''Men who cheerfully went to war in tin cans, closely surrounded by a lethal mixture of petrol and ammunition".

Ken finished his Teacher Training course in Maths and PE at Chester College in May 1941. He was offered a Commission in the RAF as a PE Instructor but cancelled this and returned home to Ince in Lancashire, collected his call-up papers and joined the Army at the end of May 1941.

Ken went for initial training to Tidworth, near Andover. He caught the train in Wigan and another young man got on at Warrington.  His name was Bill Worrall and he and Ken went through the whole war together, remaining life-long friends.  At Tidworth Bill became a Wireless Operator and Ken learned to drive, driving anything from a motorbike to a 10 ton truck. Then they were both sent to Uckfield to join the 46th Battalion Liverpool Welsh, part of the 8th Armoured Division, RTR. His 'driving test' was to drive a 10 ton truck from Uckfield to Liverpool. 

Ken became a Tank Driver, driving Valentines. There were 4 others in the tank; co-driver, wireless operator, gunner and Commander.  The Division was being built up from November 1941 and had c120 Valentines and 18 Matildas.  Embarkation Orders came in May 1942 and the Liverpool Welsh were issued with Tropical kit.  Ken felt sure they were off to the Far East but no-one told them anything. He sailed from Glasgow, not knowing that he had missed his fiancée, Gladys, by 24 hours as she had been given leave to say goodbye; nor did Ken know that his older sister Muriel was in the same convoy sailing with Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps.

The convoy was in fact going to the Middle East to join Montgomery's Eighth Army for the build-up to 2nd El Alamein.  Ken landed in Cairo and stayed there for a time (14 days), meeting up with his sister and a brother who was in the Signals in Damascus.  Then in July, the 23rd Armoured Brigade was sent to the Southern end of the 40 mile line in the Western Desert to reinforce troops during the Second Battle of Ruweisat Ridge.  The Brigade, not fully acclimatised and with no training with the infantry regiments, suffered badly.  (Of 122 Valentines and 18 Matildas, 116 were lost and 44% of its tank crews had been killed or wounded, luckily not Ken. This was because the mines weren't cleared in time as they were dug in so deep.)

The next few weeks were spent getting reinforcements in men and tanks and training with the Infantry Battalions ready for the Battle of Alam el Halfa in September 1942.  The Allies were successful and could now get ready for 2nd El Alamein knowing Rommel was worried.  Ken remembers very clearly the night bombardment; the guns, the light, the engine noise and then the Tanks starting off in single file in the early hours of the morning.  He also remembers hearing the Bagpipes of a Highland Regiment as it marched into Battle.  There was a bit of a traffic jam as the Tanks caught up with the Sappers but Ken just remembers the Battle as a steady advance over many days, and drinking corned beef out of the tin because it was so hot.  Churchill said of 2nd El Alamein "Before it we never won a battle and after we never lost one."

The 8th Army followed the Germans into Tunis and then took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.  Ken by now was driving a Sherman tank supplied by the Americans.  He didn't take part in any fighting here, just driving through Palermo to embark at Messina for a landing at Taranto on the heel of Italy.  Some of the invasion force landed in Salerno to join up with the American 5th Army under Lieutenant General Mark Clark.

The Liverpool Welsh still with Montgomery's 8th Army now went up the Eastern side of Italy and Ken vividly remembers fighting in the Battle of the River Sangro. The attack began on 28th November 1943 and lasted through bad weather into the New Year but by then Ken and the Battalion had been withdrawn and he was driving his tank across Italy to embark for the Anzio Landings.  Half of the available tanks went to join the Americans for the attack on Monte Cassino and Ken went to Anzio.  He recalls that the landing on January 22nd 1944 was easy, he just drove the Sherman onto the Beach and carried on. He believes that the road to Rome was clear (except for mines) but they were ordered by General Clarke to wait for Monte Cassino to fall before advancing.  Ken thought that Montgomery was a talented Commander but that Mark Clark was too full of himself and wanted to be first into Rome and be seen as their Liberator.

Monte Cassino held out till May 1944, by which time Montgomery and a good section of the 8th Army had gone home to prepare for the Second Front.  Ken remembers driving up towards Rome with tanks in front and behind exploding as they hit mines but he entered Rome in June 1944, behind Mark Clark.

Finally, Ken went to Greece, landing at Piraeus on 12 October 1944.  The Liverpool Welsh with just one squadron of Shermans and a few armoured cars was sent to be part of the peacekeeping force in Greece where a vicious Civil War was now being fought.  Ken remembers this as some of the worst fighting he had seen.  Here he ate octopus, flinging it against rocks to tenderise it and caught Malaria.  At one time it seemed he would die as his temperature was so high.  He survived but had recurrent bouts through the 1940s.  It would have been too sad to survive all those battles just to die of Malaria!

He was outside Athens on VE Day and celebrated drinking rum and other alcohol.  He says they were never short of drink at any time in the war, probably because they were in the Mediterranean.

Ken was demobbed in May 1946 and went home to a fiancée he hadn't seen for 4 years.  He and Gladys got married in August 1946 and must have thought the wait worthwhile as they have been married now for nearly 69 years.  The Richardsons moved to Burton Bradstock in 2008 to be near their daughter, Susan Moores. Below you can see Ken (smoking his pipe) with Tank and other Crew members.

Ken Richardson

Compiled by Susan Moores - May 2015

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