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A Guilt Conscience by Ronald Curtis

by Action Desk, BBC Radio Suffolk

You are browsing in:

Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
Action Desk, BBC Radio Suffolk
People in story: 
Ronald Eric Gerald Curtis
Location of story: 
England, France, Holland, Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 December 2005


No wonder I can remember that number!! I must have said it hundreds of times, as I stood before the pay officer to collect my weekly 28 shillings - £1.40p pay.
I volunteered to join the army in April 1942. I was a farm worker called up in May 1942. To join the Royal Artillery unit to do basic training at Reading, my first night in the army was on the receiving end of a 500 bomber attack on that city, a good baptism, I don’t think!!
I then joined the 121 L.A. Regt RA. until Feb 1944 when I was transferred to Royal Horse Artillery. Kings troop [4 regt, RA. who had 45 powder field guns placed in the well of an American Sherman tank, which meant front line action until the end of the war?
I have been asked to condense 2 takes of 4 hours duration of my war memories. So these are some of the things I remember most.
It all began in 1995 when the BBC asked for stories that happened to you on May 8th V.E.Day. I was chosen along with 25 other persons and was screened during breakfast time during the V.E. celebration week. Briefly an officer visited us on our gun site on May 4th to tell us that hostilities would cease next day, May 5th at 11am. At 12pm we were bombed and machine gunned by 5 German Jet planes aiming for the bridge we were grounded. One bomb exploded 15 metres away in the Kiel Canal and covered us with all mud and water. Bullets were found in the sand bags. Not very nice, considering the war was over, one hour previous!
Until then I had not spoken to anyone about my war memories, so I decided to take my 4 1/2 years in the services so that yourselves would come to know about the Horrors of War!
I had good reason to keep quite about it, as being a very good shot with the rifle (98 out of 100) average on the rifle bags), the Army decided that I should be the Regt. marksman. Sniper in other words! So I was issued with a high velocity telescopic rifle. I was not very happy about that!!
Two things stand out whilst on duty in England. We were stationed at Great Yarmouth, the cellar of Nelsons Monument was our billet. I think it was September 1944, we were on dawn standby on the gun, when about 12 German fighter bombers made a low level attack on Yarmouth, a bomb made a direct hit on the Wrens HQ, there were over 500 casualties. The bombers turned round inland and crossed the coast at Gorlestone. Our gun engaged the bombers and we shot down 2 of them, they crashed into the sea. It made us feel better about the shock of the Wrens. Tragic end. We were the first gun crew to shoot down a “doodle Bug” (V.I.Rocket) before it crossed the coast, much to the delight of 500 Americans who were billeted in the Grand Hotel Eastbourne. I got my second stripe for that!!
We sailed for the Normandy beaches D&R we were the first boat to off load on the MULBERRY HARBOUR a huge floating dock, so we never got our feet wet, it was D-Day +13.
Our first engagement was the Battle for Caen. We entered this beautiful City and held it for 2 days, but then as a planned withdrawal we came out to about 5 miles. To let in 2 German Para divisions who were on the outside of the city. It was then bombed by 400 Lancaster Bombers and raised to the ground killing about 3,000 Germans and sadly 2,500 French Citizens. We entered 2 days later to find this lovely city in ruins.
The break through came and we began the chase all the way to the rivers Maas and on the way you saw the real Horrors of War!
Dead bodies of soldiers both sides, and civilians, all smelly and waiting to be buried. Animals as well! Lovely villages all flattened by shells and bombs. These two stories, I am about to tell is the reason I kept quiet all these years. As I said I was a sniper. I was called on by my sergeant to do my job. Our convoy of tanks were sheltering under some trees on the bank of a river in France when a sniper from a block flats on the opposite side of the river began firing at us. He had already shot the ear off one of us, so the sergeant said deal with it Bombardier. So I aimed my rifle to find the sniper, I could see a face at one of the windows, so l fired. A terrible scream came from the window and the firing stopped!
Next during a tank Battle of Para Tanks against our smaller tanks, we noticed a German Tank Commander directing fire from the turrel of his tank. He was creating a lot of damage on us. Once again my Sergeant said get him Bombardier!! So again I fired at this individual and as he slumped forward on the turrel of the tank, all the other tanks turned and left the Battle. The fact that I deliberately aimed to kill someone has always been on my mind ever since. Alongside CL Guards Regiment we were the first to enter BELSON Concentration Camp. The death smell, gas ovens the execution wall, and the inmates was something else, I shall never forget.
To all you young ones that read this never let it happen again. War is Horrible!!

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