- Contributed by
- People in story:
- JOHN J ALLAN
- Location of story:
- WELLING, KENT
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 June 2005
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, WHICH I WOULD RATHER FORGET
by John J Allan
It was the late winter of 1941 and I was stationed at Dansen Park, Welling, on an anti-aircraft site. We had four static 3.7” guns, which had been kept busy most nights and sometimes during the day, all through the preceding months.
On this particular night we’d had a number of false alarms during the evening. We were just getting to bed when the klaxons in the huts sounded again and we were off on the two hundred yard dash to the guns. We were immediately in action and by midnight we had fired over a hundred rounds per gun. The raid was particularly heavy and we could see fires all around us. The acrid smoke drifting across the gunsite caught in our throats, making us cough and splutter.
In the early hours a number of incendiary bombs fell on the site and I watched fascinated as those not on duty scuttled about trying to put them out. From the command post, where I was on duty, it looked like a scene from Danté’s Inferno as hobgoblin like figures dashed back and forth through the illuminated smoke to put out the bright magnesium fires.
Shortly after this we were in action once more, and then it happened. There was an enormous explosion and the predictor, a mechanical computer that I was working on, toppled over on top of me, trapping me against the concrete blast wall. My foot was caught underneath the stand on which the predictor was mounted.
Shouts of “Casualties!” went up as it was revealed that we had had a premature burst on number three gun. A ‘premature’ is caused when the projectile explodes in the barrel of the gun - on this occasion probably as a result of the barrel being almost red hot. What was left of it was bent back like a banana, and pieces of the barrel had penetrated the blast screen. The casualty was the layer for line, the operator who turns the gun through 360 degrees.
This unfortunate individual had received shrapnel in his right leg and was trapped in his seat. While the crew struggled to release him the remainder of the battery contemplated the damage. Cables had been severed and we were out of action. I was extricated from under the predictor.
The cooks arrived with scalding buckets of hot sweet tea. They apologised for being late and explained they’d had to put out a fire in the cookhouse roof. They also complained that something had whirred over their heads as they had approached the guns.
While we were standing around drinking our tea, I became aware of something sticky on the back of my neck. Putting my hand on the back of my neck to investigate, I discovered it was covered in blood. Apparently, as I had stood with my head on one side reading the dials at the top of the predictor, a small piece of shrapnel had struck me. Subsequent investigation revealed that it had passed through the lining of my helmet, made a deep scratch on the back of my neck and went on to knock a sizeable lump of concrete out of the blast wall.
I was sent off to the first-aid post on the site. Stumbling through the darkness I struck my shin on something hard. Knowing that whatever it was should not be there, I felt around and burnt my hand on what turned out to be the front portion of number three gun. This was what had sailed close over the heads of the cooks. The wound on my neck proved to be dramatic but superficial and was treated with iodine and a large strip of elastoplast.
In the early morning I was taken violently ill with stomach pains. I was rushed to Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, and was diagnosed as having acute appendicitis. The next night, as I lay in bed listening to the sounds of gunfire and the explosion of bombs, I reflected on an eventful 24 hours.
It was then I discovered that lying in a hospital bed made me feel more nervous and vulnerable than I ever did on a gunsite.
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