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- Thomas Charles Gilbert
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- 18 April 2004
I was born in the East End of London. When the war started my younger brother was evacuated to Bridgwater but when the bombs started to fall on London my mother decided to move to Bridgwater as she lived near the docks near Blackwall Tunnel. I therefore left my work at Shell Mex and joined my mother and brother in Somerset.
In 1942, when I was 19 years old, I joined the army and was sent to Dorset to join the Dorchester Regiment. After 16 weeks training I joined the 50th Northumberland Division TT 2nd Devonshire Regiment.
We were first sent to Burnham-on-Crouch for 6 months and after that was sent to Northern Ireland for Infantry training for 14 months. I boxed for the Regiment all the time I was in Ireland, which I enjoyed.
We were then sent back to England in preparation for D Day to Bewley Camp near Southampton.
Seven days before D Day we marched down to the docks at Southampton to get on a boat. Initially we were told D day would be on Monday 5th June but we actually left on Tuesday 6th June.
We had been at sea 3 or 4 days prior to D day and as we got near to Gold Beach we got onto LCAs which rocked about in the water and made me feel sick. Seeing we were about to hit a large post in the water, which had a bottle attached to it, I lent out of the boat and pushed the post to avoid a collision. I was later told that the bottle would have been full of high explosive and if we had hit it then the boat would have been blown up. Not only were we lucky that I had acted quickly, not realizing the danger, but if the tide had been 2 inches higher then the post would not have been visible.
I managed to scramble ashore with my friend, Sergeant Billy Cotton. As we stood together on the beach Billy pointed out to me a man who he thought was a Sniper. As I looked I heard a shot and poor Billy dropped dead at my side.
After my Unit suffering heavy casualities the next day we started to make our way to Bayeaux. We eventually dug-in in Normandy and had 3 months of solid fighting.
Rations were limited. We had no bread for 11 weeks and I was covered in lice from being in the same fox hole for 8 weeks. After 12 weeks I was taken back to camp to have a shower and a complete change of clothes.
We then put into an attack into Holland and the aeroplanes known as "tiffys" helped us out with their fire support and fired at the German troops with rockets.
After a lot of fighting we went up to the Falaise Gap. Eventually we liberated Brussels, going in on the back of tanks.
When we got to Antwerp, just before Christmas, we were dug in for 3 months.
At that period the Company was amalgamated with the 7th Infantry (Desert Rats) and we crossed the Rhine on the back of tanks.
We were the first troops to enter the Western Sector of Berlin. I was stationed at the Herman Goering Barracks and was a Guard on the trains from the Eastern Sector to the Western Sector of Berlin for 6 months after the war finished. I had to stop the Russians from looting the carriages. Some even attempted to unhook them from the train so I had to be on constant lookout all the time.
I eventually was demobbed just before Christmas 1946 having been wounded on Sunday D+5 with shrapnel wounds but I feel I was very lucky not to have received more severe wounds.
I still live in Bridgwater and receive a pension of £50 a week.
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