Rifleman Victor Gregg remembers WW2

My Thoughts About This: Veterans Day is when we honor and remember those who served their country, both those who lived and those who didn’t. When I took my draft physical in college, VietNam was only an existential threat but I was not unhappy to get a 1Y classification. As a result I didn’t serve in the armed services. My draft card is still among my effects.

As “boots on the ground” becomes once again a real possibility in the middle east, and with today being Veterans Day, I have very mixed feelings about us going to war yet again. Nothing much good ever comes of it yet nothing much good ever comes from ignoring the threat.

While it’s very difficult to ignore the humanitarian crisis that inevitably results from armed conflict, I’m inclined to think that until those folks in the middle east overcome their tribal instincts, our efforts and the inevitable death of American servicemen and women is not going to make much of a difference. It took centuries and World War I to get the European tribes to stop pissing on each other.

My father was in the British Army from 1939 to 1946. He was with the British Expeditionary Force which just escaped destruction at Dunkirk, then went to Burma with the 14th Army, and then landed in France on DDay plus 3. He survived without injury, but NEVER talked about it.

7 November 2015  by Victor Gregg

This was taken in 1937, about three weeks after I’d arrived at Winchester [the Rifle Depot and training barracks]. I’d been kitted out and the photographer came along and there I am, looking like God’s gift to all women. I don’t know how he captured that angelic appearance because I wasn’t angelic.

Neither was my friend Frankie [Batt], who joined up with me. He was on the train when I got on at Waterloo to come to Winchester. The hat I’m wearing here has got a bit of wire around the brim inside to keep it smart. The first thing Frankie did was take the wire out. Even at 18, he was thumbing his nose at authority.

Frankie and I served together. We went down to Tidworth together, we went to India together, we came out of India and went to Palestine together, and that’s when war was declared. One day Frankie was bringing us some mortars because we’d run out of ammo. As usual we were right out at the front and the Germans were about 200 yards away.

Just as he was level with the battalion, the truck he was driving blew straight up into the air. When I rushed over he was still sitting in the cab, or what was left of him. The truck wasn’t even burning because there was nothing to burn. I tried to drag him out and the bottom half of him went all over my trousers. We don’t know what happened but it was probably a mine.

Out of the 18 blokes who went down on the train from London to Winchester on October 19, 1937, there’s only two of us left.

Emotionally, it was Dresden that did the most damage to me. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen in my life: the realisation that women and children and old people were involved changed me. When I was in a front-line unit, it was always men against men.

All of a sudden, I see women and children being drawn up into the sky. I remember one woman clasping her baby, she’s all alight, her clothes are alight, her hair’s alight and she’s got a little baby. I watched her get dragged along the street and then all of a sudden she goes up in the air, as the suction of the windstorm tries to feed the bonfire that is the centre of Dresden.

After the war ended, I came out of Paddington station and looked around me. I didn’t know what to do. I was torn into bits mentally: there was no room for any joy. Every year [on November 11] I join in the singing out of respect for the lads that didn’t make it. But by the 12th most people have forgotten it. People need to understand the evil that war brings about.