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Miss Evans Remembers Her Grandads

Jack Evans and James Main – Miss Evans' Grandads

Growing up, I was lucky to spend quite a lot of time with my grandparents and I remember listening to their varied stories of their experiences of life during World War Two. On my mum's side, my grandad James Main was a Captain in the Merchant Navy. My grandad on my dad's side was a sergeant in the 9th Royal Tank Regiment. I remember being struck by comments they both made and stories they shared. I hope to now share them with you – "We were doing our duty."

Captain James Main – was born in 1922 in Burghead (Scotland) and won a scholarship to the infamous Gordonstoun School where he studied with Prince Philip. While at school he found his love for adventure- or that's what he told me and my brother. During his time at Gordonstoun he was evacuated to Wales until he was offered his first job.

On leaving school he was offered a job in the merchant Navy where he was a midshipman. His war was between 1942 and 1945 – During this time he travelled the North Atlantic and the Artic Convoys. These were journeys between Liverpool and America and to the Soviet Union. He told me and my brother about the convoys. On VE day he was bringing much needed resources into the country.

In his memoirs, he spoke about being berthed in Alexandria with two of the minesweepers "When we berthed in Alexandria, I found that adjacent to the wharf, there were two Royal Navy Minesweepers (Bookland Yard Minesweepers – BYMS – built in the USA) and that my brother Bill was a crew member on one of them. We were able to go ashore together in the evenings for the next ten days or so. I got permission to do a trip out with them and as the vessel was flat bottomed, when they started minesweeping she rolled very heavily, and I was really seasick! On the other Minesweeper, there was a crew member from Hopeman whom I had been in the same class with at school. After completing discharge of cargo, we sailed in convoy for Gibraltar where we anchored in the bay, awaiting instructions. There were reports that limpet mines were being attached to the ship's hull by Spanish divers, so each morning we had to drag the hull with a long rope to make sure that no mines had been attached to us overnight." This picture is my grandad and his brother Bill.

His war took him all over the world and he earned these medals during his lifetime – fortunately he was able to get his artic convoy medal in his later years. The medals are - Merchant Navy Medal, 1939-1945 Star, Atlantic Star, Burma Star.

Following the war, he worked up to the role of Captain, travelling all around the world. He married Joyce who he had met at the office of the Blue Funnel where she worked. He was posted to Hong Kong where he and Joyce started their family – They had two children Alison (my mum) and Hazel. From there they returned to Scotland where my grandad became a teacher at the Nautical College in Aberdeen. He never really spoke much about this time in great detail at the time. Until he wrote his memoirs.

Grandad Jim's war experiences were very different to my Grandad Jack's experiences. Jack Evans was born in 1923 in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. His education couldn't have been more different to my other grandad attending a local school in Barnsley. Jack Evans' first experiences within the world war was as a 15 year old where he was in the Home Guard (funny story – he tried to apply for the defence medal – the one Captain Tom didn't have – and they said he couldn't have been In the home guard as he wasn't old enough – he had to send the paper work over as he and his friend had been allowed to join the Home Guard early as they both had bikes so could deliver messages).

Once he had finished school he trained as a pharmacist at the COOP. At the age of 18 he went to Catterick to complete basic training and due to his civilian life, he asked to be a medic – the army in their wisdom enlisted him into the 9th Royal Tank Regiment. His role was tank driver / radio operator and predominantly worked in the Churchill tank. He also spent time in the 7th Armoured Division known as the Desert Rats.

His active service focused on the countries of Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. I remember a story he told me about his time in Holland where he was being billeted with a Dutch family – this family was very interesting as they were harbouring a Jewish family. They later made contact through my dad. Another story I remember him telling me was about his tank being hit by a German shell – which luckily didn't go off (otherwise I wouldn't be here).

Late in December he was transferred to 147 Royal Armoured Corp which was a surprise because leaving the 9th Battalion, the dozen or so of the party had no idea where we were going. It turned out to be Brandon Forest, Norfolk where testing and training on the special tanks which were developed and became known as "Hobart's Funnies" after Major General Hobart, who was in command of their development. There were swimming tanks, bridging tanks, flame throwers, mine clearing tanks and others, but he only knew of three:

  • Flame Thrower (known as Crocodiles) which had a flame gun instead of the front machine gun
  • Mine Clearing (known as Flails) which had chains fitted on the front of the vehicle that could be rotated to smash into the ground, thus exploding any mines.
  • Bridging Tank which carried metal runners to place over anti-tank ditches that would otherwise prevent progress.

My grandad's placement was in the flame thrower. The Unit then became a reserve for replacement of manpower in active units abroad, and I believe, although not officially stated, to replace personnel on these tanks we had been trained on.

Here is an extract of his memoirs: "Late November 1944, with a party of reserves, embarked for Europe. Very little recollection of this journey but I think it was from Harwich to Ostend. Within a few days of landing in Europe, was posted to 29th Armoured Division on way to the Ardennes and "Battle of the Bulge" as it became known. This was the final offensive of the German army to split the American and British forces and push on to the Belgium/Dutch coast On joining the 29thArmoured Brigade (part of the Guards Armoured Division), the defensive line was established along the west bank of the River Meuse, just south of the town of Dinant and against any German breakthrough on the north side of their push into Ardennes. The German advance was finally defeated principally by the Americans regrouping, holding then launching a counter-offensive. British forces were engaged and did their part in the northern sector but in the main, the US troops defeated the German offensive. However, I was always at a loss to understand why the British were not given any credit for their part in the Ardennes until years later. At the time, all credit was given to the Americans through it has to be said they did bear the brunt of the Germany attack. The weather during this time was atrocious – snow, fog and freezing conditions. The length of time of this engagement was, I believe, some four-five weeks and I had served as co-driver.

After this engagement, the Brigade and Division made their way back through Belgium (now occupied by Allied Forces), to Holland to regroup in Eindhoven. I have little recollection of this journey to Eindhoven but remember vividly being billeted with a very fine Dutch family – the Spoelstra's. They had a lady staying with them of Jewish origin and had shielded her from the Germans during the latter's occupation, passing her as one of their own. Their acceptance of what had been and what would be in the future, their humour and pleasant manner, I shall never forget.

After a short time, the Brigade moved north to Nijmegen which was in British hands and I was now driving again.

From here, the push was made to the North East and German border near Enschede where we sustained damage to our gearbox through enemy action. Overall, there was little resistance but after a very short time, the crew were together again in another Churchill Tank. Now the British and Canadian Forces (and I later learned) were ready to charge across the northerly Germany plains. Again, my recollections of this period and the dash into Germany are not clear, but somewhere in the Osnabruck area, a section of us were left to guard a railway siding. I don't know why, but possibly to safeguard any supplies coming through or possibly contain any threat from German forces retreating north from the Ruhr which the Americans were attacking with great success. As infantry took charge of the siding, the section moved to re-join Brigade somewhere well north of Minden which was to push north and east towards Bremen/Hamburg. There were few engagements or skirmishes on the way and again, my recollections are not very clear – I suppose too busy concentrating on what had to be done. Finally, the Brigade (or our Regiment of the Brigade) arrived in Munster to occupy Germany barracks. Later as hostilities ceased, we moved to Hamburg. My experiences were very limited to those of a great many Forces personnel but were enough for me to admit there were occasions when I knew fear but concentrating on your job helped to hide it. Most of this time, until the war ended, I believe we were tank replacement personnel (147 Royal Armoured Corp) and not of a particular Regiment.

With hostilities ceased, men due for early release from the Forces were replaced in regular army units with men from non-regular regiments. Thus, I finished in the 8th Royal Irish Hussars (now an armoured regiment) with Churchill tanks based in Hamburg. A Yorkshire man with a Welsh surname in an Irish regiment in Germany!"

At the end of the war he returned to Barnsley and met Margaret who was working in the COOP where he worked as a pharmacist. They got married in April 1953 and raised a large family, my Aunty Lynda, Uncle Steve, Ian (my dad), Sue, John and Richard in Bareva, Melbourne (Yorkshire) where in his spare time he took great pride in his rose's and his garden. There was always a cup of tea (Yorkshire Tea of course).

One thing he said to me hit home and I remember it now like it was yesterday. I asked if he was proud of his medals. His reply was: "No. I'm not proud. I just did what I had to, to keep our country safe. My duty."

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