leave me boys....Don't leave me"

    Or the stretcher laying on the mud inside a tented battle aid station The Padre leaning over the lad saying "You have not long to go lad" "Is there anything I can do for you" then the very quiet voice "Write a letter to my Mum" His last words, for shortly after the Padre pulled the dirty khaki muddy blanket over his head.

    Or for me? trying to comfort a good mate that had succumbed to battle exhaustion. We sat in a ditch waiting to tackle a night assault crossing of a canal against an enemy waiting for us. I sat with my arms round his shoulder as he wept uncontrollably saying Come on ***I will look after you. But he was gone. I still have a silly guilt feeling for leaving him in the ditch while we assaulted the canal.
    Its nearly 64 years ago for crying out loud!
    But there was also the place that I recall as the "Gates of Hell" a place that I can never forget, for here was the most terrible sights and atmosphere imaginable. But that is another story.
    Sapper
     
  8. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Brian,

    You mentioned the Padre. Did the war and your recovery have any effect on your faith, pro or con?
     
  9. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    None at all Jeff. I am an agnostic. but I will confess to remembering what happened at regular intervals.
    Cheers
    Brian
     
  10. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Is it possible for you sapper to tell us about the "Gates of Hell" or is that something better left unsaid?
     
  11. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Will do.. though I have to take it from my old computer to this new one with all the bells and whistles!
    sapper
     
  12. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Do you really want to read this????
    The Gates of Hell.
    This is no place for a Dorset boy!

    What followed next can only be described as The very essence of war, a living nightmare, a nightmare of sheer agony.

    Put into an army ambulance with other wounded in racks on each side and in a very confined space, the inside had been blacked out so that we had to lay there on our stretchers in pitch black darkness. The Journey in this iron square box of an ambulance, took us over the uneven war damaged and cobbled roads all the way to Eindhoven, in the South of Holland. This journey was the nearest thing to hell on earth that it is possible to imagine, with my broken bones grating and the indescribable pain of my back injuries.

    In the beginning, I had been determined not to join in the moaning and groaning with pain, but it was not long before I was crying out in pain just like the other wounded, so much pain that it was not possible to talk to the other men.

    Hell and back is not an exaggeration. Nor is the term Nightmare, I still find it very difficult to convey just how ghastly that journey was. I never knew who the other wounded were, and I do not think it was possible for the others to have survived the journey.
    As we drove on, the groans had became fainter and fainter and eventually stopped. Yet, still this square steel box of an ambulance, trundled along over the broken and cobbled war time roads with its precious load of three dead men and one nearly dead.

    This is the other side of war, being badly wounded, a side that nobody wants to know about. Arriving at what I think was Eindhoven? I was put into a little cupboard full of cardboard boxes with my stretcher balanced precariously on top of them, with just enough room inside the cupboard, still lying on the same stretcher that I had been on for many hours, during the journey the blood had soaked through everything, even under my back and into the stretcher. So bad, that thick congealed blood stuck me to the stretcher.

    By now the pain had become unbearable, given morphine, the pain would still not subside and a nurse told me, "you must not have more, you will become an addict". Transferred later to a small ward with beds crammed all round the room, several other wounded were there. Trying to get to sleep was impossible, the pain being bad enough, some of the other men kept waking up, screaming.

    Picture this scene, if you can! A small dark, square shaped ward, with all the curtains drawn, dimly lit from a small red light in the centre of the ceiling, The overpowering, sickly warm stench of human blood pervaded everything, with beds crammed in, and almost touching, men with terrible wounds and with limbs missing. Some men, motionless, wide eyed, still, silently staring at the ceiling. God knows! what thoughts held them in this silent manacled iron grip.

    Blood stains everywhere, some men had thrown the covers off the beds in their agony, some sitting up leaning on an elbow silently gazing into space, the low moaning of men in great pain, your own continuous and unremitting pain of back, leg, and knee injuries. Some men talked in their sleep, often in a conversational tone, ending with a scream or a loud shout of pain, or despair.

    Sleep, because of pain, was only possible for very short periods when exhaustion overtook us, then! To be wakened by the blood curdling screams and shouts of men who had suffered the agony, not only of body, but also of mind. Men, who had seen the worst of the hell of war. Dante’s Inferno had nothing on this. For here, was a glimpse into what lay beyond the ‘Gates of Hell’

    For me, there is no escape from that vision, for many years I dreamed about, and relived the memory of that dimly lit ward, that ward that still exists in my mind, still there on the pathway that leads to the ’ Gates of Hell’

    Even today, some 59 years on, that ward still remains with me, every detail, sharp and clearly defined. It was a place that any sane person would run screaming from, saying “For Gods sake! don’t make me go back in there”

    Next day, still laying in my own thick, dried, and congealed blood that by now had firmly stuck me to the stretcher, I was driven to Eindhoven airport and was flown back immediately to England in a Dakota ambulance plane, arriving at Croydon airport, I was whisked straight into what was then an Airforce Hospital ? Straight along the corridors and into the operating theatre. I still remember being taken through the portals of the Hospital, still on my stretcher and being hurried along towards the operating theatre, my recall stops there!

    When I came round, I was lying in bed with clean white sheets and in a large ward all bright and clean with a nurse bending over me. As I came round, I found that my whole body was encased in plaster, All of me, from the tip of my toes to my neck, the whole body! My legs, everything, the legs had been set slightly apart and a hole for natural functions to take place! they had a flap cut in the plaster to treat my left knee, some of that was still in Holland. A complete body plaster, rather like a mummy case. The name of this? I believe it is called a "Spica" it certainly spiked you, the only part free was my arms.

    The nurses, Ah yes, the Angels. The kindness and care that those angels gave me was beyond praise, they spent their own money on me and brought me little presents, I remember those angels with tremendous gratitude, they even wrote my letters for me and would not even take the price of the stamp. I just wish that it was possible for me to express my gratitude to them, sadly, I shall never be able to thank those wonderful girls. But! I will never forget those Angels.
    Sapper
     
  13. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Brian,

    Do you have any idea if you were initially triaged as one who was not expected to survive?

    I had a grand woman talk to our class in nursing school whose job was to tend to soldiers who were not expected to survive and thus they did very little to treat them, other than give morphine. I got the impression from your story that you were categorized as one of these men.
     
  14. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    If they did Jeff? they picked the wrong one. This old fellow is probably the strongest willed, and stubborn old buzzard that ever walked this earth!

    Many years later. The war injuries caused a major upset, That resulted in my experiencing a "Near Death syndrome" Something I shall never forget.
    During that time the Doctor visited. He advised both my wife and myself that I would not recover and that I had a limited time to live.
    That was many years ago. I am still here........So what about the will to win? Seriously....
    Sapper
     
  15. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    I won't argue that. You might should have met my dad's father, you two sound like y'all were cut from the same bolt of fabric.:p
     
  16. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Thankyou Sapper for sharing that, I had shivers reading it. My partner read it as well and she just couldn't understand why men fought.

    What you wrote gave me a new image into the war as to what a wounded soldier faced, how his battle was not over even once he left the battlefield, for he still had to fight for his life.

    I think "The Gates of Hell" describe it very well.
     
  17. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Sobering and realistic isn't it? But it reflects exactly what life was like for the fighting man back in 1944. By the way...I sometimes wonder how many folk read these postings. Is there a record kept of how many hits there are here?

    Today is VE day. 8th of May 1945. When the Europeans stopped slaughtering each other. It was also the day an Orthopaedic genius saved me from amputation with a bone graft...It was tried out on a goat to see if it worked? so then they did it on me!

    The genius? Major John Charnley, later Sir John Charnley. Knight of the Realm, and the man that gave the world the Hip Replacement. A true English eccentric The operation is still know in medical circles as a Charnley. I helped him make his own equipment while i was in a wheelchair in hospital.

    It is with great sadness, that I recall that one of the bravest men I ever knew was killed. A man that I had been through the enemy lines with on highly dangerous missions. All that from Sword to Bremen. then killed as the war ended...
    Sapper
     
  18. Bravo104

    Bravo104 Member

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    Dear Sir;

    I've been reading your story. I even was so blunt to try and picture it, but I can't.
    It's an amazing story. And the even more amazing thing is that you still remember and want to share. Most of the veterans I know close down on this subject and burst out in tears.

    From the bottom of my heart I thank you for bringing us freedom.
    Thank you for this.
     
  19. sapper

    sapper British Normandy Veteran, Royal Engineers

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    Hi Bravo.
    Thank you for those kind words. The story is about a very ordinary young man. But one with a good long term memory. It is also the story of an eighteen year old thrown into what is probably the greatest upheaval the world has experienced.
    For in those years, the old "Class" world vanished for ever. Thankfully never to raise its ugly head again. Gone were the days when the young men called up for service were SO hungry and weak that they were deemed unfit for service. They were to weak to carry a rifle, and there were many thousands of them.

    I welcome others views on the campaigns we too part in. Why? Simple... An old friend told me this......You old fellows should share your memories, for when you go everything that happened goes with you.....fair enough I suppose. For that is the purpose of my postings.
    Best wishes to all.
    Sapper
     
  20. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Hey Sapper

    I was just wondering, you were very young during the war right? Well I was wondering did you ever get any critisicm from the older soldiers or were you "one of the lads" even at your age, seeing that you are all in it together. Do you know if they felt unsure of you also becuase of your age or worried about you doing what you had to do? Or again was it a we are in this together.:)
     

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