My grandfather, Bill Turner, died in 1988. I grew up thinking he was in the Gurkhas. The truth of that little bit of family folklore is that he was more than likely firing guns in support of Gurkhas at some point, likely in Italy. Apparently he had a kukri in the loft, but only my step-uncle knows the truth of that. My step-uncle also inherited his medal group, so I hope he’s looking after them.
The story of Bill Turner’s war is largely lost. My Dad and Uncle, his sons from his first marriage, have some anecdotes. I can put together other pieces from his service record but as anyone that has obtained them knows, these are very much a baseline. A pre-war soldier in the early 30s, Bill was recalled for service and went to war with the BEF in France. He survived the sinking of the S.S Lancastria in June 1940 and from there, after a few movements around different units, he ended up with 87th Anti-Tank. I can imagine he would’ve been a bit of an outsider given the strong Devon roots of the regiment. He is present in the photo of B Troop at Chagford.
My father remembers Bill coming home on leave (once?) but then he was gone for the duration of the war. Dad says Bill was at Cassino. He certainly went to Italy as there’s a photo of him in Rome. Bill also spent time in Greece as the country disintegrated into civil war, which fits the movements of one of his other regiments, 149th Anti-Tank.
Freddie Friend had a vague recollection of two men from Peterborough joining the regiment. It’s almost certain one of these was my granddad.
Born in Horwich, granddad lived in Barrow-in-Furness pre-war and my dad was born there. Dad thinks he met my grandmother whilst on exercise during his short army service in the early 30s. By 1938 the family were in Peterborough, where my grandmother originated from. At some point, granddad met Nana Kitt, my step-nan (my Dad thinks he was billeted with her family).
Post-war, he never came home to Peterborough and returned to the north-west, settling again on Walney Island.
I never got to talk to my grandfather about his experiences but have been fortunate to speak to many veterans over the years. They were old boys in pubs, Dad’s colleagues, friend’s grandparents, I spoke to many people whilst storygathering for the BBC People’s War website. I was very lucky to get to correspond with Freddie Friend before he passed away.
So here I am with this blog, which ultimately stems from knowing I’ve missed the biggest story of all.