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- 04 December 2003
I first really found I was colour-blind (red and green) in the army. I was trained as a gunner-wireless operator in a tank - sitting next to a large gun or howitzer in the tank's turret. I loaded shells (very heavy) into the breech block, took aim and fired. I never fired in anger - but had plenty of practice on ranges. After VE Day we were being trained for jungle warfare in the Far East but thank goodness the atom bomb over Japan stopped that war - a war we could never have really won.
One day we had our tanks at Warcop in Cumbria and in training practice I was asked to load a smoke bomb and fire it at a moving target (on rails) on a mountain side 2 miles away. I load, fired, and blew up the target. Shells were identified by coloured rings and in my colour confusion I had loaded an armour-piercing high-explosive shell. The target was completely destroyed.
A Sergeant shouted 'Fall in two men' and I was escorted to the Guard Room and charged. I explained my problem and the Medical Officer was summonsed bringing with him a book with circles of coloured dots. I read the numbers as they appeared to me and was pronounced colour-blind. 'Case dismissed' said the Officer. The Sergeant said afterwards I was ‘a first-class shot’ in the Regiment - at least I think that's what he said!!
It transpired that colour-blind people can 'see through' camoulflage - I certainly could. It would have been useful in battle. The Germans used this - but the British didn't bother.
Visiting Warcop many years later my wife Joan and I found tanks still there firing shells. I spoke with the officer who took my camoulflage comments very seriously and said he would take it up with higher authority. I wonder if he ever did.
My only excuse for not recognising the actual shape of the shell was youth and inexperience. It also indicates how easy it can be to make mistakes if under pressure of battle as witnessed in the current conflict.
My legacy is poor hearing at my present age and the need for hearing aids.
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