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15 October 2014
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Blinded in Action: With 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment in Germany 1945

by jcbrengunner

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John Charles Cowan
Location of story: 
Leeste nr Bremen, NW Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 April 2004

My father-in-law, (the late) Johnnie Cowan was blinded in both eyes by German heavy machine gun (MG42 Spandau) fire on the April 15th 1945 on the outskirts of a small German village called Leeste just south of Bremen. Johnnie was a platoon Bren gunner in B Company of the 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk regiment who where part of Dempsey's 3rd Army which as part of XXX Corps which had landed on Sword beach on D Day.

I recall him saying; "I liberated France, Belgium, Holland and part of Germany!"..."We knew we'd won, we was just waitin for the ref' to blow his whistle!, when I copped me packet!"

Johnnie was a 'brummy' lad who enlisted in his local Royal Warwickshire Regiment in March 1942. like many did under age at 17year old. He came from the Yardley Wood area where his greater family had settled coming as they originally did from Ireland. Johnnie or 'our Jack' as he was known to his family then had work as a capstan operator at BSA (British Small Arms) turning gun barrels before joining up.

He was transferred to the Norfolk Regiment in 1944. We don't know the actual date he personnally joined the invasion force, because the MOD for some odd reason wont give us that information!

However surfice to say he was a 'front line Tommy' did his share of fighting. His smashed body was recovered by two hero's who volunteered to bring his body back under the cover of smoke grenades they were shelled and machine gunned. They were l/corpral Jack Pratt and his mate 'Chip' Horace Ried (now deceased)

I only wish I had known the right questions to ask John when he was alive, to my shame like most of us I took his actions and my security here in Britain for granted...Let me say here on this site "Thank you John Cowan for my freedom, I'm so sorry I never occurred to me to say it to you face to face!" I like pretty well every one else in the UK took the sacrifices of your generation for granted!...I blame the education system of 1957 to 1965 for only teaching us about the Romans to Henry the blooming 8th during my school years, instead of why Europe is Free today!

Johnnies body was flown back in a Dakota to England and he was only operated on when his father (a Home Guard sergeant and WW1 combatant himself on the Western front) made a huge fuss at the hospital that his son was worth trying to save, as the doctors didn't agree!

Jonnie made a full recovery with the help of St.Dunstans the blind ex servicemens charity, he married an ex Land Army girl and they had two children. I married their daughter and we have three boys and we live in a 'Free Europe'.

R.I.P. Johnnie I'll represent you on Sword Beach on June 6th.

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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 - Blinded in Action

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

A very fine story, but how sad. All who were wounded deserve equal praise, but it always seems to me particularly poignant to be severely wounded or killed so late in the war.

You have written a fitting tribute.



Message 1 - Names of any of the other soldiers in his company

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Hannah Keble


I'm researching my great grandads service life and he was in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Norfolk regiment. Unfortunately I dont know which company he was in but I wondered if you know the names of any of the other soldiers your father-in-law served with.

My great grandads name is Horace Hales and he was a Corporal. He joined around 1940 I think and served until 1946.

I know there's a remote chance you'll know him or his name but I look forward to hearing your reply.


Hannah Keble

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