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12 July 2014
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WW2 - People's War

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Dr Michael Moss
User ID: U752247

My late father (Sgt Brian Moss) initially served with 719 Bomb Disposal Company during the London Blitz. At this stage of the war, little was known about the various fuzes and booby traps that were sometimes found in unexploded bombs (UXB). The work was dirty and dangerous. On at least one occasion, Dad worked with Lt. Howard, the Earl of Suffolk. This colourful character was affectionately known as "Mad Jack" Howard, and drove around London in an old Pickfords removal van painted bright red, bearing the sign "Experimental Bomb Disposal Unit." Apparently, the Earl took pleasure in shocking the Savoy Grill by taking in his entire team for dinner, still dressed in their muddy overalls.
After a stint building defensive works in West Wales (in anticipation of a German invasion), Dad was shipped to the Middle East. Apparently he was destined to be commissioned there. But when he arrived in Port Tewfik (Suez), he volunteered on the dockside to transfer to 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Tobruk had just fallen to Rommel, and 50 Div had taken a beating. Thus Dad gave up his chance to become an officer, and joined 233 Field Company, Royal Engineers. This unit was in close support of 5th East Yorks, but at times they were also in action with 6th and 7th Green Howards. Dad stayed with 233 through the rest of its role in the North African campaign, then on to Sicily, Normandy, and Holland. In October '42, Dad accompanied Captain J. Spencer Crookenden a dozen times on night patrols through the forward enemy defences at El Alamein. The two of them crawled through the minefields to map them in preparation for the planned attack, but were careful not to alert the enemy by leaving any sign of their visit. One one occasion, they were fired upon as they returned to Allied lines, and when he dove to the ground, Dad landed on an EP (Egyptian Pattern) Mark II mine. Thankfully, it failed to explode. Later, Dad developed and ran a mine school for the infantry in Fort Regima. Then his unit took part in the invasion of Sicily. During this time, just before the battle for Primasole Bridge, he and three of his men crept up on 3 German Sturmgeschutz parked by the railway line. They laid charges and blew up the three of them together. I have recently researched this tank unit (Hermann Goering Div.), and I am in touch with one of the surviving tank commanders, who is living in Bonn.
Dad had several close calls in Sicily, but he would later describe that period as the most rewarding in his military service.
His unit returned to UK to train for D-Day, and Dad took 20 men (about one-third of his platoon) as part of the first wave on Gold Beach. About ten of them died that day. He always believed that a close friend, Cpl. Johnny Halliday, had died on the beach, but I have since found no record of a war grave for Halliday.
In 2003, I followed Dad's footsteps from Gold Beach to Nijmegen. When 30 Corps pushed northward as part of the ground force in Operation Market Garden, they crossed the Albert Canal under fire between Het Punt and Stelen. That night they encamped in a hamlet named Kwaadmechelen near the Dutch border. Dad was approached by a local priest who lived there with his brother and two sisters. Dad accepted an offer to sleep indoors; the only night in the war when he did accept such an invitation. In 2003, I located this house, and was amazed to find the priest's brother still living there. When I explained the purpose of my visit, he tearfully told me he remembered my father, and asked if I wished to see the room where he had slept! Later that day, I went to St. Oedenroede, where Dad had climbed the churchtower the day after his stop in Kwaadmechelen. He had watched spellbound as Dakotas and gliders came in all around him, under heavy fire from surrounding German forces. This was part of the second lift in support of Market Garden. A week later, Dad became the victim of a butterfly bomb in Nijmegen, and was hospitalised for the remainder of the war.

As I research his detailed diary for publication, I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has information about the units in which he served.
My e-mail is: mike.moss@dal.ca

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