Explosion 40’s Weekend
The Ubique Right of the Line Living History Group supported the Royal Armouries Sexton Self Propelled Gun at the 1940’s Event at the Explosion Museum in Gosport.
Fort Nelson’s Sexton SPG was ably supported by the Group, with a guest appearance by Keiran Bleasby, seen in the front of the image.
The album includes some of Barry James Wilson’s stunning images.
[album: http://www.rightoftheline.org/wp-content/plugins/dm-albums/dm-albums.php?currdir=/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Explosion 2012/]
Report by Gunner Tallack
We arrived at the Museum in bright sunshine, numbing cold and biting wind. The gear was quickly unloaded and as the tables were put up, any extra clobber the group had brought along was donned. Initially I had thought I would have no need for a leather jerkin but I soon changed my mind! Bombardier Kinnear was already wearing his and Gunner Tallack announced to no-one in particular and the world in general that he would be wearing his greatcoat and cap comforter; ‘for the duration’!
The tables went up and the weapons were laid out, the Sexton cruised into its static display spot and we set about erecting the camouflage netting, in case of aerial attack. While the netting was going up (which was entertaining in its own right, with many ‘to me- to you’s’ and some muttering I didn’t catch), the American Red Cross truck arrived and took station. It was overdue but nevertheless a very welcome sight as it had the vital job of keeping the group supplied with tea and coffee throughout the day.
We started the camouflage not a moment too soon as without warning the air raid siren sounded and people started running to take cover. Anti-aircraft guns and small arms opened up but despite the proximity of bomb explosions we didn’t bother to use the Bren gun as not only were the raiders out of range, we actually couldn’t see them either!
Captain Glancefield did order the wearing of battle bowlers though, and true to his earlier statement Gunner Tallack rammed his on over his cap comforter!
Raid over and Sexton safely under cover, Gunner Tallack and me joined the tour of the ramparts. The German camp was friendly enough although wary, and we listened with interest as one of their group gave a short talk on the different types of anti-tank shells used by German troops. He could barely hide his contempt for the quality of allied armour and depending on the projectile, rated the survival chance of allied tanks as between slim and none. With a wry smile he added that Slim had just left town! Who says the Germans have no sense of humour? Perhaps he was a fan of Westerns! They also demonstrated house clearing tactics and some enthusiastic bayonet drill. The latter was a surprise as I always thought that the Germans were not that keen on the ‘old cold steel’ and had been assured many times that ‘they don’t like it up ‘em!’ Well, you live and learn.
We moved on to an area newly liberated by the 101st Airborne, the famous Screaming Eagles. The Americans were clearly relaxing in the glow of a job well done and the atmosphere was definitely a lot less tense than the SS/Wehrmacht camp.
Suddenly, completely unexpectedly, a volley of shots rang out from the bank surrounding the camp. A group of SS had infiltrated the perimeter and were sniping at the relaxing troops! A paratrooper fell- there was a lot of blood and it looked bad but happily, as the medics moved in, the amount of abuse coming from the casualty indicated that he was not mortally wounded.
At the same time as the medics moved into action a fighting patrol skirmished up the bank and the enemy snipers were quickly flushed out. One was killed and two taken prisoner and brought back to camp. They were escorted to a small brick hut for ‘interrogation’. As our tour continued, two shots rang out and the GI’s who had escorted the prisoners in were seen hurrying away.
“That’s saved some food” said our guide.
“Have we just witnessed a war crime?” I asked.
“C’est la Guerre” shrugged Gunner Tallack.
The tour moved on but it was approaching midday so we decided to head back to the museum area to help get the Sexton ready for her first display. The netting came off with surprising ease and Craftsman Williams moved smoothly into his customary role of winder-upper. Forty-three turns of the starting handle, some good natured ribbing and a little bit of swearing later and Beau Brummel coughed into life.
The crew for the midday show, ( Gunners Ansell and Chisnall, Craftsman Williams) under the command of Bombardier Spaven leapt aboard and Tom the driver manoeuvred her into position. Two rounds ranging, three rounds rapid fire, bangs and lots of smoke later and the Sexton was reversed back into her static display position.
The tall steps were lashed into position and boys and girls of all ages, were invited to come aboard to see the Sexton, meet the men and marvel at how easy we made it all look!
The Sun came out, so did the lunch rations, heavy clothing came off (even Gunner Tallacks’ greatcoat) and the Ubique crew looked forward to an entertaining afternoon.
Later that afternoon we had the honour of a visit from the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Winston Churchill. Ever the opportunist , he took the chance to set up a publicity shot with himself holding a Thompson in typical pugnacious style!
The afternoon shoot went off in similar style to the morning although the Sexton was a little more crowded than usual as this time Barry Wilson the renowned photographer clambered aboard and Ubique mascot Kieran Bleasby also wedged himself into a corner. The firing was carried out by Craftsman Williams, Gunners Ansell and Tallack under the command of Bombardier Kinnear.
As usual Captain Glancefield provided commentary to a spellbound crowd.
Throughout the day those of the group not working on the Sexton, including myself and Barbara Glancefield manned the weapons tables and as usual these proved popular with the public. At Fort Nelson we are often privileged to hear interesting and amusing anecdotes from the ex-service veterans who visit our display tables and are taken back to their service days by the sight and feel of their old weapons and today proved no different.
All too soon the day drew to a close, the gear was packed, the Sexton parked in its overnight laager and we headed for home tired but ready to do it all again the next day.