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Jack Swaab interview: During the war

Can I ask about your experience during the war?

Yes, I joined the army in the ranks. I thought I would be an officer because I had been in the OTC at school and at university but I wasn't. I had rather a rude shock but all the better for it in the end. I joined up in Dover. I signed up I think on 10th September 1939 and I went to the regiment in the beginning of December - an incredibly cold place - just as a Gunner. I became a Lance Bombardier eventually and then I was selected for officer training and after that I went to the Middle East and joined the field regiment in the 51st Highland Division in North Africa early in 1943 in January.

I fought across North Africa with them. I've written a lot about this in my book [Field of Fire] so I won't repeat it now but I had quite a lot of quite scary moments in North Africa. Then we went to Sicily, did the campaign there and after Sicily we came home to England to open the second front. I went to Normandy and landed on D+1 in Normandy after getting nearly blown up in the Channel and then I stayed with the regiment right the way through. I became an OP officer and spent most of my time with the Infantry which was the 5th battalion of the Black Watch and went through France and then Belgium and Holland. A nasty wet winter in Holland and then the Ardennes campaign which was the coldest time of my life ever and then into Germany. I got wounded in Holland and went to Brussels for a hospital there. When I came back I was FOO [Forward Observation Officer] for the Rhine crossing and had quite a hairy crossing after we got across the Rhine and then through Germany and eventually ended up at a place called Bremervoerde. I nearly got myself killed in the first few days of May because we were attacked by something we had never seen before - some sort of aeroplane with no propellers. They were some of these early German jets, the Messrschmitts 162 or 262. They dropped some bombs uncomfortably close.

Then I was what they call "left out of battle" [LOB] because I was going on leave. I went on leave and came to England on VE Day, 8th May. Incredible crowd scenes of rejoicing and everything. So I went on leave then, went back to Germany and was demobbed early in May 1946 so I think I had done seven years and eight months in the army at that point and became a civilian again.