- Contributed by
- Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Ronald Axford
- Location of story:
- UK and Europe
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 February 2004
Trooper Ron Axford in the driving seat of his armoured car.Denmark 1945
(Ron Axford, my brother-in-law, has agreed to have an account of his war in Europe published by me on the WW2 website.)
Ron Axford's war broke out one Sunday morning in September 1939. He had just finished a stint of Boy Scout Messenger Service between the ARP bunkers the previous night, when his mum told him war had been declared.
He was not old enough then to go to war but old enough to spend months of fire-watching, putting out incendiaries, running with messages, getting people into air raid shelters and doing what he could in the Bristol area where he lived and worked.
On a cold January morning of 1942 Ron received his call-up papers to join the Royal Armoured Corp in Bovington, Dorset. He had already learned to drive a vehicle and was licensed to drive a large delivery van for the Co-op. Consequently he trained as a gunner mechanic and was then sent to Catterick in Yorkshire for a few weeks before transferal to serve with the Sherwood Foresters Regiment in Kent.
The place was littered with men and vehicles from many parts of the world. The Royals were ordered to take the vehicles over. Ron was assigned to drive an American Staghound Armoured car and was in his element behind the wheel of such a powerful vehicle. He learned that his job at the front would be to reconnoitre, often behind enemy lines for the British and Canadian armies.
Armoured cars had a complement of four personnel in total: a driver, a gunner operator, a car commander and a radio operator. In Ron's case he drove the Squadron Leader, a Major Fisher.
Every car was a unit in itself and carried its own water supply, drew its own rations, brewed its own tea (sometimes consumed hours later) and did its own running maintenance when possible but mainly with the squadron. The only personal arms carried by the crew were either a forty-five Colt or thirty-eight Smith and Wesson. Riffles would have been a hazard climbing in and out as tin hats also. Ron's right-hand headlight was draped by a tin hat, never used, throughout the campaign.
Preparing for the Normandy landings
Extensive preparations for the Normandy landings were in full progress and, when the time came to go, the many different contingents were given a 48-hour leave to visit and say farewell to loved ones. Ron was married to Muriel by this time and, leave over; she drove him to the railway station. As the train moved off he shouted, 'This is one Hitler won't get - take care - I'll be back.' Later on he acknowledged that it greatly helped him to have and hold a faith like that.
Ron and his contingent were transported at night to France off the coast of Kent in an USA tank landing craft from the London East End Docks. German U-boats sank several of their flotillas in the channel during the crossing and they were shot at by Nazi torpedo boats. Eventually they landed at the Arromanches beachhead near Caen. The bridgehead, already established, was quite small. Troops and equipment were spread all over the area. There was barely enough room on the beaches to move. They were bombed, strafed, and life was very touch and go. Many men were killed and it was his lot, with a heavy heart, to have to bury some of his mates and buddies. They lost their lives; Ron lost some of his friends and equipment.
At last and after heavy fighting there came a breakout through the Falaise Gap, and Ron and his team were immediately on the move and in the action to report on enemy troop displacements whether armoured or not; or in false uniforms. Reporting back to his Regimental Headquarters he witnessed some of the most harrowing sights of his life. The roads were crowded with refuges; old men and women, wives with children and babies in prams being machine-gunned by German fighter planes. He was helpless to help them.
On the move across Europe
As Ron's regiment moved across Europe south of Paris and then into Belgium and Holland, they underwent many near misses from the enemy. Good mates were lost and left where they fell. Each day was lived wondering if that was what war is all about. They feared a strike at any minute but there was no time for anything other than to keep moving, advancing and taking what rest and refreshment might be on offer.
The flat terrain of Holland meant that miles and miles of canals and wooden bridges had to be nogotiated. Ice on the water canals had to be tested for thickness and strength, and the bridges had to take the weight of heavy tanks.
In Hertogenbosch they encountered a spy in a wheelchair. He was duly dealt with. The local church steeple was booby-trapped and Ron lost another mate attempting to defuse it.
The winter in Holland was very cold. In the village of Boxmeer on the River Mass, the river was frozen over and the ice was thick enough to drive a vehicle across. Enemy patrols travelled over the ice and Ron's outfit sometimes did the same. One day he picked up a lad from Head Quarters as a reinforcement and then drove back to Boxmeer. On arrival they were shelled by the enemy, the lad was killed, and within the hour they were burying him. As Ron dug the grave his engagement ring came off and fell in. He didn't have the heart to try and find it.
Crossing the Rhine at Arnhem
At the crossings of the Rhine at Arnhem and Nijmagen Ron was put on bridge control where he witnessed a large number of his army comrades arriving in planes and gliders only to land on the wrong side of the river and right into the mouth of the enemy. They had a terrible battle on their hands and many were killed and injured.
Ron's war then travelled back into Germany heading for the Danish border at Flensburg. It was December, and a section of the German army made an unexpected and startling breakthrough in the Ardennes under Field Marshall Von Rundstedt. It looked like one last effort to enthuse the German troops and they penetrated thirty miles and back into Belgium. Many had been parachuted behind the American lines in allied uniforms. This enemy offensive was broken by early January after Ron and his buddies were moved into that theatre of war. At nighttime and in echelon they had only a two-inch white dot painted on the back axle of the vehicle in front to follow. He became crossed-eyed and not feeling so clever. By now it was becoming obvious that the Germans were fed up with war, as were our troops.
In a town only the size of Chipping Sodbury they had to deal with a couple of thousand armed German troops who had surrendered. They then went onto Flensberg on the Danish boarder picking up prisoners on the way. Ron got the impression that Denmark had been used as a holiday camp for German troops, 'And so,' he said, 'We spent about a week sending them all back.'
War in Europe over!
It was only a day later that the war in Europe was ended. Whole populations came out to make a fuss of them, cheering and shouting. Every town and village they went through people flooded from their homes to greet them. Ron lifted a little girl called Andrea into his arms and onto his vehicle. He vowed then that if he and his wife were ever blessed with a baby girl they would call her Andrea. Photographs were taken as the liberators were showered with flowers and refreshments, and invited to receptions in Town Halls with Mayors and Council members. They were on the crest of a wave! Soon they would be going home at last!
But not quite as soon for Ron. He was getting his vehicle into shape and had it on the jack for the job he was doing when the jack fell away, hit the side of the car and rebounded to hit him in the head. Badley injured and concussed he was rushed to the hospital at Aarhus and underwent an emergency operation for a bleeding fracture of the scull. As fortunate for him as it was unfortunate to suffer such an accident, the hospital at Aarhus was one of only two places in the world where this kind of operation could be attempted. Repairs were done and a large stainless steel plate inserted at the side and to the apex of the patient's scull. He was paralysed down one side of his body for quite a while. Only through expert treatment and nursing did health improve and strength return. One of the surgeons in Aarhus was Doctor Ethelburgh but Ron thinks of them to this day with great gratitude and affection.
After a long spell in hospital Ron went to stay with a family named Lautrup who lived in Skive. He could not travel home on a 36-hour journey by train and aircraft were not pressurized at the time. By now his Regiment had returned to Lubeck where eventually he rejoined it. Demobbed nine months later he went home to his wife and a very young baby son. He now proudly calls himself, 'the original skin-head'.
Sent to Korea
After a little while he almost got his call up again for the Korean war as the War Office had kept him on the Z-T reserve list. His head wounds, thankfully, kept him out of that war. He said, 'Wars are easy to start, mainly by politicians. Only big business makes a lot of money, the rest of the population are left with memories they would like to forget.'
Trooper Ron Axford says, 'At all times during my years with the Army I remembered, even in action, my loved ones at home constantly being bombed in Bristol. I longed to know how my wife was coping after being caught up in an air raid and badly shaken after the loss of a wonderful, loving, young brother-in-law who was killed at the Bristol Airplane factory as he was making sure all the factory workers had gone safely into the shelter during an air raid.'
Ron had been through so much in Europe - and - Hitler didn't get him after all!
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