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15 October 2014
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Its a Long Way from Hodnet to Italy

by AgeConcernShropshire

Contributed by 
AgeConcernShropshire
People in story: 
Ron Bowen
Location of story: 
uk,France,Egypt,Tunisia,Libia and Italy !!
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3438966
Contributed on: 
22 December 2004

This story is transcribed by me , Graham Shepherd , from notes following discussions with Ron Bowen , who at 87 years old has a very detailed memory of his ww2 exploits . He has been briefed of this site and understands copyright .

My wartime involvement started in 1938 when I joined the local TA at Market Drayton , where I reported for training , but was soon told to go back home and get my kit ready to be mobilised . I went to Shrewsbury for a short time before transferring to training camp on Salisbury Plain . During this period I encountered my first experience of death when one of our despatch riders was killed - probably drunk at the time .

I was attached to the Royal Artillery and in 1939 went with the ‘ expedition force ‘ to France . Our journey to Paris took us through Rouen , Arras , Lille , Alsace ?and Lograwe? , and we did not encounter any resistance . The only Germans we saw were from the top of a hill where we watched their convoy go by . On our return from Paris ?heading for the Dunkirk evacuation , Roune had come under attack , and I remember seeing a wine shop with its windows smashed , and we helped ourselves to some of the wine . We were soon disappointed when we drank it , since they were only display bottles and contained some horrid tasting liquid .

We were unable to get to Dunkirk and ended up at Lehave , I think after the Dunkirk evacuation . We did not confront any Germans but could hear the guns in the distance . While waiting at Lehave , the Germans attacked the Barrage Balloons protecting the harbour . When we departed from Lehave we called in at Cherberg - can’t remember why - and were told by the Captain that when they got the message to sail he would leave immediately and not wait for anyone . Some of the lads went down town , never to be seen again , but my mate Charley Dehalley and me were sitting on a bollard so made ship . I’m not sure if we landed at Plymouth or Southampton , but there was a cup of tea waiting for us on the dockside and they were keen to know where we had come from .

We were then stationed at Ellesmere in Shropshire ?, from where we were fire watching at Liverpool Docks . After a few months we were transferred to the Isle of Man to guard over non British nationals who had been interned there . I was surprised to hear a voice calling Ron , and it turned out to Mr Obertelli , an Italian from Wem , near to my home in Hodnet . He had a mobile chip van and used to cover all the local areas .

I was billeted at a house in Peel Road owned by a Mrs Kissack , and one day I had to clean the floor , and I polished the hall so well that when Mrs Kissack came down stairs and stood on the hall mat it slipped and she went through the hall door and broke her ankle .
I met a lovely girl named Patsy English who was Irish ! We were also responsible for guarding the American Atlantic Cable which was being laid . I remember one night when I was guard commander at a petrol dump that there was a swing bridge across the estuary with a pub on the other side , and I let some of the men go across for a drink , but on the way back over the bridge it opened and they were stranded . The guard duty officer Cpt. Lusty arrived and just told me to get them back as quickly as I could .

From the I of M we were transferred to Bedford , where I was made up to a Bombardier , and we were all issued with new guns . I was also a small guns instructor , and remember vividly one incident during a training exercise , when we had to take a rifle to pieces and reassemble it in the dark . I then explained how the mechanism worked but with the firing pin out I used my finger instead , but one of the men had refitted the firing pin and it went off going straight through a pair of shoes sitting on top of one of the kit bags - we never did find the bullet !

There was a small coffee shop where Charley and me used to go mid morning , but it was very small so we offered to make it bigger for free coffee in return . There were many girls about in Bedford and one night there was a ‘do’ on at the Dujohns Ballroom , but I was on guard duty , when a taxi with four/five girls arrived in a taxi to ask the Commander if Ron could go with them. He would not let me go but after my shift I went by taxi paid for by the girls .

Unfortunately I suffered an abscess on one of my front teeth and had to have it removed . I then had problems with my sinuses and had to go into hospital for an operation. After convalescence instead of going back to my Regiment I was sent to Kimberton Barracks , where I was given the job mending chairs and things . I had a free hand . It was a soft job and I had the time of my life .

I rejoined my Regiment and we moved to Liverpool to board ship , not knowing where we were going , but a couple of days out the ship broke down and we returned to Liverpool and then back to Bedford . We returned to find that Bedford had been bombed , and we got a hostile reception , the locals thinking that we had moved away because we knew of the raids .

Back to Liverpool and we set sail again . We seemed to be sailing for a long time , and I stayed on deck throughout . I remember Ron Axe running a Crown & Anchor board but got caught by the officer , who said don’t let me catch you again , but did not confiscate the board . We eventually docked at Cape Town , and as we left a woman seeing us off singing Land of Hope and Glory . We then docked at Durban and changed ships and reached our destination Port Tufi on the Suez canal . We were then given desert training in preparation for joining the ‘ Desert Rats ‘ . I was leading my men into the desert on exercise when we experienced a very heavy sand storm , the result of which stranded us for two nights , with only biscuits to eat . Apparently the UK also had sand landing there .

We had a lot of fun during this time being near to Cairo and Alexandria . On one of the trips to Cairo we were travelling on the back of a truck with the canvas removed , but the support hoops were still fitted , and Sgt . Owen was doing gymnastic exercises on the bars when the truck , turned sharply left and then right going over the railway , and the Sgt . was thrown out and killed .

There were troops from many countries with us and either the Canadians or Aussies held races on the main street with pony & traps . One Foreign Legion man accused another soldier of pinching his girl - a brothel tart - and shot him dead . The place was swamped with street urchins who tried to distract you with cards while others pinched what they could . Actually one of them told me he could get me a new tooth to replace the one I lost due to an abscess . Sure enough I went to this building which was very smart and he fitted me up with a new tooth on a plate very cheaply . It lasted me years .

After training we joined up with the 8th Army for the Battle of El Alemein , and the worst threat we came under was following the battle when we were towing heavy vehicles back to Alexandria for refurbishment and one of the drivers was speeding through a small town when he lost control and demolished a row of market stalls - we faced real hostility and threats !

Tunisia was our next destination where we saw heavy action at Enfidarille before being replaced by the Loyals . By now the Germans were hemmed in with the US approaching from Casablanca . Can’t recall why , but we had some free time near Tunis where I recall visiting an underground village , the size of four football pitches - very friendly people , doing weaving and various crafts .

We then moved to Libya where we harassed a number of German and Italian camps with our 4.5/5.5 Field guns . Our next assignment was to escort prisoners across the desert . We were moved on before we reached their camp . We were given two Bofors to strengthen our unit , and as we made our way towards Tripoli we suddenly heard aircraft , and turned around to see three low level fighters approaching . We managed to shoot all three down , but it was only when we started to move on that we realised that they were going to land on an airstrip just up the road .

Onto Italy next , and we landed near to Naples , but did not see a lot of action . It was at this time that I made a significant move . The RA had to release a Bombardier to join the 56 London Division , who were running a mobile reinforcement camp which re equipped soldiers returning back to their regiments after being wounded . Bom. Shelvoc was nominated , but he did not wish to leave the RA , and I went instead . I was taken by Capt. Brown and dropped at a cross roads in the middle of nowhere , and told I would be picked up . A truck eventually arrived , and we set about out task . Since we now had air supremacy , a group of 200 RAF crew were reassigned and we only had overnight to get them equipped . I was fortunate to be made a Quartermaster , when the allocated one did not arrive . We located in a number of areas including Taranto and Assisi . I became quite efficient in Italian .

Eventually all members recruited had to return to their units , but my name was missing . I thing this was deliberate , because I was shortly afterwards transferred to the 65th Field Regiment , where I was responsible for managing the NAFFI , post and also the entertainment . This was a very enjoyable posting .
In all I spent about five years in the desert area .
I have other memories about Monte Casino , transporting mines , the River Po and the bonfire . Perhaps I will contribute these later .

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Its a long way from Hodnet to Italy

Posted on: 23 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ron

I very much enjoyed reading your story, brim full of well-remembered detail.

I look forward to reading more.

Kind regards,

Peter

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

British Army Category
Bedfordshire Category
Shropshire Category
North Africa Category
Egypt Category
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