- Contributed by
- Alan Head
- People in story:
- 5349069 Lance Corporal Edwin "Ben" Instone
- Location of story:
- El Alamein and Northern Italy
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 October 2005
Ben, somewhere in North Africa, 1941
Edwin “Ben” Instone was my grandfather. He served with the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, joining them after their retreat from Dunkirk. He was a tank driver and fought through North Africa and Italy, escaping the war without injury and earning a Military Medal along the way. This account is pieced together from various sources — my memory of talking to him about his experiences as a child, the recollections of his daughter and my father, and some research of my own. I was also fortunate to have a scrapbook of both stock and original photos plus newspaper articles referring to his exploits at El Alamein ( see http://photos.kiloran.com/c225557.htmlAbout links ). External sources include the war diaries held at Bovington and documents at the regimental museum at Derby.
Ben was a short, stocky man who was a milkman before the war, working for what became Unigate Dairies in Southampton. He was in his late-20s when he was called up, and his stature probably played a role in him being earmarked for training as a tank driver. Following training in Hampshire (I believe around Bordon) the regiment was shipped out to North Africa. The regiment used Stuart and Grant tanks and were among the first to receive the Sherman, the tank in which he was to fight at El Alamein. The Lancers were attached to the 1st Armoured Division and played a role as the great armies swept forth and back across the desert, ending up at El Alamein in October 1942. They were tasked with navigating through the narrow tracks cut through the minefields on the night of the assault. Ben was second through the line, his commander being the troop sergeant. Their tank was hit causing extensive damage. Ben was uninjured and rescued those of his crew who were still alive and got them back to our lines under fire. His citation reads as follows:
“This N.C.O. was the driver of the second tank to pass through the enemy minefield on 24th October. His tank was hit ten times, the last shot killing the operator and seriously wounding the commander and the gunner. He was trapped in his seat, but pushed the spare driver out and sent him for help. He then got out from the same door and re-entered the tank by the turret. He gave morphia to the two wounded men, and then, single-handed and under heavy fire, got his commander (who had lost both legs) out of the tank. He broke the fall for his commander by letting himself fall under him from the top of the turret. He then got his gunner out, who was almost fainting. Having given his commander more attention, he led back his gunner, who was very weak, to the first aid post, where he got help for the commander. All this was done under heavy machine-gun and shell fire, and L./Cpl. Instone showed conspicuous gallantry in dealing single-handed with a most difficult situation”.-"London Gazette" dated 14th January, 1943.
I have a photo of Ben receiving his medal in the field, local newspaper articles, a form letter from Major General R. Briggs, and photos from outside Buckingham Palace where he received his medal from the King.
After the victory at El Alamein the Lancers pushed forward, meeting up with American forces in Tunisia. They were present when the King inspected the troops in North Africa. From there they joined the invasion of Italy. I know little of the action they saw there and I hope someone will be able to fill the gaps in my knowledge in this area. Towards the end of the war they were involved in the assault on the Gothic line and Argenta Gap in Northern Italy. I have an account of an action at San Savino where they came under heavy fire from German troops with the formidable Panzershreck. During this time they were supporting Canadian troops who were using “kangaroos” - turretless Shermans converted into troop carriers. The Lancers were up the front right up until the end of the war, ending up at the Po River.
The Lancers celebrated VE Day in Northern Italy. After hostilities ceased Ben spent time in Rimini before being demobbed in early 1946. He returned to his job as a milkman, which saw him to retirement in the mid-70s. He rarely spoke of the war but as a small child I do remember pestering him to show me his medals and photographs. One thing he said that has stuck in my mind is when he casually mentioned that none of the tank crew in one of his photos survived the war. He was one of the lucky 20% of his regiment to come through largely unscathed. He never revealed the true nature of his act of gallantry, even to his wife. It was long after his death in 1988 that I finally found the citation in the regimental records. It shocked everyone who read it, particularly me as my mother wasn't born until after the war and he came so close to being killed that day. When I read it it just doesn't seem possible that my grandfather could have done such a brave thing. If you read between the lines it reveals the horror of warfare and how close he came to being killed — the shell hitting the turret rather than the hull, and you understand why he didn't talk about it.
My regret is that I wasn't brave/interested enough to really talk to him about his war experiences before he died. Its vital that these personal memories are recorded before the individuals pass away as they provide the counterpoint of fine detail to the cold statistics of warfare. If you are reading this and wondering whether to contribute your memories, or you know someone who experienced WW2, I hope this will encourage you to write something for this fabulous national archive.
If you or someone you know was in the 9th Lancers I would love to hear from you at email@example.com
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