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In Conversation With A Grenadier Guard

Welcome to the Bredon Branch of The Royal British Legion

The following article appeared in the February 2011 edition of Bredon Parish Magazine:

 

RON HILL OF BREDON ROYAL BRITISH LEGION In Conversation with Mike Brumage

Having left school at 14, Ron was working in a Derbyshire cotton mill when war broke out in 1939.  In the New Year of 1940 he made for the nearest recruiting office to join up.

I wanted to join the RAF as an air gunner but they said to come back in 6 months time.  So, I next tried the Army Service Corps, saying that I was a butcher.  Well, I'd once delivered meat for our local butcher on my bike. Then I heard that the Grenadier Guards had lowered their height requirement to 5' 10", my height I thought, but when I arrived at the Guards depot they said I was only 5' 9¾".  I must have looked crestfallen because the officer then asked how old I was.  "Nineteen."  "You'll grow," he said, and I was in!  When I was being kitted out, the Quartermaster asked, "And what about your poor old mother?" and promptly made me allocate 7 shillings a week to my Mum - half my pay at the time!  Bless her, she put the money in a savings account and gave it all back to me at the end of the War.

When I first joined my battalion after training, we helped guard the Royal Family at Windsor.  We'd go up on the battlements during air raids and do river patrols on the Thames.  It was a lovely summer in 1940.  We also helped move art treasures from the Castle down into the cellars.  Afterwards, the King gave each of us a packet of 20 Payers cigarettes and a pint of beer.  Years later, I told the Queen this when I was introduced to her at a Garden Party.  She was pleased to hear that her father had been so generous.

In 1942 Ron's battalion (the 5th) landed in Tunisia, where he saw action.

We were told to spread out and fix bayonets.  We then advanced towards the Germans behind our own artillery barrage.  I was lying down taking cover when I felt a jolt in my shoulder.  I had been hit by shrapnel, maybe from our own guns.  When the dust had settled and I was making my way towards the rear with a bloodied right arm and shoulder, I met our Colonel, who asked me where I was going.  "To the field dressing station, Sir", I replied.  "Well, get back as soon as you can," he fussed.  I never did because I subsequently passed out from loss of blood.  The next thing I remember is waking up in a tented field hospital on Easter Sunday morning.

The 5th Battalion Grenadier Guards landed in Italy at Anzio in January 1944, as part of a combined operation with the Americans, intended to outflank the Axis forces and capture Rome.  Ron, who had recovered from his wound, was there.

We had been apprehensive beforehand but we stepped ashore dry shod, completely unopposed.  If we'd pushed on immediately, we'd probably have taken Rome there and then but our American general delayed which allowed the Germans to bring up reinforcements.  Because the field telephone wasn't working, my platoon did not fall back and we were surrounded and captured.  Only eight of us were left out of an original 30.

The subsequent train journey to Munich was a nightmare.  For 3 days and nights we were confined in cattle trucks, about 40 men to each truck with just one tub in the middle.  On arrival, we were deloused in showers; I hadn't heard about the Jews in concentration camps at that time.  We eventually ended up in a prison camp near Sagan on the German/Polish border, from where we could see Stalag Luft III (the Great Escape camp).  Prison camp life was not too bad for me.  The Red Cross parcels were a godsend and, as I was a Sergeant by this time, I didn't have to work.

Ron was a POW for 14 months.  In January 1945, the prisoners were marched westwards some 500 miles, away from the Russian advance into Germany. Covering 12-15 miles a day, and sometimes sleeping outside in truly bitter weather, hunger was constantly at the door.  Ron lost 3 stone during the march.

One morning, we woke to find that our German guards had vanished during the night and Americans were at the gates.  They smashed their way through the wire with tanks and in no time at all had a coffee and doughnut stand set up!  I was free but the war was not yet over.

(In March, I plan to hold a Reminisce Evening at my house - drop of wine maybe and a chance to ask Ron questions about his remarkable story above.  You haven't heard the half of it yet.  For example, claiming that he was a butcher had later repercussions!  Details to follow in next month's magazine.  Mike Brumage, Bredon RBL Secretary/Treasurer 01684 773343)

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