64. Harmony reigned on Easy Charlie
Mildred Simpson, widow of Archie Simpson late of 37th Battery RCA, said that Archie had told her this story many years ago and Les Corbin of 60th Battery RCA was the chap who investigated the near empty vat and found the body in the vat. Mind you I have a notion that this was not an isolated occurrence as the civilians had to leave the area and unburied bodies were preserved in the vats. Not too pleasant but I think true.
We were still at La Torre Feb 1944 and our gun position officer was Lt Rollie Ellison. One evening about the middle of February Lt Ellison contacted my gun via a speaker system called a Tannoy.
Lt . Ellison's words were. "Sgt Bannerman, come to the command post and pick up your Indian."
Well I checked around and as my little native Tommy Lyons was off shift I had better see what was up. Apparently little quiet Tommy had wandered away and ran into a bottle of wine, and the temptation was there so Tommy had a fine shift propped up against a wine vat enjoying a fine hour or two off shift. Getting well lubricated, he thought he would drop in and pay Lt Ellison a visit. Apparently he did not receive a good reception so proceeded to tell Lt Ellison that he really should do away with him. That is when the call went out for me to get to the command post and collect one Tommy Lyons.
When I arrived on the scene I was greeted by Lyons in this manner, "Hello Gordie Bannerman. Sergeant."
I said, "What have you been up to get the Lt. so riled up?"
Well he thought Lt. Ellison needed some advice but was not too receptive in receiving it.
I said "Come along Tommy, we have to get you ready for your shift ."
"Okay, Gordie Bannerman Sergeant."
As we arrived at our gun I said, "Tommy just go into the dugout and get a nap then you will be ready for your turn on watch."
Into the dugout he went and was out like a light. The rest of the crew said let the little fellow sleep he has had a hard day giving Ellison advice and we will double shift to cover for him. The next morning Tommy had forgotten how he missed a shift and I left that up to the crew to either tell him or not.
Harmony reigned on Easy Charlie, that was our gun. In a day or so I made a mistake after which 59 years is still undetected. We were very short of personnel and I did not have another bombadier or l/sgt to look after a shift when I was supposed to be at stand down, so I was catnapping at the gun for a day or so. In this period we received shells with a type of fuse I think a 222 fuse which could be set for air burst. These were set up to almost the correct setting and stacked in the gun pit for a future firing. This future firing had been delayed a couple of times. The fact remained that I was getting mighty played out and our crew was away below strength. So it was a quiet night and I left a new chap that had been brought up from the wagon lines to fill in then I walked down to the command post house. Ah, sleep! It seemed I no sooner was asleep when the phone rang in the command post. I knew that it was fire orders. I was awake and running up to the gun almost before the phone was answered, and arriving in time to receive fire orders. The new chap was not a qualified gunner so I listened to the orders and set range and line. The order was to fire on a specific target some ten rounds of gun fire. The order came to fire so the new chap did the loading I corrected and checked after each round and fired the ten. Stand down was given. We now would pick up the expended cartridges and replace muzzle cover and do any other clean up. It was then I noticed that ten rounds of the preset 222 fused shells were missing. I asked the new chap did you load the ten rounds from this pile. He answered yes. That is when I could have died. Here he loaded the rounds from the area furthest from the breech. Oh yes I was responsible I should have checked as he loaded the rounds. The s__t would hit the fan if this went wrong, so down to the command post I went on some pretence and had bombadier Bob Andrews look up up the range scale where if those fired rounds cleared our Forward Defence Lines. In other words, did they hit the enemy instead of exploding on friendlies. Well it seemed that the margin of safety was plenty so I went back up to the gun figuring that the fat would be in the fire anyway. Well two days later we fired the airbursts. My gun fired ten non-airbursts and the remainder of the 222 fused rounds.
The secret has finally came out. No harm was done and I probably scared the hell out of the enemy when airbursts were mingled in with percussion shells.
Oh yes things did happen and on the 17th of February I was transferred to RHQ as the senior sergeant in the regiment. This duty was to be groomed to become a warrant officer class two under the Regimental sergeant Major's eye and the new title was duty sgt.. So it was good bye to the guns and E troop where I had many friends and to start a new way of soldiering.
I must say I was pleased but also sad. The guns were part of you and you served the gun and it responded to you and your crew. I probably did not have the crew with the most flash but they were reliable honest and true friends to me and did their duty with the best of them. I also stood by them and rescued them from more then one scrape. I would think that I had at least four chaps that I had on my gun that I had recommended for promotion and who made sergeant.
Mind you that may have been sad thing. Tommy Stewart, Alec [Red ]Ross, both were killed later in Italy by direct hits in the gun pit. Dick Horsman advanced to l/sgt, was wounded on about 18th Jan . 1944. War over for him too. Nels Humble who took over Easy Charlie [ my gun] survived the war and passed away at well into his eighties .