The Snug18th August 2014

Valuing Our Veterans - David Hogan

90 years old David Hogan recalls his involvement in the D-Day landings

by Peter Hughes

While we commemorated the 70th anniversary of D Day, it is all too easy to think of those events as pages in a history book or grainy black and white images and overlook the real human stories behind the history. They are the stories of ordinary men and women who were called on to perform heroic deeds and then, once the war was over, resume their everyday roles in society, virtually unnoticed.

At SL First we believe that we should value our veterans from World War 2 and all the other conflicts around the world. Veterans like David Hogan. Called up at the age of 17, David trained to be a tank driver. He took part in the D Day landings and Operation Market Garden before being wounded and losing both his legs.

After two years in hospital, David joined the civil service and worked until his retirement in 1986. Now, at the age of 90, a father, grandfather and great grandfather, he lives in Surrey where he cares for his wife, Pat.

The early years of the war saw David driving a van around the Epsom area delivering Anderson and Morrison air raid shelters. David loved driving, so when he was called up, on December 3rd 1941, he told the recruiting officer he would like to be a lorry driver. He was assigned to driving OK, but tanks rather than lorries. After six weeks initial training with the Royal West Kent Regiment in Gravesend, where he says, “all I learnt was marching up and down”, David moved on to the Royal Armoured Corp.

“When we were training we were on Crusaders and it was a lovely English tank”, David recalls, “but we went onto American tanks and we did a bit of our training on Chobham Common in Sherman tanks. The air intakes for the engine were through the turret and any aperture that was open. These tanks had five six cylinder Chrysler engines all attached to one common shaft and they took a lot of air. They sucked in all the dust and muck and sand, Oh it was hopeless, terrible things but it was a very fast tank.”

Training completed, David joined the 13th/18th Royal Hussars in time for the D Day landings and another type of tank. “I was on a little tank called a ‘Honey’, that was our name for it, of course, the proper name was Stuart – they are all American General’s names.

There were only three of us, a tank commander, a corporal usually, a gunner operator who operated the wireless and helped load the gun and me down the front as the driver. We had a good gang, our little group and we had a lot of fun. The commander was an Irishman, a jockey from the Curragh in Dublin. He’d volunteered I suppose, he was a great guy.”

David says their role in the lightweight tanks wasn’t so much to be part of the shooting war but it still had its dangers. “We were dogsbodies. (We’d be told) go and drive that bridge and see if it’s mined and we’d drive over the bridge to see if it was ok for the bigger tanks to go over.  We worked a lot with the infantry and we’d carry a senior officer around to wherever he wanted to go.”

David and his tank came ashore on the afternoon of D Day. “The noise was the worst thing of all”, he remembers, adding, “On that first day we were certainly moving around and we knew there was a lot of activity going on and there was a lot of firing around us but we weren’t called on to do much.

We slept under the tank that night and it was raining but sleeping inside a tank is hell. When you stop at night the tank is very warm but when it’s been out in the night it gets very cold and the seat in a tank is about 8 or 9 inches in diameter. Nobody got much sleep in a tank.

You looked back from the beach and all you could see was a mass of boats. How more of them weren’t blown up I don’t know.”

After D Day, David and his colleagues were often at the leading edge of the advance and although their primary role was not to get involved in the shooting war, sometimes there was no avoiding it.  “I remember in Holland there was a counter-attack. We were on the forward edge of the advance through Holland and we’d parked up. The next morning it all started, a hell of a lot of shooting and we thought that’s unusual what’s going on and it was a counter-attack and we did get very much involved with that. That was a thing called Operation Market Garden (the operation made famous in the film “A Bridge Too Far”). The aim was to get to Arnhem but we never made it.”

Still, they kept advancing, reaching a place called Goch in Germany and then on towards the River Rhine but it was decided that there were too many tanks for the planned crossing so they were sent back to Goch and what would be the end of David’s war, as he explains.

“We stayed in a nice little house which we commandeered and we were having tea, would you believe it, 4 o’clock one afternoon and we heard a jet plane fly up and down. I know it’s nothing today but in those days jets were very rare and it was a German Messerschmitt ME262 they told me – the first German production jet plane used for attacking.

“We all ran out and looked up and a bomb landed smack in the middle of us. There were 14 in our group and 11 were killed and three of us survived. The other two guys I knew them because one of them had been in our tank and he got injured in both feet. Paddy, our tank commander, he looked at some anti-aircraft guns in the distance and they were waving to us to get down because they could see bombs dropping and he turned to run in. He got it in the back of his right arm. The others, well, oh God, it was a butcher’s shop.”

David was taken to a field hospital and, after three or four days, was flown back to England and the military hospital at Wroughton where his left leg was amputated below the knee. The next fourteen months saw David transferred to a succession of hospitals and during that time his right leg was also amputated.

Equipped with two prosthetic limbs, David was discharged from hospital in 1947 intent on leading a full life. “When I first came out of hospital I wanted to do something mechanical and somebody suggested typewriter mechanic so I put my name down for a course but in the mean time they were looking for temporary civil servants.”

David became a temporary civil servant working in the Post Office Savings Bank where he would remain for nearly 40 years, moving to British Telecom who took over the bank’s role, before retiring in 1986.

David says that he and his fellow patients talked about the war a lot while they were in hospital but once he left there it was rarely mentioned. “I rarely think of any of the bad old times”, he says, but adds that there were some fun times as well. “On one occasion in Normandy we found a good trench that the Germans had dug and it was covered and we decided that we would sleep in there and then another tank came along and the crew asked if they could sleep in there too. Then the tank driver said he could drive his tank across there and we’d be covered, so we said OK but when he drove across it the trench collapsed so none of us slept in there that night and all our kit was buried in the hole – what a mess it was!”

These days, David reserves his greatest pride for his family, his two children, eight grandchildren and six great- grandchildren.  He says he would be reluctant to talk to groups about his war-time experience but if people wanted to ask him questions he would be prepared to answer them.

I hope that from time to time people, especially young people, do ask David questions because his courage and sacrifice and that of very many more like him is something we must never forget.

Article by Peter Hughes

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / The Snug

18th August 2014