Memories of Mr Richard Sands
This is part of my Fathers memories, he was serving with the 5th battalion
Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, the incident took place in Holland in
October 1944. They had been fighting for Schijndel, Vught etc. As my Father
says "it got so that all the days and all the battles started to become one,
and it became difficult to remember exactly where they were".
FRIENDLY FIRE - A TRAGEDY OF WAR
It was about this time that I had a bad experience of having to follow an order that I knew to be pointless. It has haunted me ever since. I had been ordered to take my Platoon to clear some woods and farm buildings. I tried to argue that it was a pointless exercise as we had already cleared that particular area. I had sent six guys forward up an avenue of trees and was just organising another squad when the tank, which was covering our advance, loosed off an air burst. The tank, it was sign written “Cock`O the North”, when covering an advance always had its gun loaded and ready to fire over our heads. It was a total accident but the tank commander slipped on the firing mechanism and fired a premature round.
The shell was an airburst and unfortunately it hit the trees and caught the six guys who were about twenty yards away from me. The blast from the explosion singed my hair, and what turned out to be part of a young boy’s head, hit me in the face.
When I got to my boys, three were dead and three had been terribly maimed. One had all his buttocks shot away, another had an arm and his shoulder missing, the third seemed to be bleeding from every part of his body. I can still picture the young lad to this day. He was only eighteen years of age, Ginger haired, I believe he came from Glasgow. The wounded were screaming, screaming at me not to leave them. “Sarge`, don’t leave me, Sarge`”. I was trying to reassure them, to calm them. I told them I would not leave them and administered the syrettes of morphine that I always carried round my neck. I wanted to cry but knew that I must not let them see that I was scared for them. I knew there was no hope for any of them, as I watched their colour turn to grey. I ordered the carrier forward and we took a door off the nearest building to act as a stretcher on top of the carrier. I got them to an aid station but one had died before we got there and the other two died shortly after. It was an utter waste of life. I still, after more than fifty years hear their screams and see their faces, faces of death. “Sarge`, don’t leave me Sarge`”. When I was on my own, later that night, I shed my tears; I sobbed uncontrollably for a while.
I always looked after my boys in my section. They never went short of a smoke or a dram of Whiskey. Sergeants had a monthly Whiskey ration. There might be perhaps twenty or so Sergeants going into an attack but there might only be ten left after the attack, thus the remainder would share the Whiskey and cigarette ration. I always shared it out amongst my boys in my section. I always thought that if I looked after them they would look after me. It seemed to work.
The tank commander went bomb happy once he realised what had happened, nobody blamed him, in fact it was an unpleasant thing to see. He seemed to go instantly insane; He has had to live with that tragedy all his remaining days.