Former soldier Walter's wartime memories

Former soldier Walter's wartime memories

Glusburn man Walter Evans recounts the events of the D Day landings. Picture shows Walter in 1946 helping to rebuild Germany after the war

Glusburn man Walter Evans recounts the events of the D Day landings 70 years on

Walter Evans, aged 17

First published in Craven History by

WHEN Walter Evans was driving his tank off Gold Beach in Normandy during the 1944 D Day landings he was expecting to get shot at - but not by his own side.

As he manoeuvred the tank on a causeway towards the cliff road a general in a jeep pulled up behind.

"He started shouting at me," Walter laughs. "He said 'Shift this bloody thing or I'll shoot you!' I was so angry. I drove on, but in first gear all the way up the causeway. I'd had enough!"

Walter's reaction was understandable. He had already had to come ashore on foot - "up to my neck in water" after problems with getting his tank ashore - with the 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards as part of the 7th Armoured Division.

Walter was one of almost 200,000 British, Canadian and American troops who fought their way on to five French beaches in an operation which eventually led to the downfall of Hitler and Nazi Germany.

At the time, though, Walter had no thoughts beyond getting through the day - and then the day after that.

"I remember a huge amount of ships and dark plumes of smoke," Walter says. "My tank was still chained to the ship we were on and all I could see was water. I thought 'I've got to get out now' so I jumped into the sea. Luckily, I got a lift on to the beach with some infantry."

Once he had driven his tank up the cliff, Walter saw his first dead bodies of D Day.

"There were two soldiers dead by a machine gun, one with a huge piece out of the side of his head. And there was a bungalow with a huge picture of Hitler on the wall, owned by a Frenchman. I was told they just shot him."

The Army was in Walter' s blood. His father was in the service and Walter, who was born in Scotland but lived most of his early life in Birmingham, says he was "brought up" in it.

At 17, he joined the Territorial Army and trained to be a searchlight operator. He was called up before the war broke out in September 1939 and became a tank driver. The Guards had only recently changed from horses to tanks. Walter says: "I loved it. We were trained on floating tanks, then bridging tanks. It was the 'phony war' period at the start when nothing much was happening."

Walter was posted to Keighley and spent a lot of time on manoeuvres on the moors and training other drivers. He met his late wife Doreen and later married her in the run-up to D Day. He had to have an operation on his stomach and when he returned to his unit weeks later his tank had been allocated to another driver.

"I cried," says Walter, "I actually cried - it meant that much to me to lose what I thought of as my tank."

His regiment was not sent overseas until D Day on Gold Beach by which time it had joined with 8th Armoured Brigade, who had seen off Rommel in the North African deserts -

"I got my tank off the boat eventually and we moved towards Arromanches. We parked the tank up for a bit then heard the engine of a German plane. He dropped a bomb on us but luckily far enough away that no one was hurt. We were pressing the Germans back at this stage. There were towns just bombed to bits. At one place we saw lots of bodies of infantry and their helmets were just shredded to bits, like cardboard. There were lots of different actions and every day was different. We were always on the move and we got used to death."

Walter's brigade had helped to push the Germans back towards the Seine when he saw a sign that said 'British straight on, Americans to the right to Paris'. "That really annoyed me - they were going to get all the kisses!"

His division was later involved in trying to support British paratroopers who were trying to capture the bridge at Arnhem. The Germans defeated the Allied attack because it was stretched too far from its support. The operation was later the subject of the film A Bridge Too Far.

As the Allies pushed on towards Germany, Walter was having increasing problems with his injured stomach and was sent back to Belgium for treatment. He says: "Basically there was a hole in it and I was in a lot of pain. I'd asked the medical officer for a truss but he sent me to hospital. The doctor there said to me: 'You've got six months to live', which I thought was a strange thing to say."

He was later sent back to England and was operated on in York.

After the war Walter became a cost estimator and worked for aerospace manufacturers Pratt and Whitney in Britain, the United States and Canada. He and Doreen had five children.

For the last 12 years Walter has worked as a non-teaching assistant at Glusburn Primary School, making him, at 93, almost certainly the oldest school assistant in the country, and lives near the school.

Walter says: "I absolutely love being at the school - it saved me. It's a joy going in every day. Not long ago one of the five year olds came up to me and said: 'Mr Evans? You're the man from the Second World War!'"

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