Thank you so much for sharing Harry's extraordinary and moving story. It's such a shame I didn't find Harry's story sooner when my dad was alive because he would have loved to read it. We always wondered whether the men who survived the battle had been executed by the SS, I was so glad to read that Harry had been taken prisoner and survived the war.
Having lied about his age my dad Albert Tipping joined the TA in 1939 and was called up later that year. He joined the 53 (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regt. He served under Major Cartland, whom he said was very kind to him, and he remembered training on his family's estate. He also remembers all the men he served with in the 53rd Anti-Tank Regt. being very kind to him as he was so young at the time. He was deemed to be too young to be part of the BEF and he never went to France in 1940. None of the men in my dad's platoon who were part of the BEF came back - my dad was absolutely devasted by their loss. My dad's platoon was subsequently disbanded after Dunkirk, and he was transferred to the 15th Medium Regt. RA. He continued to serve throughout the war in the RA as a wireless operator, was mentioned in Dispatches in 1944, and was finally demobbed in 1946. He died of old age in 2017 at the age of 95.
I did actually manage to get my dad's obituary published in the Guardian, Albert Tipping obituary | Second world war | The Guardian:
My father, Albert Tipping, who has died aged 95, was a signaller in the Royal Artillery during the second world war, and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the invasion of the Walcheren Islands in the Netherlands in 1944, having volunteered to fight alongside 47 RM Commando on the Scheldt Estuary, directing artillery fire on to the German army.
Albert, along with Captain DG Bishop and a fellow signaller, Joe Hurrell, set off at 1am on 1 November, and for two days, amid the heat of the battle and under fire, transmitted coordinates back to the 15th Medium Regiment on the other side of the estuary. The men finally made their way back to the body-strewn beach at Westkapelle, from which they swam to a navy craft for extraction. Finding that Joe could not swim, Albert and Captain Bishop somehow managed, in full kit and in icy cold waters, to get themselves and Joe to the boat. The subsequent journey to Ostend was squally and they were all seasick.
Albert was born in Birmingham: his father, also Albert, did various jobs, including bedstead fitting and brass casting, and his mother, Mary Ann (nee Clarke) was a housewife. He attended Hope Street school then joined the Territorial Army under-age in 1939, a working-class boy from the back-to-backs seeking only a camping trip to the seaside. But when war broke out, his knowledge of Morse code, a by-product of his boyhood enthusiasm for building crystal radio sets, soon led to his being conscripted as a wireless operator.
Albert served on Drakes Island and Breakwater Fort in Plymouth Sound, helping defend Plymouth dockyard until D-day, and spent the final year of his army career in Schnackenberg on the River Elbe, helping to rebuild a stricken Germany. During that time, he learnt to speak German and developed a lifelong love for Goethe's poems. His "camping trip" adventure finally ended when he was demobbed in 1946.
After his war experience, Albert was active in the Spiritualist church and the Psychic Research Society, constructing electrical gadgets to support ghost-hunting trips. During this time, a comical séance led to his first meeting with a young Wren, Ivy, whom he married in 1948.
Albert could repair almost anything mechanical or electrical and had many jobs during his career as a self-taught engineer, finally retiring after selling his tool hire business in Okehampton, Devon. He was a lifelong socialist, Labour party member and trade unionist; he was saddened by what he saw as the increasing erosion of hard-won workers' rights.
Albert is survived by Ivy, their two children - my brother Peter and me - three grandchildren and a great-grandson.
Albert joined the 53rd Anti-Tank Regt. with his best friend, Les Jackson, who likewise was too young to join the BEF. After Dunkirk, my dad and Les were re-deployed to different regiments. Les was more wayward than my dad and he quickly got fed up with army training in the UK. He deserted and took on the identity of an Irish builder called John Kenneally (who had been working in the UK but subsequently went back to Ireland). Eventually, the authorities caught up with Les and gave him the option of prison or joining up again. Les chose to join the Irish Guards as John Kenneally, and he subsequently won a VC. Thereafter, he kept the name of John Keneally. My dad lost touch with him after the war but got back in touch with Les again in 1991, when he saw publicity for his autobiography (The Honour and the Shame: Amazon.co.uk: Kenneally Vc, John: 9780755316120: Books). My dad is mentioned in the first chapter of the book about Les' childhood. They remained good friends until Les (as my dad always called him) died in 2000. My dad was never surprised that Les won a VC because he was always a daredevil, and he was always getting my dad into scrapes and into trouble when they were boys, and indeed when they joined the TA and the RA together. John Kenneally - Wikipedia
Les/John says in his autobiography that when they first joined the TA, they were issued with World War I type uniforms: tunic, riding breeches with the long puttees, no spurs (much to their disappointment), the flat service cap and the usual denim fatigue dress and soft cap, also the heavy webbing equipment and fifty-six pound packs. Strangely, they were also issued with the artilleryman's leather bandoliers, for which they never found any use. Battle dress was to come later. They went gaily off to training in the middle of August 1939. The camp was about ten miles from Barmouth in North Wales, and was staffed by regular army instructors, who were very different from the more amateurish TA officers and NCOs. It was all good fun - discipline was not hard - and Les and my dad (who Les called Tipp) enjoyed the 'holiday'.
It was a glorious summer; the tents were dry, the food was good, and they had trips to Barmouth. Life was good. Then in late August 1939 the British Army was mobilised and on the 3rd September war was declared. Les and my dad became regular soldiers from that date onwards. Chaos reined at the camp; there was much toing and froing, with despatch riders tearing up and down, and a general air of urgency prevailed. Discipline tightened up dramatically. What had started out as a lark became deadly serious. Les and my dad finished their basic training in December and received fourteen days leave over Christmas. They spent their last week in Barmouth organising their new kit - they had been issued the new type of battle dress.
Les and my dad went to the Wantage in January 1940, and at the depot joined a Twenty-Five Pounder Field Battery. Les went into gun crew and my dad went into the signals section. They were only there a week when the news came through that their unit was to join the BEF in France in early February. Being young men, they were thrilled and excited at the prospect. The unit immediately went into fourteen days intensive training; the guns were zeroed in, they learnt the art of camouflage, and how to get in and out of action at speed. The unit began to knit together and developed a sense of comradeship. Fourteen days before the Battery was due to leave for France, it was announced that all men under the age of twenty-one were not going. The order affected about 25 men in the battery, who were replaced by older men from the training reserve in Wales. They were all bitterly disappointed. When the time came for the Battery to leave for France, the younger men helped them load up and gave them a cheer as they went off to war.
Les says that those left behind after Dunkirk were divided into two groups: half joined the HAC (Honourable Artillery Company) based near London, the other half to join a Shore Battery based on Drakes Island near Plymouth. Les went to the HAC and my dad joined the Drake's Island unit. He says that they both asked to be put in the same group, but the request was refused. He describes how hard it was for he and my dad to go their separate ways and how much like brothers they were - a sentiment reiterated to me years later by my dad. It was certainly a low point in their army careers for them both.
Thanks to my grandmother, my dad spent most of the war on Drake's Island and only saw active service as part of the D-Day campaign. Unbeknown to my dad at the time, my grandmother sent a series of furious letters to the War Office complaining about them letting my dad join up underage. This was partly motivated by her losing her brother during WWI. The War Office eventually came to an agreement with my grandmother, that my dad didn't learn about until after the war, that in recompense, they would not send my dad abroad on active service until he was at least 21 years old. They stuck to their agreement. My dad applied for numerous postings abroad whilst he was stationed on Drake's Island. He even volunteered to be a rear gunner in the RAF. He was turned down for every single one and none of his officers ever explained why. When D-Day happened in 1944, my dad was 21 and he finally got to see active service.
I still really miss my dad - he was quite a character - and like many men from his generation, he had an extraordinary life. I always enjoyed hearing his war stories when I was growing up - he was quite a raconteur. He didn't talk much about the awful stuff that happened - but he did have lots of funny anecdotes to tell - war can also be quite absurd at times. I had the great privilege of going on some war trips organised by the War Research Society in Birmingham in the 1990s with my dad, where I met other WWII veterans. We did visit the barn at Wormhoudt on one trip, and paid our respects to the men who were executed there by the SS.
Lisa Hughes nee Tipping, February 2022.