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The Memoirs of Corporal Alexander Lewis Fawcett — Part Two

by threecountiesaction

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Corporal Alexander Lewis Fawcett — Edward Fawcett
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05 December 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War Site by Three Counties Action, on behalf of Edward Fawcett for Corporal Alexander Lewis Fawcett, and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Fawcett fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

So Near Yet So Far

The Sun was just going down in the West when we moved in our column towards the start line. Soon we were off in one mad dash. Darkness came down, it was very difficult to see the vehicle in front but we welcome the darkness when you know that Jerry is on either side of you. I was commanding the tank at the time and I had one terrible moment when I lost the vehicle in front, there was nothing else to do but to keep on going and trust to luck. I caught up with the column about fifteen minutes later, did I heave a sigh of relief.

Eindhoven was reached, not a person was out in the streets I don’t think they really believed that the British had arrived. Soon we were on our way again and as dawn was just braking we made contact with the American Airbourne. Nimjgen was just down the road and after a hasty meal on the roadside we moved forward ready to do battle. The British Airbourne at Arnhem were having a tough time, we had to reach them and give them support.

We crossed over the railway bridge at Nimjgen (this bridge was later blown up by the enemy). At a distance of one mile from the bridge we became engaged, we did quite well capturing three enemy tanks and inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. While our squadron still engaged the enemy at Elst another squadron of the regiment pushed along the banks of the river and succeeded with the great help of the infantry in relieving the heroic airborne. Two thirds of that big plan had succeeded but what a nightmare it was. Sixty four miles mad dash along dark and strange roads then a fight equivalent to any Normandy Battle.

With the British holding Nimjgen and the Boche Arnhem and both of these places situated on the tributaries of the Lower Rhine, the land in between was nicknamed the Island. On the Island was Elst and other villages, the ground on the whole was very flat and the narrow roads were built on dykes, it was on this little piece of ground that we earned our name of English SS. From the Germans. The enemy were told by their commanders to wipe us off the Island, twice they tried and each time was a failure, in the end they gave up the idea but we had other plans.

The Master Race

The lives of the British people were awakening as though with the dawn of a new day. Victory was in sight. SO PASSED THE NIGHT but England was suffering again from a weapon of Vengeance the V.1 and V.2 Often have I seen these weapons speeding on their way to England.

By a sudden and quick move south we entered into Germany at Geilerchen straight into the so called impregnable Siegfried Line. Our first German town was captured German civilians were getting a taste of their own medicine. I had no pity for them. The winter was spent on that sector, never have I felt it so cold and with snow on the ground we lived in a sea of white for a month. I went on leave to England from here, what a journey but it was worth it, every mile of it to be able to see the folks at home. By the time I rejoined my unit the grand offensive to the Rhine was on. Soon I was in it battling our way to the Great River in that slow, dogged, typical British way. The Rhine was reached and all the Germans west of the river had either been killed or captured. It was a victory that later turned out to be the greater Victory for some of the best German troops had been destroyed on the British front.

After a short rest we started preparations for a second D. Day, we were to be the first tanks across the Rhine. It would be different this time we knew what to expect, we could take it but we would be in a position to give it back three fold.

The Rhine

Once again all hell had been let loose but to our amazement it was all going one way, Jerry was either surprised or he had other plans, for the Commandos were across and the infantry, both had sustained only very light casualties. Soon it came our turn to move up to the fast flowing river, as we moved I could feel that little bit of tenseness in the air it was D. Day all over again.

Down the bank “Steady or she will capsize” then on to the raft. Thirty five tons of steel on a flimsy raft. I could hear the water lapping against the sides. The journey seemed to last for ages as we let the river take us diagonally across, out of all the squadron tanks only one failed to get across and the crew of that were safe. Once ashore we found out that Jerry had awakened because he began to plaster us with Mortars and 155 M.M but the bridgehead was getting wider and deeper and that is always the winning sign. We struck unlucky again for we were against the Jerry paratroopers and these chaps are pretty good fanatical fighters. At times we called the old flame throwers up to give them a warming up and believe me it certainly shifts the Boche when they start to operate. We generally sit in a position so that when the Boche run out of the houses or foxholes we can just shoot them up with machine gun or H.E. Fire. It is callous but it is war and one can have no sympathy for the Germans.

The Last Run for Victory

The higher ups have decided it is time to get moving or swanning as we call it. We were given an objective twenty five miles away, it was to be another night run. In complete darkness the regiment moved off “A” Sqd. Leading my tank was the fourth in the column. We went like hell down the road and passed through the first village in no time. Our Sqd. Got through unscathed but the next part of the long column had a pitched battle against Bazookas and all kinds of arms. It was no good us going back or going forward not until that situation was cleared up because the main arms had to be cleared.

Whilst we were halted a half track full of Jerries asked one of our tank commander the way to Yettin. They soon found the way when our guns opened up on them. Confusion I have never seen nothing like it. Soon we were on the move again, that village had been cleared with quite a success. Over the air the leading tank reported a white light swaying in the road. Halt and investigate and the commander reported back a Jerry busy engaged wiring up a 500 Kilo bomb and teller mines on a bridge, he soon took to his heals but we did not catch him only his truck with enough explosive to blow quite a few bridges sky high. Engineers were called forward to cut the fuse wires and when that was done we moved slowly over the bridge with the bomb on the road between our tracks, it was not the first time we have had to pass over a bomb that had been put on the road to blow a huge hole in it.

The next village we came to the Jerry was waiting for us and we had a stiff fight. One Boche nearly got my tank with a Bazooka, the bomb missed the tank by a few inches, Benny the gunner soon put paid to that chap. Soon it was all over and we moved on leaving behind us blazing houses and dead Boche. Daylight came and I started to feel the first signs of having no sleep and no food we still kept pushing on and at ten o’clock we reached Lockan our objective. After clearing the place we handed over to the next lot and soon we were settled down to a real meal then to sleep in a little farmhouse. We did not have a long stay in this village, all our forces were turned towards the great port of Bremen and we were to support the infantry, I don’t like street fighting but the way the infantry whittled the Boche out of the houses I felt sure the port of Bremen would not last long and it did not.

The Great Surrender

After Bremen we came engaged in what we called the great round up. We knew by the way the Jerries were giving themselves up that it could not be long before they packed in altogether. It was grand to see maybe one or two Tommies bringing from 100 to 200 hundred prisoners in and making the blighters run down the road. Our Sqd. Went into action for the last time at the break of day on May 2nd all day we were engaging the enemy and rounding them up in hundreds. The infantry were going to do the night job themselves but they wanted one tank just in case. My tank had to do the job and there was no excitement. The objective was reached and consolidated. We managed to get a couple of hours sleep in and when we awoke we heard about the next village wanting to pack in, a sergeant and two other chaps were sent, when they were returning somebody opened up on them with a spandau and the Sergeant was killed. That evening the news of the surrender came through, most of the chaps went outside singing like anything but our crew just got into bed we were too tired and maybe we were just thankful that it was all over.

Thousands of Germans are being rounded up and it is very strange to be walking down the street with Jerries walking about as well. To mark the occasion a big ceremonial parade took place in Bremerhaven it was a grand sight to see the 51st Highland Division marching past with their pipe and drums. It was quite an honour to take part in that parade we have fought with all kinds of regiments with the Yanks and Canadians as well, but my admiration goes out for the P.B.I. they are the tops and I will take my hat off to a British infantryman any day.

So Passed the Night

Fighting has ceased in Europe the night has passed and now we look forward to the future. What will it hold for us. All we want at the moment is peace and quietness and to feel the comfort of home and the nearness of our loved ones. It has been a long march from those Normandy beaches to the River Elbe, a march that I and many others will not forget. The men out here have changed, they are not the same easy going Tommies of 1943, no, they are hard now and if you could see them, you will notice a kind of a steady gaze and an expression of one who has witnessed a lot. They and I shall not forget, it would not be right to forget for through our discomfort we have learned to appreciate the comforts of home and the values of peace. In closing I would like to pay tribute to my comrades, we have been in many a tough place and without comradeship all would have been lost. I would like to say thanks for the teamwork and companionship what I found in the rest of my crew and finally I would like to pay a personal tribute to those comrades of mine who have fallen or who have been wounded.

We miss them so much our victory is theirs.

Let us not forget them.

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