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15 October 2014
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A junior officer's war with 43rd Division - Gunners

by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Cornelius Thorne
Location of story: 
France, Belgium and Germany
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 September 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War website by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Cornelius Thorne and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Thorne fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

In 1939, I was still at school, living in Abingdon and studying at Haileybury, Hertford. I left in the Spring of 1942 and, having been in the OTC and Home Guard as a runner, I was taken on as a Potential Officer. I spent 6 months in training at Aberdeen University, then went to Pre-OCTU at Wroutham in Kent, in a Nissan camp. I was then posted to Catterick for 6 months, before being commissioned in May ’43 as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery.

I joined the 94th Field Regiment, part of 43rd Wessex Division — these had been mostly recruited from the West Country TA’s at the beginning of the war.

The regiment was in Kent and Sussex before being posted to Normandy in June ’43. At this time the first V-bombs came in, and we assembled at Southend Docks. The convoy went over to Normandy, arriving on 16th June, but unable to land because of bad weather. We spent 3-4 days in the liberty ship, eating bully beef and Christmas pudding, which was pretty horrible, given the motion of the ship. The weather was so rough the harbour was being broken up.

Finally, we were able to land and within 6 hours we were at our first gun position and ready to offer support. I was Gun Position Troop Officer controlling four field guns at a time, supporting the infantry. I operated in the command post at troop and battery level throughout most of the war.

We fought our way through Normandy, helping in the capture of Caen. The division had a big battle for a feature called ‘Hill 112’, where the divisional memorial is now sited. Several other battles followed, including one known as Mount Pincon, following which we moved east rapidly following the retreating Germans, ‘til we reached the River Seine at the town of Vernon. Here the British Army were going to cross the Seine, whilst the Americans were going through Paris with the French and the Canadians were on our north side.

The crossing of the Seine was achieved after approximately 5 days with many casualties among infantry, engineers and support troops. Many of my senior officers were either killed or wounded, as were the soldiers.

The next battle was at Nijmegen and on towards Arnhem, which we never reached. We spent the winter of ’44 near the River Mass and the German city of Arcen. We fought the Battle of Reichwald Forest, going east through Kleve and Goch. The Rhine crossing took place in March ’45, but I was on my first week’s leave to England. It took a week to catch up with my regiment on my return. From there, we eventually ended up near Bremen where I spent my 21st birthday in a slit trench.

We finished the war on May 8th outside Bremen. We were then withdrawn to take charge of displaced people’s camps. Part of my division took charge of Belsen. I was with a sub-unit that took charge of a particular displaced people’s camp full of Poles, Czechs and Eastern Europeans - all civilians who had been used as forced labour.

I came home to the UK to attend a course in June ’45 at the School of Artillery at Larkhill, Salisbury Plain and went on to serve in the Middle East (Egypt, Palestine and Tripoli), returning to the UK in 1948.

I remained in the army for a total of 20 years.

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