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An Infantry Officer at Dunkirk and in POW Campicon for Recommended story

by The Stratford upon Avon Society

Contributed by 
The Stratford upon Avon Society
People in story: 
Ronald Bouverat
Location of story: 
France, North Africa, Italy, Germany
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3903905
Contributed on: 
16 April 2005

16 - Ron Bouverat was a commissioned officer who saw service in the main theatres of war until he was captured after the Second Tobruk:

"I went out, I was in the 48th “div”, went out to France in that terrible winter, January, January …, what January ’40 I suppose, yes January ’40, and we sort of moved around …, oh I had a session in hospital there, I caught of all things scarlet fever …, no I didn’t, I went into hospital with a temperature of about 104 that’s right, and some idiot in the ward …, well they let somebody in the ward who had got scarlet fever, so we had to have a fortnight’s quarantine, I didn’t get scarlet fever. And that was on the coast by the Bay of Biscay, near La Baule that’s right, and then went back to my unit, and I was a Lance Corporal of course at the time, and then we went to and fro in France and then started going backwards and on the withdrawal to Dunkirk, that was that.

When I got on the beach …, oh no we were the last vehicle, don’t ask me how or why I don’t know, we were the last vehicle to cross the little bridges in the …, marshes I suppose, they blew the bridges after us. The road on either side was littered of course with abandoned vehicles and things upside down and so on and so forth, anyway we got to the beach and we had rations on this lorry it was a ration lorry, and of course the rations disappeared in about two minutes flat, and I wandered around the beach, and after wandering around a bit, of course it was like Blackpool on a bank holiday as you know, that was Braydunes, it wasn’t actually at Dunkirk, and oh yes then I sort of looked around and I saw a Messerschmitt coming down machine gunning, so I did the 100 yards very fast into the sand hills and got a large sand hill in between myself and the Messerschmitt which seemed sensible, people scattering all over the place, and then the funniest thing I have seen I think, was that there was a sort of cloud of sound round this hill I was crouching behind and it was three French Foreign Legionnaires and they all were down praying harder than I think I have ever seen anybody praying I think, and that was that!
And I think I must have spent a night on the beach somewhere, because there was a paddle boat, no a big ferry, and the Germans had dropped a bomb down the funnel actually and it was on fire, and that …, I remember that very well it was beached.

Anyway next morning I suppose it must have been, I sort of wandered around, aimlessly and I came across this lifeboat, and I thought that’s funny, what the hell’s that doing there? but why isn’t it being use? and I looked at it, it was actually riddled with bullets, I mean obviously people had passed it, it was quite a way up the beach. Anyway I don’t know, I must have got a few people around me or something and I said why don’t we push this thing out and have a go at it - if it sinks and we all drown well so what, you know, it’s better than standing here all the time. And so I …, we moved this boat. Well lifeboats are very heavy things, and I do not know to this day how on earth we moved it. I mean it was a dead, dead weight. Anyway we did, got it into the water, we had …, or we kept, being good soldiers, we kept our rifles and our tin hats, the tin hats proved to be very useful, and we got this boat (I think there must have been about five of us, that’s all, five or six of us on this boat) and we …, oh there was one oar on the boat that’s right, that’s all, and there was a destroyer lying off about, oh, a couple of hundred yards I suppose off, and so we made for that. With the one oar and paddling like fury with our tin hats and baling out at the same time, the water was coming in. Well as we got reasonably near this destroyer, a matelot came round the side of it and said we have got to go now, we can’t wait for you, I will throw you a rope; if you catch it well and good, if you don’t hard luck! Well by the grace of god the chap in the front caught it, and they hauled us aboard as the destroyer was moving.
And I remember saying what about this? and he said oh leave it, it will go back or sink or something, and somebody said … And the destroyer was called “Scimitar”, and it was obviously, I don’t know, a sort of mine sweeper or …, yes a mine sweeper I suppose. The stern was piled up with depth charges, and a lot of other people on this boat of course had got on it as well from somewhere …, well I.., no I don’t know if there was anybody else on, ‘cos they were waiting, I don’t know what they were waiting for, perhaps as an escort. And we sat happily on top of the depth charges all the way back to Dover, and that was it, we never felt safer.
And that was it, we went from there …, oh we were given tea and cakes by the WVS or whatever it was, and straight into a train and back to Bulford we went to, that particular train, and we were given a fortnight’s leave, and that was Dunkirk.

In England, we were eventually regrouped in Exeter, and our unit was all the way round there, and from there I was called for an interview in Taunton for officer training, which I passed (God knows how) but I did. They only asked me 3 questions, what school I went to, and if I played rugger and something else, and that was it!

I mean any fool could have done it, and anyway I went to OFT in Bournemouth and after I was commissioned, I had …, oh I was in Surrey somewhere, Wokingham, I don’t know where, it might have been anyway, an army dump and fetched a convoy down again, we didn’t do very much.

And then I went out to the Middle East and that was it, and I got pushed …, we were caught in the second Tobruk, when South Africans were looking after it, and went first of all as a POW to Italy, to Camp PE21 Italy, and then we were going to …, when Italy collapsed they said we could go where we liked, but a company of SS, German SS, surrounded the camp, having been told we had been armed by parachutists (we hadn’t), and again unfortunately I was laid up with some very high temperature or something and I was in the infirmary with one other fella, and, yes with one other chap that’s all, and the MO said well they won’t bother about you, you forget it you know, because my two friends were going to lie up somewhere in the camp which they did, and they got back to our lines in southern Italy. But a third chap joined them, and he slipped down a crevasse and was killed, broke his neck, so I often wonder if I had been the third one the same thing would have happened to me, and there you are, I mean it is just one of those things!
So I spent the rest of the war … We were moved to Germany and that was that. We were released …, we were set free by General Patton, “Pearl Handled Pistol Patton” and that was it! A very boring war really.

The Italians really, at the time Mussolini was at his peak of course, and no, the Italians did some very awful things at the beginning. Because, I mean one fella for example in the …, the troops were put into a dried up canal right on the heel of Italy, I have forgotten where it was anyway it was there, and one of the chaps had got terrible diarrhoea and so I mean had to go to the loo, went to the loo and was bayoneted for trying to go to the loo, for getting out of …, that is the sort of thing the Italians …, but they thought they were winning the war at that time, they thought that … And that was the time when Mussolini was going to wander into Alexandra, Egypt, you know in Alex with a girl on one arm and a white charger and all that business and so on!

Our food, all the time consisted of rice and weevils, that was our meat ration. The weevils! And no, of the two we preferred the Germans, and although they were stricter and everything else, but

We started getting them (Red Cross parcels), and in Germany of course we had about one between eight, after a bit in Italy, one between eight people. But after that, in Germany it got down to, you know one to four and one to two and so on. And without the Red Cross parcels none of us would have survived, that’s without any doubt whatever, that’s why I am always rather fond of the Red Cross, but other than that, that’s it.

Oh we did, we did (take examinations and follow courses) Oh yes we did. Yes, I mean, I did company law. I mean we were terribly lucky, we had an A.P., you know, news chap, we had a Reuter one, and we had a chap from Scotland Yard who gave us fascinating talks about the workings of Scotland Yard and how they got every person in the country on a list that they knew where everybody was and all about them, and everything else, that was then, anyway. And we had all manner of people who were professors or teachers or something or other, and we spent … I got …, when I say I was studying company law, but through the Red Cross again I got some watchmaking tools, and I repaired watches, well repaired them …, cleaned them and did what I could to get them going again, and if the …, our Senior British Officer wanted anything out of the Germans, we used to …, they used to bring the Commandant’s watch in, or his wife’s watch in or something, so we did that and that sort of greased, oiled the thing, that was it.
But we were very lucky, now we had padres of all sort of …, we had both Anglican and Roman Catholic and, you know, we were very lucky in that sense.

We had so many wireless sets in the camp of course that the Germans got quite worried, they came in bits and pieces and I don’t know how, and I don’t want to know, and they came in one day, they brought in the Gestapo and everybody else, they tore the camp to pieces, they didn’t find anything. And one of the chaps, one of our officers stole one of their brief cases, that really was quite funny really, maybe that was a …
No I don’t want to (go back)no, I don’t want to, I should hate it.
I mean we were in the …, the German camp was in the Necker Valley, we were, what …, we had a wonderful ringside seat of course of all the daylight bombing, and I mean we had Stuttgart south west of us, we had Frankfurt and …, we were in the middle of all that lot, and the famous day of course when the Americans lost was it 220 aircraft or something, it was a terrible day, they shot ‘em and the air was full of parachutes dropping down, because that was towards the end of the war of course, and
it was no fault of the Americans.

What happened towards the end of the war they lost so many planes, the Americans, because they do as you know all the daylight bombing and we did all the night bombing, the RAF, and they just ran out of crew, so they combed the streets in all the big cities, all the layabouts and what have you, gave a six weeks gunnery course, and put them in a Flying Fortress. Well of course they had no training, no proper training, they had certainly no discipline, and so as soon as …, you know, a shell went through one wing they all jumped out, and that’s why the sky was full of parachutes.

But no we had some wonderful …, but when they were bombing Heilbron, that was our nearest town, was on the other side of a hill, and I know the casualties there were terrific, I mean in about twenty minutes, and what the RAF did, and they always did it, they …, there was a hospital, the German hospital just on the outskirts of Heilbron, so the first thing that happened was, two pathfinders came over, they put a circle of white flares round the hospital and then markers for the bombers, and they came in fortunately diagonally over us, oh they put them round our camp that’s right, they put a big umbrella of white magnesium over our camp, we thought thank you, we thought my god they’re going to bomb in the middle of it you see, and it wasn’t. They started on Heilbron, and we had little slit trenches outside our huts which we could go into when there was an air raid, in which you were up to your shoulder, and the draught from the bombing was so strong it blew our trousers out! But we were standing in slit trenches and there was a hill in between you, you can imagine the pressure of that bombing, it was Patton bombing in a very big…
Of course why the casualties were so terrible, Heilbron was a wooden …, essentially a wooden built up, and the first lot of bombs hit an oil refinery on the edge, or petrol storage, that caught fire, the wind blew all the flames and most of the people were asphyxiated, they had gone to the cellars, and that was it.

So you know, that was terrible, but that shows the power of that Patton bombing, I was glad we weren’t at the other end of it, still there it was.

(It was) not long (before we got back to England), because once Patton had released the camp, or you know freed the camp, we were … I think it was within a week we were taken to an airfield, and it was like Piccadilly Circus, the American planes were sort of round, with a space (typical Americans) about 100 yards in between each plane coming in to land, filling up with people and taking off, and we had the first night in Brussels, but of course they were so afraid either we would go absolutely berserk if we were let out, they put us in an encampment and said you are not moving out of there, and one chap did actually and he had a steak and he died! Because our stomachs were about the size of …, oh yes the MO said our stomachs were the size of a large plum, that’s right, they had shrunk that much, anyway.

And then the next morning, marvellous we were taken to an airfield, and we didn’t know this till later, and there were a squadron of Lancasters, and I thought I will be clever on this one, so I waited very politely, everybody got on board, and I got on last and I was right by the navigator so I could see out you see, all the others couldn’t; anyway, we came in over Eastbourne, and I have never been more pleased to see England and the coast, and it all looked so green and everything, and we learnt later …
Oh yes we landed, the first thing they did was to delouse us, we got very upset on that, we hadn’t got one flea between us, anyway! They had to do their job, and we found later that the Lancasters, was the squadron that bombed Berchesgarten, I did know the number of it, I can’t remember, and the CO went into the mess the night before, asked for volunteers to bring POWs back, and they all volunteered to a man to come and fetch us back, that’s all I know on that.

And from there, we, as I say I think I ended up again in Bulford again of all places, anyway and we were...
(after) three years (as a POW).

A long time."

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