- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Percy Gegg
- Location of story:
- England and North Africa
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 October 2004
I am a volunteer working for the BBC's People's War Project and I am inputting this story on behalf of Percy Gegg who came to one of Worcestershire's Wartime Wednesdays to tell his story. For Part 2 see www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A3262781
CALL-UP AND TRAINING WITH THE ROYAL ARTILLERY
I volunteered in 1940 at Brotherhood Church in Angel Place, Worcester. I was called up a few months later to Castle Bromwich Hall, Birmingham (my 1st trip to Brum) and had all my inoculations (2 in one arm and 1 in other) then to Penkridge Staffs. We were all billeted in a large house; the privates in the stables and the officers in the house.
I was in the Royal Artillery. At our first gun site, Hamsor in Warwickshire, we learned basic gunnery (4" naval gun). We were called a combined unit because we had more than one type of gun including the Lewis and the Bofors. I preferred the Bofors because it was a modern gun and quick firing - you could fire up to 200 rounds a minute depending on your team.
By the time I left Coleshill for Crewe I had been promoted to Bombardier. At Crewe, we were guarding the Rolls Royce factory. We were there when they had a night raid - it was a lone raider so we weren't allowed to fire or they'd have known there was something worth hitting.
Then we went to Wolverhampton to guard the Bolton Paul factory where they made the Defiant fighter plane. There was one lone raider, a Heinkel III which we opened fire on (because it was daylight). We hit it and heard the cloth tear (the sound it made was ‘Frrrrrr’). I don’t know where it came down.
We were what is called a ‘mobile battery’, so we were moved to locations where artillery backup was needed — not situated in a permanent position. Since each gun was positioned over a large area we couldn't see each other. Instead, we communicated by radio and fired independently. When that lone raider came to Wolverhampton we were on red alert and we knew to fire if we saw anything.
ST AGNES, CORNWALL, & ABERYSTWYTH TRAINING BATTERY
Next we went to St Agnes for a gunnery course. We were testing the new armour piercing shells and semi-armour piercing shells and we tested them on targets out at sea. We were testing them for about a week. I was made a sergeant when we moved to Aberystwyth. We formed a new battery (265) and trained the new conscripts.
They got off the train in their bowlers and trilby hats, with gasmask boxes and their coats over their arms. We ordered them up and marched them to the M.O. in the car park in Aber for their jabs. Some fainted before they got them. We were there in Summer and there were lots of holidaymakers who heckled us as we drilled the new recruits. They were cross because we used the car park as a gun park.
INCENDIARY RAID OVER LIVERPOOL
Once the recruits were trained we were moved to Speke Airport, Liverpool, where we were dive bombed by a Stuka 8B - we'd never seen a German plane so low. We stayed in the territorial barracks (they were till there a few years ago). There was a cinema at the end of the road and I was there on my night off when there was a raid and a batch of incendiaries came through the roof. There was a quick exit!
NOW FOR THE SERIOUS STUFF!
We were moved to Nottingham and stayed in a terrific big house in its grounds, Sherwood Lodge, on the north of the city. The engineers came and took all our guns away - they said it was routine check-up but they were being waterproofed. No-one told us anything they just took 'em.
After a few months of basic drill practice, they ordered us to pack up. We didn't know where we were going; rumour had it we were going to Scotland. All our limbers, tractors and guns were being waterproofed. It was all a bit fishy. We were told we were going by train - a big troop train with packed meals. We travelled all day and then stopped. There were lots of Red Caps about and we came out and there was the Clyde, lots of troop ships and we knew we were off. Even the officers said they didn't know where though. This was 1st November.
At 2 am we marched down the steps onto a little paddle boat and we paddled over to the big liner. The "Ormandy", a cruiser on the P&O Line to Australia. It was 15k tons and the smallest boat in the convoy. We had no idea where we were going - no extra kit to say whether we were going to warm or cold climate. 4 or 5 men jumped the gun, overboard, and deserted - we didn't see them again. We were with our group: 265 Battery
ONWARD FROM ALGIERS
We were at sea 5 or 6 days then pulled in at Algiers harbour. The officers called for a baggage party, and my Bombardier, Browning, asked if he could join and I said yes. That was the last time I saw him - the baggage party was bombed and he was killed- we never found him. We lost all our personal belongings in the raid on the baggage.
There were 28 men in my group. Lance Bombardier (one stripe) Rushton, came from Leeds or that area and owned a fish and chip shop - he was a good gunner, took over. He was a bit shy but I got on well with him, I always tried to be fair with them all and got on with them - you had to. You were so close all the time.
We were only there about a day. We had the order to move to a fishing village, Djelli, up the coast towards Tunis. The Americans were putting in an airfield. Because of heavy rains we were all bogged down - the Germans could take off at first. Then they began to use the main road in Tunis as a runway so they could raid us. The US airstrip was not a success and they lost all 12 spitfire Mark 1s.
We went in convoy to Constantine — I particularly remember that it had 2 mountains with a bridge linking them. We were there to guard 1st Army HQ. We weren't there long - they kept us moving on. We went to Boarada where we served as an anti-tank unit, using armour-piercing shells. The US had just let the Germans through at Casserine. We were sent to back them up and we stopped the Germans going further.
Then we went over the border to Beja - a large crossroads of roads leading to coast and very important strategically. Going there our convoy was dive-bombed - the roads were long and straight so they could see us easily - the sunlight would glare off the windscreens so we had to cover them with anything we had to hand. To see we leant out of the side windows.
We had our main raids at Bija - they sent about 14 Stukas. According to my gunner we hit about 4. We had no air cover because none of our planes could take off or were busy elsewhere. We could hear them in the distance but one man was killed (Atherton, from Yorkshire), only three wounded.
Casualties in the Royal Artillery were not really troubled with rifle wounds - more from the damage caused by shrapnel, mortars and shells. Shrapnel is something cruel - ragged and red hot. If we ever came under sniper fire we sent French troops to sort them out.
At first the Arabs we met were quite pro-German. They had been encouraged by the Vichy government (since these were French colonies) to see the Germans in a good light. We talked them around.
However we'd been warned about German parachutists being dropped behind our lines. We’d been at Bija for quite a few weeks. I'd set the sentries on the perimeter and tins with pebbles in for intruders to kick over. One was set off and the sentry brought a man he'd challenged over to me. The man said he was English with a German doctor father but he'd no gaiters on, no hat and his battle blouse was unfastened. Rushton and I took him to C.O. who sent me on to the Red Caps at Troop H.Q. They said ‘leave him with us’ and I never saw him again. I asked and they said 'we sent him back to Boarada'. They either lost him or shot him.
MESURES AL-BAB AND A CHANCE MEETING IN TUNIS
We were to relieve French at a village so near to Tunis that we could see it. We were right on the front line amongst the ruins of Arab houses firing down the valley to the Germans in the other end of the village. We shot up a few of their armoured cars - they had plenty of tack. For the first time the whole mobile battery was grouped together. Men were killed here on all sides.
Some Allied troops moved and took Tunis and cut off the Germans who fell back to Tunis and surrendered. We entered Tunis in convoy with the Derbyshire Yeomanry: the Arabs were very pleased to see us.
We were garrisoned in Tunis for a while, our guns were parked Avenue Gambetta in a garden overlooking the bay of Tunis - seeing all the sights. No leave but we could get couple of hours off. I walked out on Ave. Gambetta one day and I met a chap from Worcester - from same factory I was from (he lived behind us in Kingston Ave, Barbourne). Don’t know who he was with but he was there to reinforce the troops.
We were garrisoned in Tunis and our guns overhauled: new barrels, new tyres, ammo filled up. We had chance to catch our breath. However, the war was still going on so we moved to Beserata, a big French naval base. It was about the only time the whole regiment was together.
Next we moved on to Italy. See Adventures with the Royal Artillery part 2 (A3262781) to find out what happened.
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