Remembering them all as heroes
By Becky HallewellFOR some of us, it is impossible to ever truly understand what young men endured for us during the battles of the Second World War.
By Becky Hallewell
FOR some of us, it is impossible to ever truly understand what young men endured for us during the battles of the Second World War.
For others, it is an ever-present recollection, difficult even to talk about and almost hopeless to describe.
Tony Rampling, from Great Bromley, was called up in 1942, aged just 18. He took part in the D-Day landings and served in active combat in Europe, right up until the end on VE Day.
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He is supporting the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign for an official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings next summer.
Now aged 79, he is one of the dwindling number of old soldiers who returns to France or Holland each year to commemorate his comrades, lost in the prime of their lives.
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Mr Rampling was a trooper in more ways than one. "It's the lowest rank you can get. Although my brother was a major, I was a trooper, a gunner operator in an armoured car," he said.
None of his recollections was rosy, not even of initial training. "They put you through hell and back. It was terrible," added Mr Rampling.
When he was landed on the Normandy beaches as part of the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment (also known as the Recce Regiment) in June 1944, it was his first experience of warfare.
"We knew something big was brewing beforehand, but didn't know what. We had no notice, but we were training all the time and sleeping out rough," recalled Mr Rampling.
"And as we loaded up on to the boat, they were taking off people who were wounded in stretchers. I wasn't scared though, not until I got to the other side."
Dropped into four feet of water, inside their armoured car, frightened and under shellfire, Mr Rampling, his driver and commander made it on to dry land, but were separated from the rest of their unit.
Men from Durham Light Infantry gave them a cup of tea that night. "Those men were decimated. Over 80% of them were killed," said Mr Rampling.
Next day, he rejoined the rest of his regiment, as they journeyed to the front line. But nothing had prepared him for the realities of combat.
"None of us could think or talk about what we went through for 15 years after the war. I didn't even talk about it to my brother. It was so horrendous," he said.
"I remember the stench of dead corpses and dead animals. The Germans had shot cows, horses and bullocks as they retreated. These were blown up like footballs. And there were dead bodies everywhere."
Recalling the Falaise Gap, also in France, in early August 1944, where thousands of Germans were surrounded and bombed from above, Mr Rampling said: "You couldn't drive through the road for dead bodies."
He described the devastation suffered by Allies at Arnhem in the Netherlands the following month where 10,000 soldiers, sent in by parachute to capture two bridges, became only 2,000 survivors.
"It upset you obviously, but you had to go on. It was a question of survival really," said Mr Rampling.
For long periods, soldiers had no change of clothing. At times they stood guard in trenches for eight nights in a row without proper sleep.
By the time the war was over, Mr Rampling, a part-time potato wholesaler whose family has lived in Tendring for generations, was hospitalised with a collapsed lung, pneumonia and pleurisy.
Remembering the men with whom he served, he struggled to conceal his emotions. "I've never forgotten the chaps who died that I knew. They come into your thoughts very often," said Mr Rampling.
"As a commemoration, I think people should be educated about what happened. Children learn about history, going back hundreds of years, and some people don't know about the war. Unless you've been in it, you wouldn't know."