Image courtesy of Jack Knight, Little Thurlow airfield 1940.
Do you have a family member from this Regiment? We are researching Suffolk men who served in the 67th in WW2.They fought in North Africa and were captured at Tobruk in June 1942, becoming prisoners of war. We hold a unique collection of photos and personal accounts of men who served during this time. We would like to hear from you if you had a relative in the Regiment to help keep the memory of the 67th alive. A 14 minute DVD of the pre reformed 67th (1942) is available for families.
Please contact: Jane Bradburn firstname.lastname@example.org
To watch a video on the 67th click Here
67th Medium Regiment (Suffolk) R.A. (T.A.)
Consisted of: HQ, 232 Battery (Ipswich), 231 Battery (Woodbridge & Felixstowe)
67th Medium Regiment was raised in 1939 as a duplicate of 58th (Suffolk) Medium Regiment R.A. (T.A.) (part of the doubling of the TA in 1939), with 231 and 232 Batteries.
Men were recruited in Ipswich, Felixstowe and Woodbridge in 1939. On the outbreak of war, the Regiment served in defence of south east England against enemy attack.
The Regiment was sent to North Africa in July 1941 as part of the Operation Crusader. It served under the 8th Army in the Western Desert from November 1941 until June 1942. The entire Regiment was captured in Tobruk on 21st June 1942.
Disembarked – Sevenoaks – Avonmouth – Clyde – Port Azores – Freetown – Durban – Aden – Sudan – Port Tewfick – Qassan – Mersa Matruh – Sidi Barrani – Bug-Bug – Halfaya – Saffafia – Point 207 – Fort Capuzzo – Bardia – Sidi Rezegh – Point 207 – Sollum – Mersa Matruh – Gambut – El Adem – Fort Acrome – Gazala – Knightsbridge – Tobruk – Captured 21/6/1942
On surrender, the men became prisoners of the Italy army and were transferred to Italian POW camps. The Italian armistice on 3rd Sept. 1943 enabled some to escape back to Allied Lines or to Switzerland, most were transported to POW camps in Germany, Austria and Poland. The majority of casualties in the Regiment resulted from the sinking of the Italian merchant ship SS Scillin in November 1942.
POW camp, Jack Douglas Bruce (centre, with white hat) (Image courtesy of Malcolm Bruce)
The Regiment reformed at Hunstanton, Norfolk on 15th February 1943 and fought their way through France and Belgium and into Germany as part of third AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery). It was attached to the 12th Corps, having captured Hamburg, when hostilities ceased on 1st May 1945. It was disbanded in 1947.
German POW camp, Jack Douglas Bruce top left. (Image courtesy of Malcolm Bruce)
1st November 1943 – Evening Star
IPSWICH P.O.W. ESCAPES FROM ITALY
Walked 100 Miles to Switzerland
An Ipswich man, Gunner R.L. Allard, is among the British prisoners of war who succeeded in escaping from Italy into Switzerland. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. P.E. Allard, of 143, Back Hamlet, have received official intimation of this, together with a letter from their son, stating he is now an internee in Switzerland, “in the good care of the British Consulate.”
Gunner Allard, who was formerly in Camp No. 55, describes his escape in his letter. “I had rather a hectic time getting here,” he states, “but I was successful after six days walking between ninety and a hundred
miles, two days of which we spent in mountains, the others walking across fields etc., dodging ‘that horrible man’ again. I was once again very lucky to be in a working party because I am told all the big concentration camps have been taken to Germany . . . I once again left in just what I stand up in – this time horribly worn ‘civvies’ given to us by the farmer. Three of us got through – all strangers.” Allard adds that he is perfectly well “apart from one or two blisters on my feet.” Gunner Allard, who is 22 was formerly employed in the York Road stores of the Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society, Ltd.
List of the 67th Regiment men from Ipswich.
Charles William Arthur Addison
Cyril James Ayden
Raymond Leonard Allard
W. A. Andrews
Douglas Edward Thompson Argent
Kenneth Herbert Bailey
Eric John Baker
Frederick Charles Edward Beecroft
Leonard Ellis George Bergdahl (son to E.G.G.Bergdahl.)
Robert John Blackwell
Reginald L Borrett
William Henry Felix Borrett
Cornelius W. Brown
Harold C. Brown
Jack Douglas Bruce
Cyril Stanley Buckles
Horace William Bugg
John William Bunn
John Leslie Burrows
Douglas Albert E. Calver
Harold S. Calver
George Henry Canham
Joseph Victor C. Capocci
Eric Charles Catling
Terence Claude Chandler
Peter Thomes Charles
George R.F. Chenery
Frederick William Cherrington
Cyril Albert S Chisholm
*Eric Harold Culf
Eric Russell Culley
Stanley Arthur Curl
Douglas Claude Curtis
Albert George Dixey
Frank Albert George Dobson
Alan C. Downard
Anthony Thurgill Doylend.
Frederick William Drane
Leslie C. Drane
Leonard Sydney Eaves
Leonard A. Fairweather
Arthur Henry Fenton
Clifford Burwood Finbow
*Leonard Stanley Finbow
Harold Clement Fincham
Douglas James Francis
* Jack Edwin French
Alfred James Fudge
Herbert Leonard Fuller
William Charles Fussell
Walter E. Garnham
Garrod Edward John
Goldsmith Charles Philip W.
Gould Russell Jack
James Frederick F. Gray
Eric George Hall
Ernest C. Hall
Leslie Stanley Halliday (images 1942-4 Evening Star)
*Eric Harold Hammond
Donald Arthur Harris
Harold Russell Haste
Ronald C. Haxell
John M. Hayden
Frederick Arthur Hogger
Harry Arthur W. Howes
Alexander Edward Innes
Philip Albert Jay
Reginald Victor Keeble
John Robinson Keen
Kenneth Victor Lake
Ivor Frederick James Lander
Mitchell C.T. Leeks
Douglas Kenneth Leggett
Kenneth A. Lowe
William Frederick Macklin
*Alfred William Mallett
Rodney John Mann
Reginald Alfred Valentine Manning
*Frederick Charles Maplestone
Stanley William Maskell
Kenneth Elliot Scott Mather
Cyril Stanley Mee
*Reginald Alfred Meadows
Eric Charles Meredith
William George Moore
William Charles E. Moorey
Charles Frank Moorman
Raymond James L. Murrell
Sidney Arthur Murton
Victor Wiliiam P. Newman
*Frederick Walter Northrorp
Douglas Victory Norton
Edward Maurice Noy
Thomas Basil Nunn
Arthur Edward Offord
Frederick C. Page
Leslie C. Palmer
Raymond William Pearce
Albert Edward Pipe
Norman Basil Quinton
I. E. Robinson
Jack W.C.H. Rowe
Harold George Rumsey
Frank Edward Salmon
Sydney Douglas Scott
Edward S Shaw
Donald J. Sherwood
Frank Edward Slinn
Thomas W. Smith
Leslie M. Spall
Cyril F. Talbot
Edward Charles V. Thompson
C. G. Thorpe
Frederick Samuel Thorpe
Hugh Curtis Tinley
*Stanley Charles Todd
Dennis Frederick Tooke
Russell Oliver Tricker
Thomas Henry Wale
Albert Edward Wallis
Alfred Stanley Ward
Frank George S. Ward
Albert George Warne
Stanley Reginald D. Waters
Harold Douglas Webb
Cecil Henry E. Whittaker
George Edward Wilson
*Peter Wilfred Charles Wilson
Thomas R. Wright
*Indicates death during WW2 – 23 men
Notes compiled by Jack Douglas Bruce, taken from the booklet issued to prisoners of war from His Holiness Pope Pius XII, Christmas 1942.
These notes are complete and no alteration has been made from the original script.
M E M O R A N D U M
I was taken prisoner on Sunday 21-6-42 at Tobruk. The previous day (Saturday ) was one never to be forgotten, from early morning until we were chased out of our position by tanks, late in the afternoon, Stuka dive-bombers, High Level bombers,& M.E. fighters had been over all day & not a single R.A.F. plane was to be seen. As well as bombing jerry had our position taped with his long-range guns & they didnt give us much peace. Two men in ” C ” Sub were badly injured but on the whole the troop was very lucky. When the jerry Mark 4’s & The Mark 13’s chased us out we went where we thought best, no one had any orders. I went on M2 with a crowd of others and we ended up at the caves. Luckily we had a little grub with us so we had a meal & stayed there for the night & jerry captures us early next morning. We had to walk with whatever kit we had got, which was’nt much for 16 miles in the boiling sun to a POW cage, when we arrived there about 16,000 others were already there and by night it was 30,000. We stayed at Tobruk for three days, the first day we had no food & only 1 pint of water, the next day we had a tin of bully between four a tin of M&V between ten & a pint of water, the next day was the same with two small biscuits. Next stop was Timimi, had to drink camel pool water & rations were 2 Iti biscuits & 1 tin Iti bully if lucky. There three days. Moved to Derna. Men falling out right & left with Dysentery, very little medical treatment to be had. Everyone crowded into barbed wire pens like sheep. Water situation just as bad. Had to queue for two hours in the boiling sun for a bottle of water, by night fall I was in dock with Heat Stroke. Temp 103 . Sick for 8 days. Rations, Half pint of boiled rice per day. Came out of dock and had a hell of a ride to Benghazi arriving at midnight 6.7.42. The next day I meet Bert Martin of 231 Bty, from Claydon & weve been mucking in together ever since. Rations at Benghazi for the first 9 weeks were 1. 400 Gram loaf of bread, made with Mele Meal, Rice and Potato flour, usually very wet inside & tasting very sour. 1 Tin of Iti bully ( 6 ozs ) 1 teaspoon of Coffee & sugar per man per day. Sometime we were issued with a spoon full of Ghee, a form of Butter. Later instead of 1 Tin Bully we had a half & a pint of hot stodge consisting of Rice or Macarroni, Beans, Dried Potatoes, Peas, Dried Onions, Tomatoe Puree, & sometimes Cheese or Ghee, the bulk of the meal being Rice or Mac. Usually very good but not enough. For a fortnight we had English biscuits & Bully. Very nice. First opportunity of sending a message home was 4.9.42.
7.10.42 Still at Benghazi. Sent first letter home yesterday, forgot to put date on. Not feeling so good. Can’t eat, the M.O. says I need a good tonic, & he has’nt even got a bandage to help himself with. Bert is looking after me like a Mother. He came back from his postal job with one sardine & he gave it to me, I manage to eat this & enjoy it.
While at Benghazi we were starving most of the time & only had 15 Iti fags a week, usually full of maggot holes. Had to swap my ring & watch to the Itis for food & fags. My ring went first for 2 loaves a pound of jam & 50 fags. Soon after my watch had to go, for this i got 5 loaves 4 pound of jam a kilo of Mac some salt & 100 fags, very nice while it lasted. 21.10. 42 Moved from old camp to a new one 2 miles away. Rain is making things worse for us. 3000 men went away to Tripoli last week. Feeling better. Left Benghazi 1.11.42. After traveling app 500 miles which was a four day journey, packed in trucks & trailers we arrived at a camp at Tarhuna. Rations on the road were 2 Iti biscuits & 1 tin bully per day. The first night we stoped at El Agheila, second Sirtti, third Zlitton. The buildings at Tarhunawhere the POW’s were kept were overcrowded before we got there so you can imagine the time we had. Bert & I slept in a drafty passage way with men falling over us all night. The rations were a little better. In the morning we had coffee, later the morning the loaf came up & a pint of boiled rice with Olive Oil, not to bad. In the evening we had a pint of Meat Stew, the meat was some times a bit scarce but usualy not to bad. Getting very chilly. Left Tarhuna 17.11.42 before leaving we had all blankets taken off us, that left me with, Coat, Bush Shirt & Shorts. We stayed for a few hours at Swani camp, a hell pit of fleas & lice, the ground was heaving with them. Bert & I dug a hole with our spoons to got down to some dry sand to lie on. Left there about 4 o/c, walked to a small station & entrained at 5 o/c for Tripoli Docks, went aboard a cargo ship about 12 o/c. I think it was called the ” Baltimore ” about 8,000 tons & were packed into the holds worse than sardines, just enough room to sit on the steel deck. We sailed at 6 o/c into a cold & very rough sea. We were so packed men had to sick & do anything they wanted where they sat, & a lot of them had dysentery.
Jack Douglas Bruce survived the POW camps and the War.
14th November 1942
On the 13th November 1942, over 800 PoWs weak from the lack of food and medical treatment were loaded onto the S.S.’Scillin,’ at the Spanish Quay in Tripoli Harbour. The men were penned into the severely overcrowded hold, with insanitary conditions. The only air and light came through a small hatch. A further 195 PoWs were left behind to board another ship after the British Captain Gilbert, of the R.A.M.C. made a strong forceful and intense protest that the ship was already overcrowded.
With an Italian Naval gun crew and guards, the ship set sail three hours late on it’s passage from Tripoli to Trapani, Sicily.
The British P212 submarine H.M.S. ‘Sahib’ (Lieutenant John Bromage), was on patrol in support of the Axis campaign in North Africa. When S.S. ‘Scillin’ appeared on their radar. In the darkness, 9 miles north of Kuriat, Tunisa Lt. Bromage, believing that the ship was carrying Italian troops, ordered open fire of their 3inch gun as a signal for the ship to stop. She did not respond. At 19:50hrs a torpedo was fired. The torpedo blew out the bottom of the hold in which the PoWs were penned. There was little chance of survival and the ship sank rapidly.
H.M.S.’Sahib’ rescued 27 PoWs (26 British & 1 South African), plus S.S. Scillin’s Captain and 45 Italian crew members, before an Italian warship arrived and H.M.S. ‘Sahib’ was forced to withdraw. Only when the survivors (who later landed in Malta) were heard speaking English did Lt. Bromage realise that the ship had been carrying PoWs.
The ‘friendly fire’ tragedy was investigated, due to the captivity of the men kept in the hold and the subsequent inquiry absolved Lt. Bromage of any blame. The inhuman treatment of the men kept in the hold was regarded as a “War Crime” But at the time there were no records of the Italian crew. The Ministry of Defence kept the incident a secret for 54 years. Telling families that their loved ones had died as PoWs in camps, or ‘lost at sea.’ In 1996, after repeated requests from the families the truth was revealed.
S.S.’Scillin.’67th Medium Regiment information used from the work of Brian Sims (1997) and courtesy of Pat Dowsing.
A family note:
Linda Stollery Crowder
“Thank you so much for this article, it makes sense to a family story I was told over thirty years ago. After trying to research and not finding much this has really helped. Alfred was my great uncle although we never met his name had never been forgotten. my nana had been deeply saddened by his death and the story of his death has always stayed with me.”
A family note:
My late father was Captain Arthur R Swindell. Growing up in Lowestoft he was gazetted as an officer into the Royal Artillery, Territorial Army in July 1939, having been active in the OTC at school. His regiment was the – 232 Battery, 67 Medium Regiment (Suffolk) RA TA and he served with the regiment from its inception at the beginning of the war till 1942.
(In the June 1941 battery photo he is the lieutenant with glasses . I believe the colonel was Sir Henry Lowry-Corry.( Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Charles Lowry-Corry MC DL (b. 20 February 1887 d. 23 December 1973), who was decorated for his service in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War and was a prisoner of war from 1942 to 1945. This officer was knighted and rose to Vice-Lord Lieutenant for Suffolk.)
He served with the regiment all the while it was in England and he told a few stories of that time. There was a period while England was waiting for the invasion by Hitler when his battery was assigned to defend a portion of the beaches. Such was the scarcity of troops and ammunition that they were covering only one unit of infantry and they seldom had any ammunition with which to practice or sight in their guns. However on one occasion they were assigned some ammunition for a shoot. So they informed the infantry who deciding that discretion was the better part of valour went for an all-day route march into the interior leaving the beaches of England completely undefended. Hitler never heard about it and he missed a fine opportunity to invade.
Little Thurlow airfield 1940.
At the height of the Battle of Britain his battery was withdrawn from the beaches and positioned around an airfield. He was placed in the air control tower as a forward observation officer while the guns were sighted on the runways and the airfield. He always said that the order he was waiting to give to the guns was one of the scariest ever; “FIRE ON ME ”.
In October 1941 the regiment was then sent overseas. They were sent to the Far East via Durban. The ship they sailed on was the Rangitiki. But after leaving Durban they were redirected to the Middle East.
As far I can remember the regiment then joined Wavell’s Middle East Forces. It served under the 8th Army in the campaigns in the Western Desert from November 1941 until June 1942. Dad mentioned seeing Indian Army troops. He once told of how he heard how they demoralised Italian forces by patrolling through the lines and silently killing one Italian now and then in such a way that soldiers would wake up in the morning and find the man next to them dead. He also spoke of British light tanks roaring up and down with cans and such like attached behind them in order to create dust and the impression that there were more of them than there really were.
He also once told of hunting for Christmas dinner with a Thompson machine gun. He sat on the front of a vehicle, on the bonnet and they chased a Thompson gazelle through the desert until he was able to fire and then he let rip with the whole magazine on automatic. Everything was fine until at Christmas dinner the Colonel bit into a bullet and really was not amused, considering it all very bad form.
Dads job in the regiment was that of Survey Officer which meant that for a great deal of the time he was used for all sorts of odd jobs and wasn’t always with the guns. Convoy officer seems to have been a frequent job and he told of frequently riding a motor bike up and convoys trying to keep them in order. He once told of an incident where a truck hit and killed a camel and how out of a seemingly deserted desert many, many, Arabs appeared claiming compensation for the camel. Apparently the incident caused a great deal of consternation and difficulties.
I am not clear on the regiments’ movements until it was attached to the South African Divisions that were being sent up from the Union and from Abyssinia. The regiment which was equipped with 6 inch howitzers was attached because the South Africans didn’t have enough medium artillery. He did speak of the first time that he encountered South Africans as being very amusing. He was out on a patrol and while lying on top of a ridge looking for enemy forces heard voices in a language that was definitely not English. He and some others then crept down the ridge towards the place from where the voices were coming and came upon a cave. Upon peering inside they saw a bunch of half-naked men lounging about talking a language that sounded like German. And if that wasn’t enough hanging from rope spread around the cave was what looked like rotting meat. They retreated and quickly reported the presence of an enemy patrol with strange habits. They were then to find out that what they had encountered was a group of South Africans who had been making biltong and speaking Afrikaans.
Dad told of places like Mersa Matruh and Bardia, the battles at Sollum and Halfaya Pass, sitting on the Gazala Line, the Gazala Gallop, being separated from his regiment that was captured at Tobruk when it fell and him ending up in a gunners transit camp (RA Base Depot) in Cairo. All in all he told of living in the Western Desert under battlefield conditions for about a year. One of the gunners (Diane Watts’ Dad) kept a list in a notebook of the places the regiment went through. The list is as follows;
Disembarked – Sevenoaks – Avonmouth – Clyde – Port Azores – Freetown – Durban – Aden – Sudan – Port Tewfick – Qassan – Mersa Matruh – Sidi Barrani – Bug-Bug – Halfaya – Saffafia – Point 207 – Fort Capuzzo – Bardia – Sidi Rezegh – Point 207 – Sollum – Mersa Matruh – Gambut – El Adem – Fort Acrome – Gazala – Knightsbridge – Tobruk – Captured 21/6/1942
Dad was at all of these places except Knightsbridge and Tobruk. As regards the timeline only certain dates are clear but what is clear is that 1942 was a momentous year in his life and the Western Desert battles culminating in the fall of Tobruk presented him, albeit unknowingly, with one of the most important cross-roads in his life.
The period the regiment spent attached to the South African divisions can be partially traced in the various books on South Africa’s involvement in the Desert War. There are a number of specific mentions made of the regiment in the following books:
– JAI Agar-Hamilton & LCF Turner (1952,) Crisis in the Desert – May – July 1942 — Oxford University Press
– Neil Orpen – (1971), War in the Desert — Purnell
– The 67ths’ war diary is also available in the Public Records Office in the U.K.
I believe that the regiment was attached to the 1st and 2nd SA Divisions fairly soon after it was deployed in the Middle East. So by tracing the movements of the SA Div it may be possible to get an idea of the regiments’ movements.
1 SA Div HQ and 5 Bgd landed in the Middle East on the 3 May 1941. The 2 Bgd reached Suez on the 8 June 1941. The various units were moved up to Mersa Matruh through June. By 1 July the 1 SA Div was a cohesive division in the Matruh area. Behind them the 2 SA Div was arriving in Egypt. On 21 June the 2 SA Div began to concentrate at Mareopolis after the voyage from Durban. The Division began to move to El Alamein on 22 July. The 4 Bgd disembarked in Egypt between the 8 Aug and the 17 Aug. The division became responsible building the defences at El Alamein. On the 5 Oct the division passed under the command of the newly formed 8th Army and was relieved of responsibility for the El Alamein box.
Preparations for Operation Crusader were underway. On 18 Nov the attack began. The 1 SA Div was fully involved while the 2 S.A. Div was left guarding the lines of communication. The fighting went on for weeks and until only Bardia and a few coastal garrisons had to be mopped up. It were these battles that the regiment took part in. The books refer to the 67 Med. and 232 Bty on a number of occasions.
The regiment is listed as part of Braforce in Appendix 2 (Orpen) = 2 Dec 1941 – and in particular it states that one troop of 67 Med. is attached to Braforce. I particularly remember that Dad said he was part of Braforce (Brigadier Medley) so it is quite possible that he was here at that time.
Appendix 1 (Orpen) describes the composition of Braforce and mentions the troop (4x 6 ” hows) as being in the Northern sector under Brig Poole. I remember Dad talking a lot about Poole and was told a story of how his HQ was once in a desert cistern (bir) that got flooded out completely after a rainstorm.
I am not clear on what Braforce was all about and the books don’t really explain it. But I suspect that it was a composite battle task force scraped together into a brigade of sorts in order to defend the frontier while preparations were underway for Crusader. It appears to have been largely a 2 SA Div force. 2 SA Div took over responsibility for the frontier defences on 2 Dec 1941 and the 67 Med. was under 2 SA Div and Braforce command as at that date. The other brigades under 2 SA Div at that date were 3 SA Bgd, 6 SA Bgd. (including 2 TS), Railhead Force and 5 NZ Bgd.
The closing phases of Crusader involved clearing a number of German garrisons on the coast. These included Bardia and Sollum. Orpen mentions the 67th on page 82 & 83.
” By December 7 (1941) the CFA were concentrated round Muenster, west of Bardia, whilst 14th and 15 Btys. of 5th Fd. Regt. were in action with the RHQ AT Sidi Omar Nuovo, putting down harassing fire on Cova, Bir Ghirba and Point 206 as well as Point 207 and Halfaya. They had obtained the survey data from the 67th Med. Regt., RA, who were already in action.”
(December 14)” At Abu Shalif, 67th Med. Regt., RA, was under orders to co-operate with DMR.”
By Dec 14th the Germans were completely hemmed in at Bardia, Halfaya and Sollum. The 6th SA Bgd held the line and most of the regiment’s action seems to have been in support of them. 3 SA Bgd were then given the order to take Bardia on 14th Dec.
Orpen mentions the regiment again on p93;
”The 3rd Fd. Bty. had left to support the unsuccessful attack on Barid , but at Cova the 68th Med. Regt.., RA, which had also moved north , was relieved by Regimental HQ and ”B” troop of 231 Med. Bty. of 67th Med. Regt., RA, whose other battery , the 232nd, was at Omar Nuovo.”
The regiment is then mentioned on p105 when during the Battle of Bardia, artillery support of the attack was described as the greatest concentration of field and medium guns yet seen in the Middle East. The 67th was part of Dimolines Group and was to the right of Du Toits Group. Lt Colonels Dimolines Group consisted of 4 R.A. Medium batteries. The attack occurred on the 30 December when at 04h15 104 South African and Polish 25 pounders and 32 British Medium guns opened fire. The RLI and ILH started the attack and the 3rd S.A. Brigade attacked and continued until the Bardia Fortress surrendered on the 2nd January.
Dad often spoke of the Battle for Bardia. He told a story of how he was sent out in advance of the guns to survey the guns firing pattern in and act as forward observation officer. He found himself alone on the flat desert plain in absolute darkness and was starting to walk back to the British lines when the entire force of artillery opened up and completely blinded him. He stood still to try and re-orientate himself when the British tanks started up and started towards him. He said it was his most dangerous moment in his war when he was almost ridden down by British tanks.
The regiment then found its way to Sollum and Halfaya Pass. A map on p141 in Orpen locates the battery due west of Halfaya on the 6th January 1942. It was in support of the UMR and 2 SAP. This same map locates the 2 TS about 8 miles to the Northeast just above Sollum. It also places Battery 231 of the 67th in support of the RDLI due south of Halfaya. The regiment is again located on the map on p150 depicting the Halfaya sector on the 16th January 1942 in the same positions. On the 17th January the German garrison surrendered.
From Sollum the regiment ended up on the Gazala Line when the front was reorganized. The 1st S.A. Division was moved up to the Gazala Line and the 2nd S.A. Division was left to garrison Tobruk.
Dad often spoke of the time on the Gazala line and described how he used to take a sniping gun (a gun and a half track) out through the lines, early in the morning and lay up in a suitable position and then snipe at enemy movement during the day returning to friendly lines at night. He told a story of how they used to take the gun out to a place where there was an Arab village and used to race the German sniping gun to get to a ridge overlooking the village as a suitable lookout. Whichever one of them was there first used to then send a gunner down to the village to buy eggs and enjoy breakfast in no man’s land. The other would then just move off. He said that they never shot at each other. Brad Darling (another officer in the regiment who kept touch after the war) confirms the sniping gun story to some extent in a letter and mentions Dad as having taken out “a sniping gun, a dirty great 150mm 4 1/2 ton job to go snooping for an enemy”.
Another story he told was of being in charge of some guns up along the coast overlooking the sea. There was a flat beach and a sandy island off the coast and they were watching an air battle going on above them. Then an enemy plane (a ME 110?) came in for landing, apparently with engine trouble and landed on this island. He turned the guns around and started firing at the plane on the ground. Then he received orders to cease fire because the navy wanted to go in on a boat and capture the plane. A boat duly arrived but got turned over in the surf. He then recommenced firing and as the plane was bracketed the German crew who had been working intensely to repair their machine climbed in and took off with the last shell just missing them as they lifted off.
Yet another story he told, and it is uncertain as to where and when this took pace was when the battery was laid up in a wadi and was subject to a stuka attack. He described how he, in spite of having a superb slit trench, (expertly dug by Sam Baker his batman who had been a navvy in Civvy Street and was the best ditch digger in the battery) ran for cover into a tent. He dived in and then stood up and peered out of the tent from behind the canvas door holding it delicately in his hand. It was only later that logic dawned.
He also told of how a number of captured enemy guns, mostly Italian were assigned to him and a squad of cooks, drivers and batmen. They were told to use the guns and harass the enemy shooting off a load of captured enemy ammunition. He said that the cooks, drivers and batmen became so good at using the guns and set up such a high rate of accurate fire that a “rocket” descended on them from headquarters ordering them to cease fire because they were causing far too much activity (and enemy response) along what was supposed to be a quiet sector of the front.
Orpen doesn’t mention the regiment again in spite of describing the events leading up to the events of the 1942 May and June battles when the 1st S.A. Div withdrew from Gazala and Tobruk fell. This occurred on the 20th June 1942. However Agar-Hamilton and Turner mention the regiment during this period. They list the regiment in the Order of Battle of the 1st S.A. Div on the 2nd June 1942. They also then list the regiment in the Order of Battle of Combatant Units (excluding 2 S.A. Division) known to have been in Tobruk on the 20th June 1942.
On p 133 Agar-Hamilton and Turner locate the regiment in Tobruk in June 1942. They state that the regiments H.Q. was at the north-eastern corner of the aerodrome beside the N.A.A.F.I. with a battery about a mile and a half to the south and another in deep wadi behind the Gurkhas. The map opposite p 130 depicting the Tobruk garrison dispositions on the 20th June 1942 locates the regiments’ troops and the H.Q.
The final mention of the 67th is on p 212 when during the night of the 20 / 21st June the 4x 18 pounders, manned by the survivors of the 67th Medium Regiment, were ordered by a Colonel Tuck to a position on the cliffs overlooking the sea, a little in advance of the Wadi Belgamel. The garrison surrendered on the morning of the 21st June 1942. The Regiment went into captivity
Dad was not with the regiment at this stage. On the 14th May 1942 he (and gunner Baker) had been posted to Cairo. Dad was sitting somewhere in or near Cairo. Among the papers he preserved through all the years was a posting order dated 14th May 1942 stating “Lieut. A. R. Swindell and Gnr. Baker, 67 Medium Regiment, RA are returning to CAIRO on duty” signed by the Brigadier Royal Artillery Eighth Army. This order is confirmed as an entry in the War Diary of the regiment. He missed spending the rest of the war in a POW camp and possibly drowning by a month. This posting set him at a cross roads and took him off the battlefield.
The reason he and Gunner Sam Baker, his batman, had been sent to Cairo was that he was to participate in the “Desert Deceptions” effort. As an artillery officer he and a group of gunners were to set up and operate false gun sites so as to deceive the enemy. He spoke of this period occasionally but it is confirmed in one of Brad Darlings letters where he mentioned Dad being posted back to “Desert Deceptions” and missing the battles between the 25th May and 21st June (Knightsbridge and the Cauldron). Dad said this role fell away when Montgomery made changes and decided he needed more of the real thing, real guns that is. “Desert Deceptions” is described in a number of histories e.g. Rick Stroud’s “The Phantom Army”. Dad spoke of how the gun sites were laid out and vehicle tracks driven to simulate troop movements etc.
Once his regiment was taken prisoner he could not return to unit and he was assigned to the Royal Artillery Base Depot M.E.F. (1st Depot Regiment (Field Branch) RABD), in Cairo. The Royal Artillery base depot was sited at Almaza, 10 miles north of Cairo He was appointed Pay Officer in Nov 1942 with the acting rank of Captain. He described this period to me as being one of avoiding real work and explained how he filled his revolver holster with newspaper because the revolver was quite heavy and carried a folder with a few blank pages in it so that he looked like he actually was doing something. (Ex-soldiers will all fully understand the dynamics of rear echelon base life). However his energy and instincts prevailed and he soon found himself organizing and running concert parties for the base. This led onto him running a fulltime RA band and show called “Gunners out of Uniform”. He started this, with the blessing of the base commandant when he heard a gunner playing an instrument and then he heard another and so it led onto the establishment of the band. Modelled on the Glen Miller band they held concerts at various places and toured Artillery emplacements throughout the Middle East. In ‘Who’s Who 1959-60” it was stated that the RA Band traveled 35 000 miles throughout the Middle east and consisted of 65 musicians and artistes. It appears that the band and the concert parties were very successful. There is a reference letter from his colonel at the RA Base Depot describing his role at the Base Depot as having been in charge of the RA Band and having produced concert parties in the depot. He said he “produced numerous sketches and tours for the concert parties which have invariably been successful with the troops”. He was on the strength of the RA Base Depot from 1942 until 1945. Somewhere along the line he got involved in Forces Broadcasting.
In his records there are documents relating to 3 units namely 2 FBU, 3 FBU and 4 FBU. (Forces Broadcasting Unit).
He took his demob in Egypt and joined Egyptian State Broadcasting as an announcer and producer after the war. In 1947 he went south to South Africa where he worked in the theatre and radio for the rest of his life.
There is a note in the records which seem to indicate that he recovered the 67th Battery Flag from stores in Cairo on the 21 Feb 1945. I presume he returned it to the UK when he went home on leave.
Frederick Samuel Thorpe
A family Note: Janet Greengrass (nee Thorpe) My Father, Frederick Samuel Thorpe, who was a gunner in the 67th Regiment. The notes were only found after the death of my Father in 1989 and my sister, Margaret, and I were unable to speak to him regarding his war experiences. He never spoke of them either. There was a wall of silence on his years in captivity.
Frederick Samuel Thorpe
Service Number: 943459
67th Medium Regiment (Suffolk)
Date entered service: 20 October 1939 Entered Service as Driver Artificer
Date of Discharge: 20th October 1947 Discharged from service as Gunner
Training was undertaken at Bulford camp in Wiltshire.
On deployment the regiment merged with the 8th Army in the Desert which was part of the 7th Armoured division.
The story of the 7th Armoured Division is a long one, for it covers the whole period of the war. The Division started to come together in 1938 when Headquarters, British Troops Egypt, assembled a “Mobile Force” at Mersa Matruh as the war clouds gathered over Europe. The purpose of the force was to counter the threat from the Italian Army, who as close allies of Germany, were, expected to attack the Suez Canal. This “Mobile Force” was the nucleus of the future 7th Armoured Division (and indeed the 8th Army) little could it be imagined at that time what a long hard road the men of the division were to tread on their way to Berlin some seven years later. Fighting started in North Africa on 10th June 1940.
Gunners memories of Adventure Voyageon the New Zealand merchant ship “Rangatiki”
“Rangatiki”, a New Zealand shipping company refrigerated vessel usually used to transport frozen lamb, took several hundred of my fellow comrades to the Middle East in the year of 1940. The journey by ship started at Avonmouth.
My regiment was the 67th Medium Regiment Royal Artillery. My number and rank as Driver Artificer, number 943459 and I am writing my memories such as the inevitable sea sickness, trying to kip (sleep) in a hammock, boat drills, four days gazing at Freetown from aboard ship and crossing the line west side of South Africa. There were entertainments such as boxing and concerts by our own pals. Crown and Anchor (a dice gambling game) was in full swing in the well deck going round the Cape of Good Hope with more sea sickness and then six glorious days in Durban. The beautiful calm waters of the Indian Ocean just like a village pond.
No location given but this may have been taken in Durban or Aden
Another crossing of the line going North – this time a short stay at Aden accompanied by every mosquito in the world and finally sailing up the Suez Canal and dis-embarking at Port Tewlik. The Rangatiki was our home for over two months and was the start, for me anyway, of an adventure which was to last for five years.
Ted Thompson, an Ipswich soldier aboard the Rangatiki, kept a record of the journey to Egypt and the following are the details he
Avonmouth – Clyde
Clyde – past Azores
Freetown – Durbin This had taken 10 weeks at sea
Stops were made at Aden and Sudan
From Sudan they moved to Port Tewlik where they were transported by train to Quassasin.
Mersa Matruh – Sidi Barrani
During those years I was to learn more about human nature than I ever thought possible and in retrospect, this fact seems more compensation, if only small, for the subsequent hardships and privations which befell each of us in those later War years. Our task was the worst as the ship’s crew slung the tractors and guns onto rafts. We had to cross the port by rafts and drive them one at a time till we were on dry land. We drove them up the line to Mersa Matruh. There we joined up with the 8th Army the “Desert Rats” (7th Armoured Division) as we were called. We advanced about 400 miles to Sidi Barrani. That was where we came face to face with the Italians. We had one big battle and it was all over with them.
Ted Thompson recorded the journey from Tobruk:
Timimmi – Derna – Bengasi – Basque – Ageila – Certe – Zlitzen -Fort Opizzo
Bardia – Sidi Rizeyk -Point 207 – Sollun – Mersa Mitruh – Gambit – El Adim
Following the Fall Of Tabruk the 67th were caputured and transported to Italy.
My Father never spoke about the war, I can only recall a family member saying that he was ill treated by the Germans. There were no diary or notes made of his years in captivity.
Dad’s POW record, in Italy: POW Camp No. 73 Fossoli of Carpi near Modena, postal mark no. 3300 service number 943459
It is not known when Father transferred to Stalag XIB in Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany or how the transition was made. Life in the camp was hard, overcrowded with a lack of hygiene, dysentery and lice were common. Food was extremely meagre and peelings from potatoes for the German staff were pilfered and boiled into a thin soup. Black bread and potatoes or pea, barley, swede or cabbage soup were the regular food issue. Coffee was made from ground acorns. I can recall Father commenting that he had stomach problems through the type and lack of food that the prisoners were given. Cigarettes were used to trade for extra rations from parcels received or from the guards. Some prisoners were taken in working parties and if they were working on the land would bring back some food and trade this with others. No extra rations were issued to working prisoners. Long term prisoners, living on starvation rations were suffering from malnutrition when them Allies arrived to release them on 11th April 1945.
From records, it appears that upon re-patriation, Father was transferred to a unit in Sidcup, Kent.
Mr Alan Downard – The last surviving 67th Medium Regiment R.A. T.A. has died at the age of 102
Alan Downard, Felixstowe resident, has died at the age of 102. Born in Ipswich in 1919, he had seen many changes in his life and was one of the last serving veterans of WW2. Alan started work at Lock and Stags Garage in Ipswich as a mechanic but in 1938 with war looming, he joined the Territorial Army and in 1940 he was called up to the 67th Medium Regiment R.A. T.A.
There followed a period of training as a mechanical engineer and he was put in charge of transport. At the tender age of 20 he got married to Florence who was serving in ATS. A couple of months later he was sent abroad to fight in the Middle East. Captured at Tobruk in 1942, Alan was one of thousands of Allied soldiers taken to POW camps in Italy and then to Germany.
In the POW camps, his mechanical problem-solving skills were invaluable, helping to building a stove, a heater and even a radio transmitter. In the cold winter of 44/45, he was forced by the Germans to march 80 km through snow and ice, with only melted snow to drink and little food, before being liberated by the Americans. Even in older age his recall of those war experiences was exceptional. His experiences, together those of his fellow 67th Medium Regiment veterans, are celebrated in an exhibition in the Felixstowe Museum.
Back home again. Alan settled down working as a mechanic in Ipswich and enjoying family life with his wife and two children Miles and Madeleine. He was employed at Mann Egerton and subsequently R & W Paul. He continued to use his mechanical inventiveness, turning an old ambulance into a campervan and was always willing to help those he came across on the road who had broken down.
Alan was someone who took every opportunity to enjoy life, a legacy of his wartime experiences. In retirement he enjoyed travel, especially cruises and went round the world not once but two times. He was a familiar sight riding his mobility scooter through Felixstowe, something he did right up until a few days before his death on Friday 26th February 2021.