Anthony Jackson was born on 31st October, 1913, in Chorley, Lancashire. He attended Butts C.E. School in Leigh, leaving at the age of 14 to become a van boy for BP. After a period of eighteen months, he found new employment as a ‘Second Man’ (Driver’s Mate) at a haulage firm, then becoming a driver aged 18.
At the time of the outbreak of war in 1939, the company undertook essential war work in haulage, and Anthony was deemed to be in a reserved occupation. After registering for military service in 1940, he combined this haulage work with ARP (Air Raid Precaution) duty. This continued until August 1943, when Anthony was called up to a Carlisle staging camp. From here he was sent to Ballykinlar in Northern Ireland for six weeks of basic military training.
After completing his initial training, Anthony was posted to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, with further training undertaken at Ashton-under-Lyne, Southport, and finally Annan in Scotland. He went into the ‘Lines of Recovery’ section, as although seriously damaged tanks were returned to England, minor repairs could be made in France. During this period, Anthony developed skills of sharp shooting, for which he was awarded a unit trophy.
The Normandy Campaign
It was after D-Day had taken place that the unit were moved to Bognor Regis for two weeks to prepare for embarkation. Anthony recalls ‘killing time’ as they waited their turn to go across. Eventually, they moved to Portsmouth, and were ordered one night into ten landing craft. The journey across the Channel was quite rough, but Anthony recollects that nevertheless they ‘did alright’. When they reached Normandy (on D + 60), it was a sunny day, and Anthony drove his vehicle down the ramp, and through about 4 feet of water, plunging his way up to the shore. The first thing that Anthony saw on the perimeter of the road was a cross erected for a Sergeant, and he recounts that it was a bit of a shock to be confronted by ‘the raw realities of life’, having come straight out of ‘Civvie Street’.
After they took the vehicles to a collection point for transfer to units requiring replacements, they were collected and taken to another map reference where their unit were waiting for them. They were greeted with the refrain of ‘Where have you been? You’ve been posted missing for two days…and we’ve been having a whale of a time!’
The next destination for the unit was Villers-Bocage, which Anthony describes as a ‘lovely little place’ that had been ‘knocked about something shameful’. Three miles south of Villers-Bocage lay the Fallaise Gap, a narrow road only 20 feet wide, contained on either side by hills. Anthony recalls the damage wreaked by the Typhoons on the retreating German Army. Even a Tiger tank was defenceless against the Typhoons. In Villers-Bocage, Anthony saw a Tiger tank on one side, and its turret around 20 feet away, completely blown off by the attack of a Typhoon. With the road on the Fallaise Gap blocked, the Typhoons were queuing up to attack the Germans, who even stole horses and carts from the French to try and get away. Anthony recalls being able to smell ‘the awful carnage of rotting flesh’ when downwind of the area.
When the unit moved on to Eindhoven, the impact of the German occupation on the civilian population soon became evident. Anthony remembers guarding a congregation of army vehicles, and seeing the impact of malnutrition on local women and children. Local women would show the unit the sores on their legs that were the result of severe malnutrition under German rule.
The scenes that Anthony would witness in Arras were also tragic and unforgettable. He describes a ‘quarry-like pit’ behind the citadel, around 100 feet from ground level to the bottom. He recalls loading tanks at the side of the road, when he heard a wearied sound and looked down into the pit. There were three dome-shaped holes in the side of the pit, around seven feet tall, and in these holes were civilians, some of whom could speak English. It emerged that the civilians were identifying the bodies of the people who were taken and slaughtered by the Nazis. He vividly remembers a round-shaped coffin being brought out, with someone laid in it, a child at their feet. The pit had been blocked up by the Nazis, and by this time relatives were returning to open it up and reclaim the dead.
In November 1946, Anthony was discharged, at the rank of Lance Corporal. He reflects that he was quite fortunate that he was not directly on the frontline. Apart from the presence of Doodlebugs in Belgium, and a narrow escape from a V-2 rocket, he surmises that he was in more danger in London than he was when abroad with the Army.
After the war, he returned to the haulage company, undertaking long distance driving from Leigh to Baintree in Essex. In 1951, he bought his own dry cleaning business in Ardwick, Manchester, expanding the company further in 1959. In 1965, he moved the business to Debdale, and then bought another business in Fleetwood, and remained there until his retirement. Anthony Jackson passed away in May 2007, aged 93