Earlier this year I posted a set of images taken of the ISDT 1961 in Wales painted by Gordon Horner 1916 – 2006, one of the last great staff artists employed by the Motor Magazines. As a result of discovering more about him I was able to acquire 1 of the 500 privately published books he made to record the artwork he made during his time in the Second World War where he was sent to the North Africa campaign where he was taken Prisoner of War, to be transported across the Med into Italy then on to Germany where he was finally held in a Prisoner of War Camp deliberately sited within the complex of several German Armament Factories including the development of the V1 and V2 rockets and finally bombed as the war ended. Even in the supposed safety of PoW status death stalked him as he saw escaping prisoners executed, or the danger of being bombed by Allied Airpower.
Each year in following the tradition set by motorcycle sport in the UK we stop to remember those who fell defending this country, many were not only keen motorcyclists before the war but also served as dispatch riders in the forces which left them very exposed to the work of snipers. This post is my tribute to those who gave both in totality or came back lesser than they were before the experience.
This post features some of 182 the images Gordon drew, mostly with charcoal, of the scenes he saw in his time which should remind us, as part of the generations of children born after the war, of our good luck to not have to survive the indictment of a world war as we think about Armistice Day. I think in particular about those who never returned and plans made that blew away like dust in the wind.
The book follows his time in the Army in the North Africa Campaign where he was captured and then transfered to Italy then Germany. The following extract from the book covers the time of Gordon’s capture in the desert by Italian troops on the 29th May 1942.
When, on the night of 28-29th May, 150 Brigade prepared to move north, I was sent up to O.P.S.1 in order to report back any enemy movement. The O.P. was some 2,000 yards from F. Troop position. The telephone line linking the two did not run a straight course, but curved a length of over two miles. There was not time enough to follow the wire.
We – self, signaller, and driver – did the first thousand yard by truck. Top gear all the way. Speed: less than ten miles per hour, Then I set off with the signaller, and after 500 yard, hearing the voices of Italians, we began to crawl. The signaller was a good chap, but wore a highly polished tin hat, steel studded boots, and a rifle that rattled with each step he took. I sent him home and felt a lot safer. More crawling got me to the edge of the minefield, but I could not find the hole that was the O.P. It seemed hours since I had left the troop. The enemy was quiet, and behind me the Brigade transport was beginning the move. I headed for home – rather, thought I did. Three hundred yards of Freddie Troop were some infantry positions. These the Italians had occupied with fifty Infanteers, an M,G., and a Breda quick firer. And they never told me. I arrived there about 10 o’clock. About 10 plus 1 second, a long finger of red tracer sizzled past, and I did not pause to reason why, but flopped in the dust. Next a dark figure appeared to my right, then dived in to the scrub some yards behind me. I became conscious that there were others besides myself lying in the scrub. There was the crunching of sand and the occasional rattle of a stone. It was all very bewildering I worked my way forward intending to pass to the right of the M.G. It took an hour to make thirty yards.
Behind a couple of black silhouettes leapt up, ran a few yards then flopped. The M.G. went for them, and I bawled in their direction. ‘Are you English, lads?’ The machine-gunner now switched on to me. After his first burst I shouted over to him. ‘Are you English?’ There was a short silence, then some smart guy said, Yes. ‘I heaved a sigh of relief, and got up. ‘O.K., boys, I’m coming in,’ If they had waited a second or two longer this would have been written by a ghost. A rifle bullet seemed to part the hairs on my cheek – oh yes, no doubt it was miles away at least a foot! The machine-gunner missed too, and again I grovelled. That finally convinced me that the Italians were in our position, which made the other chaps in the scrub with me English. One of them close by had been hit, and his groans were not pleasant to hear.
After a most unpleasant night, came the dawn. I lay doggo, hoping to get away but the Italians came out hunting souvenirs. They found me. With their officer I walked over to the machine-gun position. We passed the body of a British officer some 20 yards from the M.G. He was lying on his back with several bullet holes through the stomach. Sand was blowing in to his open mouth. The watch on his wrist still ticked the racing seconds, but Time no longer concerned the lieutenant. The Italian promised immediate burial, and we both saluted the dead man.
The enemy had made four other prisoners, a sergeant and three privates, one of whom, a mere boy, lay dying on a blood stained blanket. The sergeant told me how his officer was hit. In the act of throwing a grenade at the M.G. He took three hours to die and never made a sound so as not to draw more fire on to his men.’
The book continues to describe the imprisonment, interrogation whilst the Eighth Army retreated to the Egyptian border at El Alamein. From Benghazi they were sailed across the Med to Italy to a flea ridden transit camp onto a succession of camps in Italy, mixing with American and Empire regiments, with continual failed escape attempts by tunnelling. Although there were distractions in theatre and music until the Italian Armistice of 8th September 1943. Immediate hopes of liberty and to walk out of the camp were frustrated by the continuing presence of armed guards with instructions to shoot anyone trying to leave. Any hope of release or escape were dashed when German Paratroopers took over the Italian’s POW camp on the 21 September, within 3 days the entire camp of POW’s were loaded onto Cattle trucks, a few trying to escape were caught and murdered. The Train headed off towards Germany to new camps where they joined Russian soldiers and French Army who had been in camp since 1940. After a number of moves ending in a camp formed from old Luftwaffe barracks at the edge of the Airfield at Brunswick. 500 yards from an enormous Aircraft Works where eventually Allied bombers aware of the location of PoW camps intent on bombing the Neemo A.G Bussing Airworks which was amongst aircraft production was developing V1 and V2 rockets was bombed with bombs falling within the PoW camp. The camp significantly damaged was finally liberated by Allied forces on the 14th April 1944.
To those who served their nation and made the sacrifice I give my sincerest thanks to you.