Trooper Riches, Sherwood Rangers RIP

Discussion in 'RAC' started by Anthony_Riches, Jan 23, 2010.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. My father Edwin Riches died on Thursday, and left this account of his war in Normandy, Belgium and Holland. I'm posting it as it might be of interest to a few people, and out of respect for his service. There's also a cautionary tale for any Redcaps out there...

    Trooper Edwin James Douglas Riches
    1943 – April 1944 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry
    June 1944 24th Lancers
    July 1944 – Dec 1945 Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry
    Jan 1946 – Feb 1947 1st Royal Dragoons

    I was transferred to the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry in June 1944 after a brief spell with the 24th Lancers (they were disbanded, and my troop was posted to the SRY- Lt Cowans, Sgt Roberts and others). Almost all my action was with the SRY and I hav always been proud of serving with the regiment. I have a vivid memory of the slaughter we drove through in the Falaise area, but even more so of the action at Gheel. I was the troop leader’s wireless operator and we were knocked out by a Panther at 11.30 pm on September 10th – hit by an HE round (presumably what the commander already had up the spout when he spotted us) on the turret, opposite my head, which was followed by an AP about 5 – 8 seconds later, on the same spot, by which time I had moved – very rapidly! I was looking out of the hatch, and saw the sparks fly as the AP hit. The driver (Wally Blaxall) was killed by the HE – he always went into action with his hatch open for fear of being trapped in a burning tank if the gun fell across a closed hatch lid, as sometimes did the lap gunner Arthur (Raffles) Lake – who died of wounds a few hours later.
    On bailing out I found Lt Cowans laying on the ground, unconscious. I managed to get him to the nearest tank (the troop corporals’) on which I found our gunner, whose name I cannot recall, had climbed.. He had a leg wound, probably from the HE, via the driver’s open flap. Lt Cowans never returned to the SRY; I believe that his wounds were very serious, but though I picked him up – and I don’t know how – my clothing was clean of bloodstains.
    That tank then drove off, leaving me behind but probably unaware of that. Apart from a burning building nearby, and a German flare, it was very dark. And there I stood, on my own, deafened by the HE hit, shocked and disorientated. Fortunately I saw a faint light about a hundred yards away, so I made my way to it. It was the MO and his helpers in action, so I sat in a corner and smoked endless cigarettes. At some point I saw an officer brought in with an obvious and serious eye wound, and I thought that it was Major Gold, but this recollection does not agree with the notes of the timing of his wound which occur in Stuart Hills’ book ‘By Tank to Normandy’. But my recollection is as pictorially vivid as if it had happened yesterday.
    When we withdrew on Sept 12th to a nearby village I saw the graves of Wally and Arthur. I had the misfortune to encounter two young military policemen, pink faced, scrubbed, shaven and polished. I was without any kit, unshaven and without a beret, which I had lost when I bailed out. They threatened me with arrest, and told me I must stay within the squadron’s tank park – what was left of it! However, later in the day, after dark, I went to a local ‘estaminet’ in a nearby wood, obviously without a hat. This place was packed with Durham Light Infantry, who had suffered very heavy casualties, and a sprinkling of Sherwood Rangers. Incidentally, the beer was like ditch water. Who should walk in a few minutes later but the two MPs? I immediately crouched down to avoid being seen, and my mates smuggled me out. We had the impression that there might be trouble between the MP’s and the Durham’s, and we moved the following day.
    The end of that situation came to my attention in 1947 or 1948. I was reading one of the national papers when I noticed a paragraph, which said that the bodies of two British Military Policemen had been found in a shallow grave in a wood near the town of Gheel. I mentioned it to my Dad, who told me of a similar incident during the troubles in Ireland. My feelings were mixed: obviously the MPs had been upsetting the Durham’s, but I felt sad for their parents.
    I carried on as an operator, and was in a tank hit by a panzerfaust close to Groesbeek (I think). Following that I was taken out of tanks because my eardrums were badly ruptured, and I became a driver (wheels). I finished my service with the Royal Dragoons, in the orderly room, but my heart was, is and always will be with the SRY.
     
  2. If there is any more please post, thanks TS
     
  3. Interesting little snippet of history there, thanks for that.
     
  4. Another snippet of history. Thanks for posting that.
     
  5. I expect you know about Stuart Hills' excellent book "By Tank in to Normandy". He was also SRY. Just in case:By Tank in to Normandy
     
  6. Hmmm...I wonder how many "battle police" went in this way in Great and Second World Wars? It is indeed sad but fighting troops under heavy stress really could have been foreseen to react in the wqy described.
     
  7. An interesting post AR, thank you for sharing that with us and I am sorry for your loss. We owe a lot to your Fathers generation.

    GW
     
  8. Thanks for that, and condolences on your loss.

    R.I.P.
     
  9. Thanks to all that commented. Not much more to say about the old boy's war, except for a few quick stories.

    He told me of a time shortly after Gheel when he had a most fearsome tooth abcess, causing him colossal pain. The MO gave him a bottle of Calvados and Dad, never a drinker at the best of times, proceeded to get muntered and slept off his pain comatose in the turret all the way from Burg Leopold to Nijmegen. Despite his state of near stupour, he recalls members of the crew attempting to get a drink from the bottle, and being fought off in no uncertain terms. The bottle, it transpires, was the MO's personal stock, given to the young trooper to avoid him being hospitalised and then posted to another regiment. I wonder if that bottle of Calvados might also have helped him to cope with the PTSD consequences of being brewed that first time, under such traumatic circumstances.

    Another tale was the time when his tank was ordered forward down a hill to lure an enemy SP gun into firing and giving away it's position. It had already bounced an AP round off the top of the first tank down the hill - they assumed that the gunner had his sights calibrated high - and sent its crew back to safety at the gallop, so Dad's tank was sent forward. 'Driver advance - give it everything!' was the command, and the Sherman raced down the hill with first one and then a second German round ripping through the air feet above the turret and almost causing all concerned to soil themselves. At which point the troop's Firefly gunner put the SP, now revealed by the muzzle blast of its gun, out of action with a single well placed shot. Now there was a tank gun. The Germans put thousands of long 75s and big 88's of both calibres into their standard battle tanks, and yet despite the 17 pdr having a proven tank killing rep, we were reduced to one per troop. Sums up our woeful approach to tank design and delivery up to the point that centurion made its appearance in 1945, I suppose. The old man, having crewed Valentines in training, was certainly bitter on the subject. Without the Americans and their admittedly mediocre Sherman (but better than anything we had at the time!), we would have been stuck with a rag bag assortment of distinctly interior AFVs with which to face the excellent German equipment.

    The Sherwoods, by the way, being a desert experienced regiment who knew that a petrol fueled Sherman would ignite at the drop of a hat, only ever accepted diesel powered tanks from the depot. Their tanks still brewed if the ammo cooked off, of course, but this was much less frequent for the SRY than for some other units. This is course left their redoubtable Padre Skinner with a frequent and grisly task, sometimes carried out under the guns of German troops under flag of truce, of getting the wrecked bodies of the dead out of knocked out tanks and burying them. Skinner never allowed the crews to help him, shrewdly realising that they would remain combat effective for longer without having to deal with the consequences of a hit on their tank. it's worth recalling that only one man in the entire regiment of 250 tank crewmen came through the war (including the desert) without ever being in a tank that was hit and knocked out.

    Dad's second brewing up was at the hands of a German infantryman with a length of drainpipe on his shoulder, close to Groesbeek. His crew's tank was sent forwards up a sloping field to recce a gateway, while their supporting infantry stood aside and watched. All the way up the field he was certain that his time had come, so idiotic did the task and their approach feel, and sure enough, as the Sherman entered the gateway a German soldier popped up and nailed them with a Panzerfaust. Both men in the front of the tank were killed, and the rest bailed out and ran back down the hill double quick. It was this attack that finally blew out his eardrums, and ended his time in armour.

    He also used to tell me about Sergeant George Dring MM, who was an older and wilier NCO who developed the habit of actually getting out of his tank and hunting round for German tanks on foot (the material on the web doesn't tell you that), guiding his crew round to positions where the Sherman's 75mm would penetrate their side or rear armour. Apparently Dring was out on foot one day and walked round a corner to find a German Panther he believed to have been knocked out facing him and ready to go. The gunner promptly loosed off a main gun round and took off three fingers from Dring's right hand. Since he was a regimental farrier before the war, this was a grievous loss for the man. The widespread opinion in the regiment, he told me, was that the Sergeant, being a veteran of the Western Desert, felt safer outside the tank than in it. Whether that was fair or not, it's for sure that you can see and hear a lot more once you're away from the noise and confinement of a tank, and whatever the reason was, Sgt Dring proved hugely effective in his tank hunting on more than one occasion. There's more here:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1424545/Sergeant-George-Killer-Dring.html

    Dad ended up in the Royal Dragoons' orderly room on admin duty, and soon after the war went AWOL for nine days of which he had no clear memory. He guessed that the stress had just caught up with him. When he wandered back into camp he was greeted with great joy - after nine days absent without leave - and told 'thank god you're back, we were starting to wonder if we'd have to report you as absent'. Simpler times.

    Last story. I can see I've gone on a bit, but we buried him yesterday and the memories are still fresh. As a teenager I used to build and paint those Tamiya tank models in 1/25 scale. Lovely models, and I used to like the German tanks since they were bigger and badder to my teenage mind. One night up in the loft, I was painstakingly dabbing tiny blobs of dark red paint onto a Jagdpanther to replicate the autumn leaf camouflage used towards the end of 1944. Dad climbed up the ladder, took one look, and with a far away expression said 'I saw one of those once, abandoned on Luneberg Heath. Didn't see it until we were only 50 yards from it though. If it had been crewed...'
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  10. Many thanks for your posts, most interesting.
     
  11. A very interesting read, many thanks for taking the time to share this with us. As has been said, we owe them so much, you must be very proud. Sorry to hear of your loss. RIP.
     
  12. Fugly

    Fugly LE DirtyBAT

    I enjoyed reading that. Thank you, and all the best.
     
  13. A thundering good read: thank you for sharing that with us.
     
  14. I salute Tpr. Riches and all who served , RIP.