WARTIME MEMORIES OF
not a native of Knottingley, John Louth has lived in the town since his
marriage to a local lass, Betty Adams in 1947. Betty was the niece of
Henry Adams, a well-known Knottingley publican, and the licensee of the
Cherry Tree Inn on Croft Avenue. Bettyís father Joseph Adams, brother to
Henry, was an acclaimed darts player and he could be seen regularly
throwing his arrows and exhibiting his skill at the N.A.D.S. & S.
Club, on Weeland Road.
story begins before the outbreak of the Second World War when as a
young boy he was apprenticed to a local shoemaker from Wembley,
North London, though he had always expressed an interest to
experience life in the military.
1926 he endured the tragedy of losing his father at the very early
age of 29. His father had served in the First World War and during
the conflict had suffered a mustard gas attack from which he
sustained severe lung damage. His family has always maintained
that this disability had hastened his early death and inevitably
Johnís thoughts as a young boy turned to seeking revenge for the
death of his father.
the 15th September 1939, with this thought in mind, he signed up for duty
with the Boyís Service, aged 15 years. John served with the Boyís
Service until his transfer to the regular army at the age of 17 years,
where he served with the 70th Battalion Middlesex Regiment before a later
move to the 1st Battalion.
army training commenced initially at Millhill Barracks before a move to
Satan Camp, Chester, where he underwent further training. He received his
final training when he moved to Amersham in 1943 for gunnery experience.
Battalion left the south of England and moved north to be stationed at
Otley, Yorkshire, where they formed part of the 15th Scottish Division who
were in training for the D-Day landings. It was during his time at Otley
that he met his future wife Betty, who was working as a nurse in a local
hospital at Burley in Wharfedale.
Company travelled back south to Brighton, prior to crossing the Channel
for France but John, along with his machine gun crew, were sent instead as
a detachment to support some Canadian troops who were currently at
Gosport. John and his crew stayed on board a landing craft for a further
ten days before rejoining his battalion and sailing across the English
Channel at midnight on the 5th June 1944. They arrived on the beach at
Courselles, Normandy, the following morning.
battalion came under constant heavy artillery fire from shore-based guns
throughout the landings and when they were finally able to move off the
beaches they encountered a very fierce tank battle in progress.
the meantime, John had set up his machine gun crews in a field, which
contained a windmill. They had been reliably informed that the windmill
was clear of enemy occupation but this information had unfortunate
consequences for Johnís machine gun crews when gunfire emanating from
the building killed eight of his men.
the time Johnís crews were facing away from the windmill in support of
an attack against the enemy which was taking place in front of them. John
immediately ordered his remaining men to turn their weapons around and
train their fire upon the building. An intense exchange of fire eventually
silenced the enemy guns and later, when they were able to assess the
windmill they found 39 wounded and dead German SS soldiers.
was later to be involved in many battles against the enemy at Arnhem,
Siegfried Line, River Seine and Estray to name but just a few of them.
During these many conflicts positions were taken and lost and then taken
again. It was a constant period of time spent under enemy fire and John
witnessed many deaths and woundings of his comrades.
experience John vividly recalls was when they captured the German town of
Celle. They subsequently discovered a concentration camp, which held many
Jewish and other nationalís prisoner. It even included some captured RAF
crews. John and his men had never before in their lives witnessed such
human tragedy and large-scale misery as that exposed before them.
Commanding Officer made immediate contact with their Headquarters for
medical and food supplies to be sent to the camp. The German Guards at the
camp were instructed to bury the dead prisoners and Johnís CO ordered
the citizens of Celle to be marched up to the camp to bear witness to the
awful atrocities that had been carried out at the camp in their name.
the hostilities in Europe finally ended, John along with a number of his
men were on guard duty in a block of flats when suddenly several German
staff cars appeared in front of the flats. They contained many
high-ranking German Officers who asked to see the senior officer, which
was Johnís CO. They were disarmed of their weapons and marched to the COís
office whereupon he was asked if he would accept the surrender of 60,000
German troops who were currently sat on the Autobahn. John and his machine
gun crew were instructed to go to the Autobahn and take them into
captivity. They were brought back and housed in a now defunct torpedo
factory close by.
are just a few of the encounters recalled by John who had experience of
many other incidents during his service in the European theatre of war.
John stayed with the occupation troops until the 31st May 1947, the day he
was discharged from military service. He returned to Fulford Barracks,
York, for his final demob and to receive his civilian clothing allowance.
stated earlier in Johnís story, he had met his wife when he was in
Yorkshire in 1943 and they had courted since then. They were married on
Boxing Day, 1947 in St. Botolphís Church, Knottingley and they remained
together until Bettyís unfortunate death in 1989.
still lives in Knottingley with his present wife Alice who also saw
service during the war with the A.T.S. Aliceís service began in 1941
where her first posting was to Fulford Barracks, York, for her initial
military training. After her term of training was concluded she was
transferred south to Nottingham to undertake further technical training in
the use of Radar Direction, which she passed successfully to become a
Radar Operator. Throughout her service Alice was stationed in several
parts of England until her final posting towards the end of the war to an
RAF station at Wittering.
her time in the services Alice formed friendships with many of her
comrades which still exist today through regular correspondence. In 1995
they formed an association of ex-servicewomen to hold annual reunions
which continued for over ten years but advancing years and ill health made
it difficult for some members to attend and the association was concluded.
Betty Boothroyd, the ex-speaker of the House of Commons and Kate Ade,
Foreign News Reporter, were also visitors to some of the reunions.
Interviewed by Maurice Haigh