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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories


John Louth

Although 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.

Johnís 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.

In 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.

On 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.

His 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.

The 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.

Johnís 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.

The 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.

In 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.

At 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.

John 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.

One 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.

Johnís 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.

When 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.

These 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.

As 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.

John 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.

During 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.

John Louth

Interviewed by Maurice Haigh

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