The stories behind the story
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Fighting Through Podcast – Episode 61 Churchill’s Hellraisers by Damien Lewis
More great unpublished history! WWII
Best Second world war podcast for great unpublished history
Hello again and another warm WW2 welcome to you. I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall whose second world war memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH.
The aim of these podcasts is to give you the stories behind the story. You’ll hear memoirs and memories of veterans connected to Dad’s war in some way – and much more.
Veteran Lancaster Rear Gunner Claude Reynolds passed away on 24th July,. He’d been taken to hospital following a heart attack and had been there for a few days. He died peacefully and had the chance to speak to his family in his final days. Claude was 98 and had a good life, leaving behind wife Sheila and a large family. And of course he left a lasting legacy in the interviews he kindly did with me so if you’d like to revisit his many stories, both dramatic and funny, take another listen to episodes 5 and 12.
Meanwhile, I’m going to share with you a few short extracts from the hours I spent listening to Claude.
RIP Flight Sergeant Claude Ernest Reynolds
12 Dec 1921 – 24 July 2020
I’ve just heard from listener Kirby Li
His beloved Grandfather Allen Lillebo, of Minnesota featured in episode 50 and I’m sorry to announce that Allen passed away peacefully on 30 August aged 90, following the after effects of a bad fall.
He joined the United States Army in 1951 after the outbreak of the Cold War. And was stationed in Germany, with the 426th Field Artillery Battalion
Allen spent his final days surrounded by his loving wife and family. He will be forever remembered for his adventurous spirit, generosity, and kindness.
Damien Lewis is the author of new book CHURCHILL’S HELLRAISERS: The Secret Mission to Storm a Forbidden Nazi Fortress (Kensington Books; out now.
It’s the true story of a hodge-podge team tasked with sneaking through enemy territory and breaching an otherwise impregnable fortification in Northern Italy.
Damien Lewis is an award-winning historian, war reporter, and bestselling author. He spent over two decades reporting from war, disaster, and conflict zones around the world, winning numerous awards. He has written more than a dozen books about WWII, including Churchill’s Shadow Raiders, The Ministry for Ungentlemanly Warfare, SAS Ghost Patrol, and The Nazi Hunters. His work has been published in over forty languages, and many of his books have been made, or are being developed as feature films, TV series, or as plays for the stage.
So I’m chuffed to bits that I’ve got permission to read out some passages from this brand new book and whilst I am pretty sure there will have been interviews and press releases all over the place to help launch this book, methinks you’re possibly about to hear the only audio release for it. But If you do want to catch up with some interviews with Damien, I’ve put some links in the show notes – after you’ve heard the episode of course!
So, the treat in store for us is a generous dollop of danger and destruction as heroes Farran and Lees and their motley crew of SAS and assorted nationalities take on the might of the German army in one of its most secret locations in extremely, heavily armed territory. How good is this going to be!
In the winter of 1945, the Allied advance had stalled on The Gothic Line, a string of formidable defenses – thousands of machine-gun bunkers, concrete gun emplacements, deep tunnels, minefields and razor wire – stretching from coast to coast across northern Italy’s Apennine mountains. The forces manning the Gothic Line were some of Germany’s finest.
With prized intelligence gathered from Britain and the Italian resistance, Operation Tombola was hatched – a mission to cross over The Line and destroy it from within, liberating Italy from Nazi control.
I’m now going to give you a sneak preview of Operation Tombola.
All you’ve heard up to now has been leading up to an important operation targeting the German army’s regional headquarters on the Gothic line, the military divide between The Germans and allies. Two thirds way up the Italian mainland.
Captain Lees and his cohorts are hidden up in a remote area of the countryside. Lees has got wind of the existence of the military headquarters but has no idea where it is. This is the point at which he finds out.
And Breathe again! And that’s the end of the passage. If you want to read the rest of the action then check out the book - blah – available now in hardback and audio cd. There’s an Amazon link in the show notes and if you buy anything through my web site links, I’ll get a very small commission but you will not pay any more for that privilege of supporting the show.
Right, moving on, I really have got a stack of listener contributions to share with you now.
I’ve got a couple of great memoir contributions coming up in the PS – I’ve saved them till last because they’re special. One’s funny and one is extremely poignant.
So Leave the show early at your peril – you’ll miss a great finale including a last bonus dip into Churchill’s Hellraisers.
Keen Fighting Througher, in more ways than one, Brandon Baxley wrote recently
Hi Paul , I've been listening to your podcast religiously since I discovered it 2 weeks ago . I was a sniper with the 75th Ranger Regiment 3rd Battalion . I had a little run in with an improvised Explosive device IED and was medically discharged. Your recent stories of the 2nd Rangers were among my favorites.
I wanted to reach out and offer to send you some memoirs of my family's (mis) adventures. The stories range from the American civil war to the war on terror. Just like Lt.Dan in the movie "Forrest Gump" I've had a family member fight in every war America has been involved with.
My father retired in May as a full bird Colonel in the Army
And my grandfather was a CSM with the 11th Armored Cav. As a tanker (Army) My grandfather was my hero , he taught me how to be a man , father and teammate.
He left the cotton fields of South ALabama in 1942 at age 17 to join the Army. He said he'd rather get shot at than pic one more sack of cotton. Lol . He was in Europe by mid 43 . He was a infantryman in Pattons big red 1 (first infantry division) . He was one of the men in the Shadow Army. They were the ones tasked with setting up the "ole oakey doke" D-Day landing zone misdirection for Hitler. They had inflatable tanks and other vehicles. It worked beautifully as far as a diversion goes. His stories are the stuff of legend in my family.
Id be forever grateful if you would do us the honor of telling one of his stories on your podcast. Brendan – don’t ask – just send, my friend!
I picked up on what Brandon said about being a sniper in Afghanistan and he replied with the following:
Many aspects were so compartmentalized that we didn't know what was going on most of the time lol. In my opinion ww2 was the last major conflict where it was possible for a soldier to be proud of what they had done. They knew why they were there you know. For us it was only about our brothers and sisters in arms , thats why I was there. Sure we did some good here and there but it was never fully realized because politicians back home would constantly move the goal line and we'd have to go back on promises made to help facilitate a new direction and in doing so we'd completely screw over some really good people that had risked everything to be on our side. That's what makes it tough for me, the fact that we were there and ready and willing and able and even said we would and then never delivered.
I appreciate you talking with me like this. Im so excited for the new episode. I went back and listened to the sniper episode again and it was even better the second time. I can totally relate to how all the other soldiers shunned him .
We weren't allowed to speak to regular army on a Forward Operating Base for op. sec. Reasons but they didn't know that - they just thought we were stuck up ass holes with a superiority complex . Its funny how so many things can change throughout history but some narratives remain a constant.
Thanks for what you do Paul. I feel that we can only help our future as humanity by looking at our past. Keep up the good work and godspeed!
Thanks again Paul
Charles Brethauer has just donated to the show via PayPal and bought an absolute sackful of virtual coffees for the show, in effect or the Salvation Army, together with his compliments about the show. He said:
“My dad was in the American Field Service in WWII and served with the British 8th Army in N. Africa & Italy. There have been several mentions of the 8th Army in your podcasts. It has prompted me to locate his diary and start reading. Charles Brethauer Valencia, Pennsylvania
Charles many thanks for the donation and it’s great that the show has sparked your interest in your Dad’s war in Africa. If you uncover and interesting pieces about your Dad in his Diary please do write again.
This next one is specially for Omaha beach fans – at least if you’ve been following the recent Omaha series. Bit of inside info …
Hi Paul, hope you are well.
Still eagerly listening to your wonderful podcasts here in Bournemouth on the South coast of England. I was listening to your latest Omaha podcasts and in part 3 you referenced the company gaining a 'Lt Salomon' as their new commanding officer.
I have previously read various bits of information about this officer and his company’s involvement in the initial landings so thought I would send you a link to a small amount of that information, which you may or may not have seen. I thought it was interesting to hear of his activities on d-day before.
There are various pieces of information about him online, it is claimed he is the inspiration behind Tom Hanks character in Saving private Ryan, at least for the initial landings when he is dragging a wounded man up the beach and is downed by some shrapnel temporarily, as we know the rest is mostly fiction. He is also on the wrong area of the beach as his job was not at dog green.
Anyway this facebook post explained his intial landing and the task he and his units had on d-day.
He also features in the description here. Discussing how he climbed the cliffs whilst wounded and was one of the first into the trenches.
I am sure there are far better sources of information about him and his war time exploits as I have read some before, but found these quickly after hearing his name mentioned.
I believe he earnt 2 silver atars and 2 purple hearts during his military career, but nay be wrong. Yeah I bet one of those was the one Capt Stan Perry should have had when the US sergeant nicked it from his hospital bedside (whisper - episode 36)!
Anyway as I said lots of information about him if it is of interest. Thanks again for the great podcasts! Glen
Keep up the good work. I’m a big fan of your podcast. Mark Fowler Helena, Montana.
Mark thanks for that and the generous paypal donation to the cause now supported by the show, namely the Salvation Army.
Thank you for making me want learn more about WWII History. My sons are both very knowledgeable and we’ve spent time at great WII museums. The personal touch you give to your podcast makes it very compelling, informative and real. And of course your voice is exceptional!
zeldashouse from the United States
It’s tiffin time! Not to eat Tiffin but to talk about it. At last someone has picked up on my playful suggestion episodes ago to try Tiffin … but also to share some family war experiences …
Ben – Scotland born Oxford - living in Scotland since the age of 5.
As time has moved on my knowledge of the 2nd world war has grown greatly. But I am ashamed to admit I still know barely anything.
I stumbled your first episode and I haven’t bothered looking for another podcast since (Good man Ben).
In one episode you talked about certain words or phrases and wondered if they were still in use today. Some of them certainly are. I used to work with a guy who would say every single day at tea break time, “right, c’mon, its time for tiffin”. I guess this had some sort of effect on me because on more than one occasion I’ve had an apprentice in my new job ask me “what’s tiffin?”.
Turns out I now say it pretty regularly too. Haha. The funny thing is, since you mentioned it on your podcast, I had never noticed I did, I certainly never noticed that those very same apprentices have now started using the exact same phrase at tea break.
I guess some things really do (and should) live forever. The term “shufty” is something I’ve known and used since I was a young boy living in England. If I’m honest though, I’ve never met anyone that didn’t know what it was.
As a boy at school I was fortunate enough to read “all quiet on the western front”. I knew it was about the first world war but was mistaken in thinking it was from an allies point of view. Later in life I re read it and this time I paid more attention and took it all in. I realised it was about a German soldier and his friends. The one big thing I took from the book though was how every soldier, regardless of race, religion or creed was in the same boat. The situation was the same for both sides.
I was very much reminded of all of this when listening to the episode about the POW story and also your discussion with Volker Wehrum [Episode 51, Child of War, all about VW’s experience being born in 1944].
Ben continues, All the talk about the kindness shown by the some of the opposition like in the case of what your own father did for the German family. About how some of the soldiers almost seem sympathetic. Obviously there were some truly evil people in the war and the atrocities they committed are simply inexcusable but we can’t pin it all on one side and certainly not on all participants.
The evil at times worked both ways. Reading that book triggered something in me and since then, the books about wartime I have enjoyed the most have always been the recounts told from the eyes of an individual and the things they remember experiencing.
I know you put in each of the podcast notes the information about the books you have read from etc. I wonder though, is there a section (if not, could there be) on the website that lists all the books you have used? I intend to make a list of all the memoir books and eventually acquire a copy of each. An already created list would make that task a lot easier rather than clicking on each podcast in turn.
Ben I’ll say now I’ve meant to create what you might call a shop page on the web site for ages and you’ve spurred me on to do something about it. I have to rebuild the web site over the next two months for technical reasons so I’ll take the opportunity to do that at the same time – watch the space. If you do buy a book through the site I do get a very small commission from Amazon but you won’t pay any more for books as a result of that. So anyone who wishes to support the show can check the show notes for the latest books. And whilst you’re at the web site, you might kindly click on the adverts that occasionally pop up – again that drives a tiny reward to the show – but hey every cent or penny counts.
Ben: My grandparents on My mothers side lived in the country during the war and were farmers.
At some point a para trooper (not sure what side) landed in one of the farm fields, removed his parachute and disappeared into the trees before anyone could say or do anything.
My grandfather and great grandfather were working on the farm and saw it coming down. They followed it to the location and on arrival found the parachute stuck in a tree. They freed it and took it home and hid it even though people were meant to hand in a parachute in those days
My grandparents got married just after the war years (in 1947) and the parachute was turned into a wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses.
As farmers they still had to live on ration and coupon books. They had things slightly easier though as they could hold back some of their own produce. They would receive orders on a certain quota for the amount produce that they would have to supply to the government to help contribute to feeding not only the troops but also the country.
The family lived in or around the area of Otmoor near Bicester in Oxfordshire. During the war, they had Italian POWs working on the farm. They would help with hedging, ditching etc. and it would always be the same ones (at least 3) unless someone was ill.
Unfortunately I don't have any names, yet, but intend to keep looking. It would be amazing if I could track them down and would love to know what happened to them after the war ended. They couldn't have been all that bad because Gran always spoke highly of them and would often talk about how friendly they were and how they taught her various recipes for things like savoury macaroni. These same recipes have been passed on to my own mother and my sister. Come on Ben send one in!
I have done a small part of digging myself and it seems that there was a main POW camp in Bicester itself, Camp 33 or "old windmills camp" is now part occupied by LC Hughes scrap metal yard. Apparently there is a Mermaid statue in the yard built by the Italian POWs
When my Gran passed away they found letters between my great grandparents and other things from during the 1st world war. How good is that?
My father in-law joined the army as soon as he was old enough and trained as a sniper. A different generation, he was born well after the second world war but was involved in fighting against the IRA and liberating Ireland.
We have spoken rather a lot in recent weeks about his time in the army. We have also talked about his childhood as he grew up almost 500 yards from the home I now live in. It seems so long ago but in actual fact wasn’t that far back and hope to convince him to write or at least record all of these stories sometime. As yet I have had no luck as he shows little interest or simply doesn’t want to remember a lot of what happened.
My Grampa was a farmer but one of his brothers, Fred North, was in the army and did a tour in Africa. He survived the war but passed away some years ago now. I never knew him but have been told, "He never spoke about the war. If he was ever asked about it, he always said the same thing. He would say how they always had to have eyes in the back of their heads and look out for each other, because, you never knew when one of the locals was going to come along and steal your boots up and disappear into the trees".
My Gran had two brothers in the forces. John Taylor was in the army and survived the war but passed away a few years ago, however their brother Ray Taylor was in the RAF. Ray also survived the war and is still alive today.
One Uncle told me that there is a Min of Def MOD base nearby in Otmoor. During the war, they had several bunkers here. These bunkers can still be found today but you need to really look for them. You can see metal beams rising up in places and this was what they would attach the anti aircraft guns too. He also knows that during air raids, the bunkers were filled with lights that would be lit up and visible to aircraft above. This was to confuse the enemy, so they would drop their bombs on this area (in the country side) rather than make it to Oxford where the casualties would have been much higher.
He can remember as he was born and growing up after the war, the local MOD base would carry out bombing target practice in Otmoor. He can remember working on the farm, seeing the planes come over then a little bit later hearing and sometimes feeling these loud thumps. That was of course the bombs (all duds) hitting the earth. He claims that bomb fragments can still be found in the area today. Somewhere he has an old cigarette lighter that was made from an un-exploded bomb fuse.
He said that during his time in the army, his uncle, John Taylor, was in the area at some point (not sure if this was leave or posted) and would go out regular with friends to un-exploded bombs and remove the fuses and disarm them. Apparently, making these into lighters was a common thing. If he finds it, he will send me pictures or maybe even the lighter itself.
This really is the beginning. I have gone from a family of farmers helping to supply the troops to also having three veterans that survived the war and some amazing tales. I honestly cannot thank you enough Paul. Without your podcast, I would NEVER have started looking into my own history. I really do get blown away with every little piece I find out and get excited by the new avenues of investigation I open up. My own mum gets equally excited by all this as I am finding out about a lot of things she never knew despite growing up around these individuals. It all started with your podcast. Thank you.
Today, I’m married with kids of my own. I have huge regrets over not showing more interest in the wars years when I was younger. How much information and stories have been missed and are now gone forever as all my grandparents have passed. I wish I could go back and ask a whole load more of questions.
All of this has been inspired by the podcasts that you do yourself. It has helped me to realise how important it is that we have a record of these things. That we don’t forget the experiences generations before us had.
Unfortunately I feel that is somewhat lost on a lot of the youth today.
A lot of the respect has been lost and so much is now taken for granted. With any luck, the current Covid pandemic may actually bring people a little closer together. I know my own little family has learned to use technology less for entertainment and we now make a point of going out to do things more. I just lastly want to say thank you again for all that you are doing and repeat that I hope you continue to do so for a long time.
It’s now time for tiffin. I’m having tea and oatcakes like the ones from your dear mums recipe. How good is that?
Ben, from Scotland, thank you sooo much for that and I’m so pleased you’re sampling my old Mum’s oatcake recipe. Yum!
Ben I don’t think it’s all going to be totally lost as there are signs that the younger generation are engaging with our war history and I’ve seen and heard kids doing and learning about stuff that I certainly never did when I was at school. Just an example, I went to France last year and saw the first world war monument at Thiepval.
The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a war memorial to 72,337 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War with no known grave. It is near the village of Thiepval, Picardy in France
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, Thiepval has been described as "the greatest executed British work of monumental architecture of the twentieth century"
And it really is quite breathtaking, towering above us mere mortals as it does. If anyone is planning a trip to France then you really should stick it on your itinerary if you possibly can. It’s about, an hour or so inland from Calais.
But the point of talking about it is that when I was visiting, there was a party of schoolchildren performing a remembrance ritual right under the shadow of the memorial. They’d each adopted a soldier who had died fighting and had done some research on that individual, saying who he was and where he came from, when he’d died and in what battle, maybe with some extra information they might have been able to dig up. Finishing with a sometimes tearful thank you for his service. You couldn’t not stop to listen and watch as each child stepped up and said their piece, It was very emotional and it’s moved me now just telling you about it.
So that’s one class of kids who will grow up at least knowing about the wars. I actually followed up with their teacher and sent the school a copy of Dad’s book for their library which they were very pleased with.
One more thing in response to your many points Ben, get a voice recorder, your phone or whatever, sit down with your relative in a quiet comfortable room with soft furnishings. Put the recorder an even space between you and just get them to talk. If someone starts mowing the lawn next door, or if a plane flies overhead just ignore it – I do!!!
As if to reinforce my point: Thanks to StevenHunt for your thanks and appreciation of the show on Podbean. “Hi, my name is Stephen Hunt from New York. I love your podcast. Can’t get enough! My grandfather served in World War II and was shot twice. He passed away when I was 16 and I never asked him about his war and I regret it very much.
And on Podbean, thanks to the anonymous @no-one (great username no one!) for your appreciation of “the greatest generation who have given us the freedoms we enjoy today”.
They are joined by PhilH Canman MarkR6Racing rats and growingearth amongst others.
Dustdawg from the United States on Apple
I recently lost my grandpa. He was a navy pilot from ‘43-‘46. I miss him dearly and listening to this makes me feel close to him. Thank you
Tim Seim USA email
I’d like to start by thanking you for this podcast.
My name is Tim Seim from South Dakota, US and I am 38 years old. I have been fascinated by WW2 for many years. I have learned a lot about the US version of the war, but very little about the British version. Listening to your podcast has opened my eyes to a whole other war. I catch myself at times having stopped working and just listening. What amazing stories these people have.
About 6 weeks back, I lost my best friend and hero, my grandpa, Gordon. He was 94 years young. I miss him dearly. He was a US navy pilot from 1943-1946. During flight school, my grandpa came down with scarlet fever. He was sent to a military hospital and therefore missed training time. Due to this loss in time, he was sent back to the next unit of soldiers. The final phase of training was learning how to take off and land on carriers. Two weeks before the final phase, his unit was called off. His original unit completed the training and was sent to war. He told me many times that getting scarlet fever saved his life. He was then sent to San Diego. There he played baseball. Much of his unit was sent to the pacific, but he was kept back. See, my grandpa was a really good ball player. So good, that the navy kept him there to play for their team. How great is that! In 1946 he returned home. In 1950 he married his sweetheart, my grandma. They were married for 70 years this past June. She is still alive and well, but missing her love.
My brother lives in Aalst, Belgium with his wife and 4 daughters. If you remember, Wilf talked about liberating Aalst in episode 23. My sister in law, Laura, is Belgian. 6 years ago, they moved there. Laura’s grandma turned 99 years old last week. I asked Laura if she had ever talked with her grandma about life during the war. Her reply was, “yes, we have talked about it several times”. Inspired by episode 32, I asked if she would consider talking to her grandma again about life during the war, but record it this time. Without hesitation, she said “yes, but it will be in French though”. Laura said she would translate as they converse. I’d be happy to share a copy of the recording when I get it. She asked what questions she should ask, but I don’t really know. I am hoping you would share some specific questions she should ask. I would greatly appreciate it.
I sincerely want to thank you for doing this podcast. Each episode is entertaining and educational. I feel as though your dad’s war is being forgotten in the US. I am ashamed to admit that. Listening to your podcast keeps it alive in my small world. It also helps me feel close to my grandpa. I only wish I had discovered it while he was alive. I think he would have loved it.
Thank you and I keep up the good work. God Bless
I’d just like to share with you a new drama that I’ve just heard about and am looking forward to.
The Singapore Grip is expected to be broadcast on ITV on Sundays from September.
Big drama launch coming in the form of The Singapore Grip, an adaptation of JG Farrell’s satirical novel of the same name.
Set in World War II, the drama tells the story of a British family living in 1940s Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion, who find their trading company under threat.
Keep an eye open for it on UK ITV around Sept 2020 or beyond
Shout out for James Holland’s new book
Sicily '43: The First Assault on Fortress Europe Hardcover – 3 Sept
Codenamed Operation HUSKY, the Allied assault on Sicily on 10 July 1943 remains the largest amphibious invasion ever mounted in world history, landing more men in a single day than at any other time. That day, over 160,000 British, American and Canadian troops were dropped from the sky or came ashore, more than on D-Day just under a year later. It was also preceded by an air campaign that marked a new direction and dominance of the skies by Allies.
The subsequent thirty-eight-day Battle for Sicily was one of the most dramatic of the entire Second World War, involving daring raids by special forces, deals with the Mafia, attacks across mosquito-infested plains and perilous assaults up almost sheer faces of rock and scree.
It was a brutal campaign - the violence was extreme, the heat unbearable, the stench of rotting corpses intense and all-pervasive, the problems of malaria, dysentery and other diseases a constant plague. And all while trying to fight a way across an island of limited infrastructure and unforgiving landscape, and against a German foe who would not give up.
It also signalled the beginning of the end of the War in the West. From here on, Italy ceased to participate in the war, the noose began to close around the neck of Nazi Germany, and the coalition between the United States and Britain came of age. Most crucially, it would be a critical learning exercise before Operation OVERLORD, the Allied invasion of Normandy, in June 1944.
Based on his own battlefield studies in Sicily and on much new research over the past thirty years, James Holland’s SICILY ’43 offers a vital new perspective on a major turning point in World War II. It is a timely, powerful and dramatic account by a master military historian and will fill a major gap in the narrative history of the Second World War.
Plus: It’s got my Dad in it! Yes, it’s true. I know from listening to James on the We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast that he’s made several references in his book to Dad’s story to help illustrate his narrative, so it’s a book firmly placed on my birthday list which was – oooh two days ago. So I’m reading the book now and loving it, much as I enjoyed James previous book The Rise of Germany 1939-41 which also includes several references from Dad’s book. How good is that?!
A few reflections now on Omaha, Gallipoli and Achtung Spitfeuers! And by eck … Calavados
Jamie Beale wrote in:
I just wanted to contact you to thank you for the shout out and birthday wish during episode 55.That made my day and during this awful lockdown, the book was a great gift from my daughter laura to brighten things up while we are all isolated from loved ones.
I kind of thought I may get a mention because my wife was so pleased that she asked me about 20 times to check if your latest podcast was available and had I listened to it yet, anyway a great treat and lovely to be mentioned.
Anyway I'll take the opportunity to say how much I enjoy the podcast and how impressed I am at the passion and respect for the subject and people you show. When you read out the feedback from other people I always think how much I agree with their positive and often emotional sentiments about the podcast.
The veterans are amazing to listen to and a great source of pride for me as a proud Englishman, as I get older and the wartime generation are passing it just makes the work you're doing even more valuable to us all.
Ironically your Omaha special was a great listen but also had a pertinent element as many of the places mentioned I have visited as a child and adult. I have great childhood memories of Bude and the farm where we holidayed at Holsworthy nearby in the 1970s. To think US rangers trained and got to know the locals and sampled such things as fish and chips and British ale in the area all those years ago is just amazing.
I live in the South West and regularly visit Weymouth and only recently realised the historical significance as a step off point for so many allied soldiers, there are many photos and film of Weymouth crammed with troops and landing craft online and in books.
My daughter Laura who contacted you to get your dad's book commented that you took an interest in my family's war history and while I cannot offer anything like the amazing legacy your father left we do have our own source of family pride as one Grandfather Daniel Beale was in a reserved occupation and served as a auxiliary firefighter in Birmingham during the war. He passed away in 1999 after a long fight with prostate cancer.
Sadly like so many other people I was too young and wrapped up in youth to think to ask him of his experiences during that time. It was mentioned that he was present during Coventry bombings as it was so severe that many outlying stations were called upon to help.
My other grandfather Albert Stevens was turned down for military service due to a heart condition and ironically he lived a very healthy life upto the grand age of 96, sadly passing away last year, he was an electrician at the castle Bromwich spitfire factory in Birmingham where my family comes from, we have a couple of photos from that time and one picture he is in shows the flight line crew that he was a part of with the test pilots including the famous chief test pilot Alex Henshaw( HOW GOOD IS That!!!!!). I will attach the picture which we are all very proud of. Listener I’ve put that photo in the shownotes and I’ll repeat what Jamie said – it’s a photo of Albert Stevens with flight line crew and test pilots incl famous chief test pilot Alex Henshaw - at castle Bromwich spitfire factory – Wow, what a treasure!
The only notable story I can think of from his time at the factory was as he said ' after the fuel tank had been removed from a spitfire to gain access to change an electrical component a spark caused a fire in the aircraft.' He didn't remember the fate of the aircraft but he did say that it was a very serious incident during wartime and luckily the investigation into the fire found that the fitter who had removed the fuel tank had not vented the area which was part of his procedure so subsequently Albert was exonerated of any blame but for a 19 year old electrician it was not a nice experience.
He always talked with fond memories of his time at Castle Bromwich and said the camerardery and sense of purpose was amazing.
One final note, at a family funeral last year I became reacquainted with my cousin and he was telling me that our great grandfather Arthur John Newman who served in The great War fought at Gallopoli was wounded in action and sadly contracted gangrene and after several operations ended up with his leg amputated above the knee so my childhood memory (aged about 5) is being scared to death at the sight of his prosthetic leg propped up it the corner of their front room when not in use.
One thought I was left with is the injuries were 60 or so years old, so the young men carried these wounds both physical and emotional for so long. So upon learning this I had to re-visit episode 16 and 17 and have a new viewpoint on those awful times.
One more picture I've included is another of relative David Peyton who was killed early in WW1. He was a cavalryman but was killed in 1915 whilst driving an army truck.
One more final note, ............a complaint, some time ago you commented pleasure of sampling Normandy calvados while in France and how our soldiers drank this traditional drink as they liberated the region. Well I think the Germans must have powered doodlebugs with this stuff, its bloody rocket fuel!!!!! , I used to have eyebrows before last Christmas when I requested a bottle as a stocking filler. I thought what a lovely homage to our fighting forebears to raise a toast to them with such an iconic drink, anyway it takes a man to drink that stuff, they certainly were a strong breed cos that stuff knocks me sideways! But I will persevere and conquer the bottle albeit very slowly.
Finally please keep up the good work, I think a great many people like myself look forward to your podcasts.
Thanks and best wishes
Jamie thanks so much for the effort you put in to writing all that. I’ve left it pretty much as you wrote it just to dispell your totally unnecessary doubts about expressing yourself because it came out fine and There was so much in it that must have struck a chord with other listeners that I thought I’d leave it pretty complete – especially as you said such nice things about the show.
I’ll just pick up on one or two things – Calvados – I’m sure your reference to it was sparked by Morris Prince’s Omaha experience! From my own point of view, I tried Calavados once in Bayeux on a visit to France – they do a trio special with three samples of different vintages ranging from young and not too strong through to old and very strong, if you ever try it make sure you start off in order – ideally the younger one first, giving you the best chance of finishing all three before the oldest knocks your block off – a very pleasant way to try it!
I am working through your podcast during my daily walks. It is excellent. My father was in the U.S. Army during World War II, and his "'war" was the Battle of the Bulge.
I wonder if you recall the British television series, "Danger! UXB" from 1979. I ask, because I watched that series some time ago, and listening to episode 13 of your podcast is a bit like reading the screenplay from that series. The series includes the story of the note in the bomb fuse area from the Polish person who was working as a slave laborer in the munitions factory, mention of a family taking the main character into their home, disarming the bomb in the factory and the incident wherein several lads went home on unauthorized leave to a country town like Coventry after a bombing raid on that area. Interesting parallels there, and I wondered if the producers had somehow had access to the memoirs that included Moss and his experiences in them.
RK Rogers, Mission Viejo, California, U.S.A.
Firstly I’m sorry for taking so long to get this in the podcast but it just illustrates how much ground I’m having to cover here. I passed your query, though I am pretty sure I did at least rely to your email.
I passed your query to Mike Moss, son of Brian Moss who wrote that excellent memoir. And this is his reply in full:
All is well with us here, too, although my wife is going a little 'shack wacky' with the enforced isolation (she does love to shop!).
I don't remember Dad making any particular comment about the UXB series that would suggest he was consulted or that he contributed directly. It's certainly possible. He returned to a career in civil engineering, where some if not many of the Bomb Disposal teams had originated just after the London blitz started. I know that during the normal course of events at work over the next thirty years he reestablished contact with several others he had known from BD or from the Royal Engineers.
He was definitely in contact by mail with his commanding officer in BD, although I'm not sure exactly when they first got in touch. It's possible they shared notes and portions of Dad's BD memoirs could have gone to the writers that way. Most of his later platoon mates (in 233 Field Coy) probably thought he had died of his injuries in Nijmegen. (Just like he believed his friend Halliday had died on Gold beach, yet I could never find evidence of a war grave).
Before a business meeting decades after D-Day, he recognized the name of the visitor as the green junior officer who had been appointed at a late date to lead them onto Gold beach, and in Dad's view was not up to the task.
Dad was demoralized to think that the Army could have let them down in such a way by appointing someone so inexperienced or unfit. He made some sort of excuse and avoided the meeting.
Unfortunately, my Mum also passed away since Dad's death so I can't ask her about UXB, either. Luckily, I have the DVD box set of the series and it's probably been ten years since I last watched it, so I'll plan to screen it again soon.
I'm finally ready to get back into working on the illustrations for Dad's diary project. The movers broke my expensive graphic monitor but after months of trying unsuccessfully to find parts to repair it, their insurance has since replaced it with a new 24” 4K workstation. Yay!
Mike many thanks for filling us in on the background and thanks to RK from California for asking the question. Great news that you’ve picked the project on your Dad’s book up and I for one will look forward to it’s publication. If you get there with it - listener, you will hear about it on the FTP first!
If you want to remind yourself of just one of the things which Sergeant Brian Moss got up to in the second world war nip to episode 13, Danger UXB, taken from Brian’s unpublished memoir – I don’t think it has a title yet – if I was giving it one it’d be called From Blitz to Nijmegen ooof my word. I’m going to have to have another cheeky read of it before the summer’s out.
Paul Clacher has written in about his Great Grandad and his the first and second world wars!
Hi Paul , I've recently started to binge listen to your amazing and priceless podcast and I've learn so much that I never knew about regards to these hard times they experienced.
I’m researching my Great granddad's war history after I've inherited a 60+ year photo album of his life and a load of letters.
and the more I look into them the more questions I have.
I've also took your advise via the podcast to start a post on WW2 talk forum to which a few members have been really kind and helpful.
I'm slowly piecing his life together and very proud of the life he lived .
His Name was Battery sergeant Major Harry Clacher
He joined the 1st Staffordshire artillery volunteers (61 brigade) In 1914 and was successful in many famous battles on the Western front. Left the forces in 1921
At some point before 1930 he was in Woolwich with the royal Artillery where he travelled all over India with his family (his wife and 4 children)
In 1940 he was captured as part of the BEF and he was last seen at Dunkirk early may according to newspapers.
From what I can find out from there he was sent to Stalag 20a
During this time his 3 sons were sent to war, all been in the forces before hand . My grandad Colin served on the Destroyer HMS Beagle from the start of ww2 to the liberation of Jersey.
He died around around 1988 (aged 91)
Im lucky enough to have fond memories of his humor and stories I just wish I was a little older at the time to listen a little more. He had no finger nails and he used to tell us they were pulled out as a POW but I'm not so sure this was his humour or truth.
The more i research the more questions I have. If you could give him a plug in case anyone knows or heard anything of him it would be massively appreciated.
Also these are just a few of the medals( not in any order) I can confirm he gained .. there is more I'm trying to identify.
Meitourios war Medal
France and Germany star
British war medal
Distinguished conduct medal
Medal for good conduct and service ( personally presented by general ironside )
Meritorious service medal
These are just a handful he earned. They are still in the family due to come to my son in hopefully not the near future.
Please please keep up the good work sharing such great history.
Kind regards Paul Clacher
Well, Paul thanks for sharing all that. Yet another soldier who fought in two world wars – and we sometimes think we’re hard done by with Covid! I’m particularly interested in POW’s and Dunkirk because some of Dad’s comrades and officers were taken prisoner then and I’d love to know what happened to them. I’m putting Paul’s WW2Talk forum link in the show notes. It’s a long shot but if Battery sergeant Major Harry Clacher’s story and the 1st Staffordshire artillery volunteers does ring any bells with anyone, get in touch. And I’m posting a few pics of Harry in the show notes.
Shout Out now for Jerry Marketos who’s also just donated a truck full of coffees to the show via Paypal – the links are from the home page if you want to help out aswell – and as outlined in a previous episode that money will go to the Salvation Army.
But not only the donation, Jerry bought one of Dad’s books too and as a result got the bonus of a Fighting Through Bookmark and some souvenir photos, together with a signature and a smile.
Jerry is 55 lives in a small village Weedsport in central New York state, just West of Syracuse.
He says !I'm an electrical engineer by trade, and have long had interest in WW2. Stemming from an interest in the Chance Vought F4-U "Corsair" fighter plane, I chanced to study some WW2 Pacific Theatre history (which is largely where the Corsair fought).
Will spare you the whole story for now, but I was blessed to become acquainted with some WW2 veteran Corsair pilots and had a book published in 2003 titled "On Boyington's Wing". I don't receive royalties and only point in bringing this up is that I share a similar interest, and know the amount of work and reward that comes from such an effort. I have many cherished memories of the Black Sheep - can share some in the future.
Really just wanted to touch base with a friendly "hello" and sincere thanks for the great work you do with the podcast.
Jerry many thanks for all that. Much appreciated.
Bob Feher has written about his father’s war in the Balkans.
Hello Paul, I thought I'd send a note about my father Corporal Otto N Feher who volunteered for the Office of Strategic Services OSS in 1944. He spoke Hungarian and was an ideal candidate. He went through training at the Congressional County Club in Washington. He spoke of blowing up bridges and ammo dumps which sounds amazing but I am sure was very traumatic and dangerous.
What brings me to send this note is that dad received his first set of wings from jumps with the British but unfortunately I do not know with what regiment. He also fought with the British in Vis, Brac, and Solta.
The OSS received the Congressional Medal of Honor a couple of years ago and myself, my brother and his son received the medal on my dads behalf.
All the best,
And Bob sent me to a link with an article which reads as follows:
The Balkan War
At first glance, the faded black-and-white snapshots in Otto Feher's photo album may look like pictures of smiling vacationers posed in groups at the Yugoslavian seaside and mountains.
Except the "tourists" and locals wore uniforms.
And when Feher pointed to a teen standing in one group, he matter-of-factly noted, "That young fellow was one deadly killer."
Feher, 84, of Bay Village, spent seven months in Yugoslavia in 1944 with the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA, during World War II.
Some 13,000 men and women, military and civilians, were employed in America's global cloak-and-dagger operation, including such future luminaries as chef Julia Child, actor Sterling Hayden and author Arthur Schlesinger Jr., according to the OSS Society, a national group of former service members.
Some were spies, and others worked in research or as intelligence analysts. Feher was a member of an OSS "operational group," the Special Forces of that time. As he described it, "We weren't into the really hard-core spy stuff, just the combat end of it." In Yugoslavia, Feher and other OSS members found a battleground of atrocity and horror where few, if any, rules of war were followed as rival groups of resistance fighters fought each other as well as the occupying German army.
"They told us from the start there's no prisoners. You get caught, you're dead," Feher said.
On some missions, the OSS soldiers avoided killing German soldiers so local civilians wouldn't be executed in retaliation, he added.
In the months before the Allied invasion of France, on D-Day, part of their duties involved creating deceptions designed to make the Germans think that Yugoslavia was the planned invasion site.
"When we went out on reconnaissance patrols, we'd leave word, subtly, that the Americans were here," Feher recalled. "So I'd do things like throw down an empty Lucky Strike pack where I knew they'd find it."
Sometimes resistance fighters brought them downed American fliers, including a Tuskegee Airman, the first black pilot Feher had ever met, who had eluded capture for several weeks.
Other times they would leave their base on an island off the coast of Yugoslavia and join British commandos and Yugoslavian partisans on raids of German installations and shipping. "Just to aggravate the hell out of them," as Feher said.
The life of clandestine raids and sudden death in the dark was one scarcely imagined by this son of Hungarian immigrants who grew up in Cleveland speaking both English and his parents' native tongue -- a talent that caught the attention of OSS recruiters after Feher was drafted into the Army.
But the duty sounded intriguing, so Feher signed on and was soon being schooled in the art of unconventional warfare.
"The OSS had taken over the Congressional country club, so we blew up the fairways and all that happy stuff," "We shadowed Marine patrols during their training. They said if you ever got caught, get ready to get your ass kicked by the Marines."
Feher quickly discovered the cost of failure in real war when he was selected to join the second of two OSS teams ordered to parachute into Hungary and rendezvous with the resistance. That mission was scrubbed after the first team was immediately captured and killed.
Another Clevelander, Joe Horvath, was in a 21-member OSS team that was captured in Yugoslavia, sent to a concentration camp and executed.
Feher said nearly a quarter of his 109-member contingent were casualties during the war.
But the Yugoslavian people fared much worse. Feher remembered the poignant sight of nuns leading a long, long line of children who had been orphaned by the war.
He remembered the woman partisan with half her chest shot away, carried from the battle while singing a patriotic song. "The blood is just pouring off of her, and she's singing," Feher mused, shaking his head. "That's the kind of stuff that stays with you."
His regard for the civilian soldiers of Yugoslavia also endures. "I have nothing but the highest respect for the people who fought alongside us," he said. "They were unbelievable. You couldn't ask for better friends."
Some fought for their homeland, others for revenge for lost loved ones. "Some of them were just boys, for God's sake, but half their mothers and fathers were dead," "Retribution? Sure. They made no bones about it."
He misses the people, but not the place, which is why he never returned to Yugoslavia after the war. "I had enough of it," Feher said. "I don't need to see the cave I hid in, or the mountain we had to take and couldn't. I don't want to see that anymore.
"Some things you want to forget, and you forget," "Other things just don't ever soften."
Brian thanks so much for sending that article in. Just great stuff and shining a light on an aspect of the war that I’m sure many people simply aren’t aware of. And the Lucky Strike fag packet to mislead the Germans as to where the invasion was going to happen? General Patton and the fictional First US Army Group? Eat yer heart out!
PS from Bob
One of dads friends was a man named Boris Spiroff who wrote a book titled Behind Enemy Lines- How the OSS helped defeat Germany in World War II. He did a very good job describing what it was like in the Balkans. http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.02029/
Discovered the podcast by searching ‘Battle of the Bulge’. I have since been listening to the Omaha series and I’m hooked.
N0bbyUK - Nobby thanks for that. Funny but I wasn’t sure about pushing right through with Omaha at one point because for some inexplicable reason I worried people might get bored with too much of it. But from the feedback I received it was absolutely right to take it through to the end.
Wow, it blew me away. Great interviews, accounts and stories. Thanks for committing these untold accounts to posterity! Gumcutter )where do you get these user names from guys?!)
Follow ups from previous episode
You’re listening to the Fighting Through Podcast, Episode xx Ray Fitchett – Great Unpublished History –
WW2 and WWII
Thank you so very much for your support and for making the time to listen to me.
And please - write, like, rate, review or share the show - howsoever it pleases you. Above all – enjoy. Please do hear me next time.
You’ve been listening to the Fighting Through Podcast,
Mark Wright Santa Fe in the state of New Mexico.
Many thanks to Mark Wright-Johnson for your contribution to the show Mark – much appreciated.
Hi Paul, greatly enjoy your podcast and would like to give you very short story. Back in the mid-eighties I met an elderly gentleman on a train in west Germany. He spoke excellent English because as a POW he was sent to the U S to be used as farm labor. He liked the countryside and the American people. He got into a fight with another prisoner and the solution for the Americans to this “problem” prisoner was to send him off to another location. He enjoyed the change of scenery, so after being in this location for two or three months, he got into another fight which resulted him him being transferred yet again.
Well, our friend travelled the US quite extensively as a rather unusual tourist.
Keep up the great work!
I dream of a world where a chicken can cross the road without having its motives questioned.
I discovered recently your podcast and listen to it every night, while on my bicycle, delivering newspapers to my German customers.
I'm French and live in Germany since January 2020.
I used to work, in the early 2000's as a tourist guide for the landing museum in Arromanche...
I then had the pleasure to meet many veterans.
I especially remember two of them.
They came to me, after having visited the museum and listened to my speech, which I used to deliver in English and German. One of them told me they were there on the 6th of June 1944, he, veteran of the Green Howards and his friend Vern, who remained very quiet...
He didn't tell much about the assault... only that they first met on the occasion... and remained friends ever since.
Then Vern came to me and told me what a pleasure it had been to meet his old friend on that day. And he showed me a photograph of them... on the left, the proud and tired Green Howard, and on the right, the Hauptmann Werner Hinrichs of the 352. German I.D. ... P.O.W. and really pleased "to have been freed from that hell"...
I will never forget the tears in their eyes, as they shook my hand...
I was also very moved...
I've lived 15 years in the Normandy and never could bath on any of the beaches there. Even if they fought for our freedom to do so, among many other things, I always considered those places as war graves for all the men who were missed in action on that day....
I will listen to your podcast in few hours delighted by the way you
tell all this great unpublished history...
I want to round up now by thanking you from the bottom of my heart if you’re liking, writing sharing …
And thanks to Damien Lewis and Ann Pryor at publishers Kensington Books for the permission to read from his new book …
At his hideout Lees was oblivious to all but his and Gordon’s
dire fate. Right now, their very survival hung by the slenderest of
threads. Thankfully, in Spandau-toting [resistance fighter leader] Antonio they had an ally
beyond compare. It was dawn when a horse-drawn cart turned up
at the old woman’s farmstead, piled high with manure. Nothing
so remarkable about that. But this cart contained a false bottom –
a compartment constructed beneath the thick and oozing load.
Lees and Gordon were helped aboard, dark liquid seeping
from the dung above and soaking into their bandages and hair.
Despite the extreme discomfort – not to mention the deleterious
effect a good dousing in manure-juice might have on their
wounds – the carriage proved a stroke of genius. For twelve
agonising kilometres they jolted along tracks thick with enemy
forces, but no one seemed particularly keen to search the cart and
its pungent cargo too thoroughly.
In this way they were brought to a safe house on the outskirts
of Reggio Emilia – well out of the dragnet cast by an enraged
enemy. By now Lees’ leg appeared to be paralysed, and he was so
weak from his injuries that he could barely move. But at the safe
house Antonio had worked miracles. Resistance fighters armed
with machine guns stood watch in neighbouring buildings,
forming a cordon around their place of hiding. There the nurses
were installed on permanent duty, and a motor car made ready
in the courtyard, in case they had to make a rapid getaway.
Fresh dressings, medicines and morphine had been readied, all
stolen from a local hospital. Their host, a short and sturdy farmer
very much in Antonio’s mould, seemed utterly unperturbed at
their presence and the untold dangers it brought. He busied
himself preparing fine meals, washed down with choice bottles of
wine. Gordon’s father, who lived locally, even paid a visit, bearing
gifts of soap, toothbrushes and shaving gear.
A second doctor came to inspect the wounded men. Gordon’s
leg was troubling him, and it turned out not to have been set
properly. When that doctor, a Dr Chiesi, had finished dealing
with it, he turned his attentions to Lees. He proved to be a very
different kettle of fish to his predecessor: he cared passionately
for the cause of the resistance and showed little fear of the enemy.
By the time he had finished inspecting Lees’ wounds, Dr
expression was grim. ‘The nerve in your leg is severed,’
he announced, gravely. ‘If it is not repaired within ten days it will
‘What exactly does that mean?’ Lees pressed.
‘That unless you have an operation, you may never again be
able to work that leg properly. You might walk about in irons, but
it would never again be normal.’
Lees blanched. ‘Well, I can’t get to a hospital, as you know. Can
you operate on me here?’
The doctor gestured at their surroundings. ‘It would be impossible.
There is no proper light, no equipment, and you would
need to lie absolutely still. No, I could not do it. Here, it is impossible,
I am afraid.’
Once the doctor was gone, Lees reflected upon his predicament:
ten days to save his leg. Even if he were able to walk, it was
impossible. Two days to the Secchia valley, maybe more; from
there, a four-day trek to cross the Gothic Line and from there
the march to Florence. Paralysed and unable even to stand, it was
beyond hopeless. Much that Lees might rack his brains, he could
think of no alternatives.
I'm Paul Cheall saying
Bye bye now!
Link to Amazon hardback and Kindle etc