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For the Duration- Gordon Nisbett

by Make_A_Difference

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Gordon Nisbett
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30 March 2004

This is one of the stories collected on the 25th October 2003 at the CSV's Make a Difference Day held at BBC Manchester. The story was typed and entered on to the site by a CSV volunteer with kind permission of Gordon Nisbett

For The Duration.

Throughout the night the squadron had travelled slowly along road and tracks. In the darkness, with straining eyes and intense concentration, the drivers kept distance and position, aided only by the tiny convoy light at the rear of each vehicle. There were numerous stops and starts and changes in direction. From time to time, Major RR, seated on the bonnet of the leading armoured car, got off to consult with ghostly figure on the roadside. But the convoy appeared to be going round in circles until, at last, just before day break, we arrived back on a track lading to Gab Gab Gap. It was on this track that C Squadron began three of its longest and most traumatic days. Traumatic, because our lightly squadron encountered not only Teller mines but also, for the first time, the more powerful enemy tanks.
Momentarily our convoy halted almost simultaneously, in front of us, we saw long columns of sparks shoot upwards against the darkened sky. Mines had been struck again, this time with more deadly effect than before.

Ginger, of 15 Troop, was the driver of the leading armoured car. Seated on the bonnet, Major RR was giving him directions. Allan, 15 Troop’s commander, was riding in the turret. Just before day break, on the track in front, a Guards Bren carrier approached. Ginger drew over to allow its passage, little knowing that the verge of the track was mined. The near side wheel activated one which blew the car backwards, only to explode another mine.
We, in 16 Troop, first became aware of what happened in front when, from vehicle to vehicle, a stretcher was passed backwards. On it lay the still Major RR, badly wounded because of his bearing the brunt of the first explosion. Allan, in the turret, sustained an arm wound. Ginger, the driver, was deeply shocked and led away. Later, it was learned that he had contracted tuberculosis as a result of the ordeal.
Leaderless, C Squadron remained on the track. With the dawn came desultory enemy shelling. It was decided that our armour would leave the track and spread over the adjacent land. Slowly Dinky drove Unassailable off the track for some 75 yards. Don, driving Undaunted, following the tracks of Unassailable.
As the daylight increased, we saw that we were in a large valley between two lines of ridged hills. Behind us, in the distance, we could see the gun flashes of the 25 pounders of the 19th field Regiment. Before us, towards Point 212, we could hear the sounds of the battle.
It was not long before we realised with trepidation that we had drive on to an unmarked German minefield, for, from behind us, travelling over the ground at high speed came the Guards of the Bren carrier. As it passed Unassailable, there was a huge explosion. From out of the pall of smoke and dust, flung high by the blast, came the torso of the Guardsman driver. The guards major who had been riding in the front compartment, was flung clear. Badly wounded he lay face upwards gurgling and moaning with pain. Two young reinforcement Guards officers who had been riding in the back compartments lay spreadeagled and prostrate on the ground.
Now came my witness of two deeds which tend to go unnoticed and unrewarded in the heat of battle. Compassion marked the first and determination the second. Both actions were brave and courageous.
Dinky, the unflappable, went over to the distressed major, gently turned him over and cradled him in the sitting position, an act which undoubtedly saved his life, for as he swallowed the blood and tissue from his facial wound he was choking to death. Soon, he became quieter and the moaning and gurgling ceased.

Then incredibly, the two young Guards lieutenants, from being prone and still, rose as one and, in the true Guards tradition, shouldered their satchels and set off to join their hard pressed comrades in their forward positions where further perils lurked.
Meanwhile, we waited both for new orders and for our medical officer to arrive. Before his coming, Bent-M came along the track in his 15cwt truck. He got out with a blanket under his arm and asked me if I could help him collect the remains of the Guardsman driver. As we were about to start our gruesome task the order came to withdraw immediately. The Germans were mounting an attack with tanks. Dobbsy, a lance corporal, rushed up to reverse unassailable under my direction. I was to guide her down the track marks, so as to avoid detonating a mine. At that moment, Rick, a young sergeant, newly appointed to 16 troop, gave me an order I the following words:
‘You go back and back out Undaunted, I’ll go and back out Unassailable.’
These were fateful words, for, in the instant I rushed to back out Undaunted, there was a blast of another explosion. Incredibly, in reversing, Unassailable had sprung a mine. From out of the dust and smoke came a pair of bogie wheels and grotesquely, a length of track extending upwards, remaining rigid like a finger pointing defiantly at the enemy. But the old war horse Unassailable lay wrecked on her side, her engine silent in her broken body.
Dobbsy, the driver, was flung out sideways but miraculously appeared through the clearing pall with only a cut on the bridge of his nose. Rick was a more serious casualty. In the blast, of which he had taken the full force, his injury was alarming. In a distressed voice, he was calling that he could not see. Cockney George, who was on and at the time, eased his distress with a half truth, and said, ‘It’s alright, it’s only blood running into your eyes.’
We who could see knew the truth. It seemed to us that he would be blind in both eyes.
Relief came in the person of our medical officer. There was a shot of morphine for the injured major and then he was stretchered away. Rick was led away and Dobbsy was given a dressing for his nose and, with true grit, remained in action.
Dinky, his face blackened in dust, stayed unmoved and joined Don and I to make the Bicycle Club complete. Meanwhile, in these crowded minutes, the enemy tanks had debouched into the valley and were moving towards the withdrawing C Squadron. We crowded into Don’s Undaunted, carrying our possessions which we had snatched from Unassailable. Now, at this of all times, as we moved back, we heard the ominous ‘slap’ of one track detonating that a track pin had worked loose. We stopped to knock it back and secure it with a new split pin. Precious minutes had passed and the German tanks, from the sounds we heard, were still moving forward. So, travelling at speed, Undaunted, the last vehicle to withdraw, passed through the regiment’s anti-tank guns. As we went by, plainly we could hear the calm commands of the anti tank troop sergeant as the guns were trained on the approaching tanks. At the intersection of the tracks, we came across Paddy our regimental commander, his light armoured car in full view of the enemy. He directed us to positions amongst the guns of the 19th Field Regiment. Our task was to stay and fight it out, given protection for the 25 pounder guns which were being prepared to fire over open sights. A battery sergeant major, who had a thumb wrapped in a thick bloody bandage, was moving from gun to gun, encouraging his men, giving further proof of high quality leadership.
The advance of enemy tanks petered out and they began to withdraw from the valley. They were to return on the morrow, being an important factor in the tactics of General Von Arnim. His strategy was to mount punishing armoured attacks against any sign of aggression by the 1st British Infantry Division.

This is an extract from the book entitled ‘The Journal of a Conscript 1941-46’ by Gordon Nisbett. Which was donated to the BBC library as part of the ‘Make a Difference Day’, World War Two event.

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