Jack Hepworth

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223 Field Ambulance. Royal Army Medical Corps.

A man wearing a shirt and tie with a jcaket. He is holding a pipe and looking over the camera, not directly at the lens.

Jack Hepworth.

Jack's D-Day experiences:

(written by his comrade, Jim Wisewell)

Preparation and training:

Jack was a member of the 223 Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C. which he had joined in the winter of 1940-1, when it was building up it's strength at Frogmore Hall, Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire.

The 223 Field Ambulance was made up of men from many walks of life and areas including a large contingent from the cities and towns of the North of England. Soon the Northerners and Southerners formed a friendly rivalry, laughing (and misunderstanding) each other's accents and generally taking the mickey out of the other group.
But, seriously, there was a comradeship between us born of adversity. We were "all in it together", away from home, wife, and comfortable living.

Inevitably we began to gravitate into 'like-minded' groups, the two extremes being (a) the street-wise types from Liverpool and Glasgow who were often drunk at weekends, and (z) the sober, intelligent, well-read men with high morals who were despised by group (a) but liked and respected by the groups in between. Jack was of the latter group, along with men who studied the Law, religious men and teachers.

Jack special friend was Lew, both had an aptitude for showmanship and acting. They became the Entertainment section of the Unit, organizing and performing plays, concerts and skits on the units officers (often including the punch lines "pack it in, chaps, pack it in" – referring to how we had been taught to use the ointment Tannofax on tank burns victims), impersonating popular music-hall acts and much more. Jack's knowledge of footwear brought him the job of Unit boot-repairer and we marched all over France, Belgium and Holland and Germany on the iron studs he hammered into our soles (not souls). His "staff employed" position saved him a lot of useless drilling and marching but he was obliged to undergo sufficient training to make him proficient in first aid treatment of casualties. Like others of us in group (z) he took exams to qualify as "Nursing Orderly Class I".

When the planning for D-Day was done the Field Ambulances H.Q.Coy, to which practically all of the men of group (z) was divided into two and placed half each between 2 landing crafts (Tank) , so that if one should be sunk on approaching the beach the other one could still function as an ADS ( Advanced Dressing Station). We were allocated a stretcher between two men and Jack naturally would have liked to invade with Lew, his bosom pal. However this was not possible as they had been allocated to different LCTs, so he and I paired up. We were about the same height – important to the casualty on the stretcher, if there was one, because with one tall and one small bearer he might slide off! So in their rehearsals for the invasion on the Scottish beaches and the South coast Jack was at one end and I at the other. This brought us very close as we slept with the stretcher and equipment.
When the actual day came we had worked things out satisfactorily. Neither of us were prone to seasickness so we slept under one of the Tanks to keep dry and used the blankets from the stretcher to keep warm. We got quite a lot of sleep apart from being wakened by aircraft overhead as the Airborne troops went in soon after midnight, June 5th.

Landing in France:

We got up at daylight – about 4:30-5:00 am, washed and shaved in the crew's washroom, repacked the blankets and checked the other medical equipment we were to carry ashore in packs on our backs. In the small packs strapped to our sides we carried personal kit such as washing and shaving things and 48-hour boxes of de-hydrated and concentrated food which would last us for 2 days or until the cooks could provide us with a meal. There were concentrated meat tablets, blocks of oats for porridge, cubes of tea and milk (Oxo-sized) and boiled sweets. On the other side we carried a full water-bottle in case access to water supplies was difficult. Jack and I made arrangements with men on the other boat to take our razor-blades – which were in short supply- if we were killed in the landing. A bit of inexcusable bravado, I think.

Breakfast soon followed, porridge, bacon, bread (the last bread for weeks),butter, jam and lashings of hot, sweet tea. Then we were free to watch the show of 5000 ships of all sizes making for France. At one point we were near the LCT with our other half and we waved to each other. I think Jack said he could see Lew on board, but I'm not sure about that. Soon after this, either hitting a mine or being hit by a shell from a long-distance gun – probably from Le Havre, an LCT like ours blew up and sank in minutes. We saw no survivors. Jack and I looked at each other. It might have been us – or Lew in the other craft.

When we got nearer the coast we hoisted a barrage balloon to discourage dive-bombers (this was discontinued later when it was realised that long-distance German gunners were ranging their shells on the balloons. Obvious thing to do!). Ours was shot down before we got anywhere near the beach. The tanks on our LCT made radio contact with those already landed and said "They're ashore. Opposition not too bad." As we sailed the last 100 yards or so we could see something of the devastation on the beach and among the houses lining the shore. Rocket- carrying craft sailed in and discharged 1000 rockets.

We hit the beach with a bump and Jack and I picked up the ends of our Stretcher but we had a few minutes to wait while the 4 tanks rolled off (it was deemed more important to add them to the action first). Then the officer in charge of us shouted, "come on, chaps!" and we ran down the steel ramp and on to the beach. Rehearsals in Scotland and South Coast had plunged us waist-deep in water, icy in January. On June 6th it was quite warm and only ankle deep. We ran up the sand and dropped into the nearest shell-hole, both Jack and I a bit breathless.

Looking round we saw a chap in the next shell-hole with his face twisted in pain and clutching his arm which had been hit but our orders were that we should not treat anyone on the beach as there were beach groups, RAMC, for this. We were to push on. Shells and mortar-bombs were falling among the houses in front of us, scattering bricks and glass. A beach-master spotted us in a shell-hole and as it was his job to keep the beach clear and all traffic moving, roared:

"Get off the beach! Get off inland!"

These beach-masters were a breed of their own. Usually Majors, they had pre-eminence over higher ranks than themselves in the matter of beach clearance and their word was law. I saw one with an Alsatian on a lead fastened to his owners belt- a fearsome pair.

So we got off the beach, Jack and I still carrying the stretcher. (I'll condense things a bit.) We picked our way over fallen masonry, broken glass, and twisted telephone wires. There was still fighting going on in this little town of Lion-sur-Mer; in fact it was not fully occupied until later the next day.) We had orders to rendezvous in the next village, Hermanville-sur-Mer, so or officer led us round the back of the church and along a deserted road bordering a mine-field to the outskirts of Hermanville. Here we dug trenches in someone's back garden and an NCO was sent out to try and make contact with the rest of H.Q. Company. He could not and we moved on and into the village proper. A group of Frenchmen stood by the gate and feeling like conquerors giving them back their country, we called out, "Vive la France!" They did not respond but turned their faces away. We found out afterwards they were afraid we would be pushed back into the sea and woe betide them if they had fraternised with us.

We moved into the heart of the village and settled in the grounds of a chateau, expecting to move again and set up our ADS in Caen. But our Division was halted by a tank-counter-attack and we did not take Caen until July 8th. So we set up the ADS where we were.

Jack and I and others worked on treating casualties all night and the following days, moving every time the infantry moved forward until the boots of the unit began to need studding and Jack was relieved of first-aid duties and given a tent for repair work. Though he must have been tempted to sleep in it so that he could keep dry, with the rest of us he dug an invidual slit-trench at each location and slept in it. This was wise because one night a German plane came "hedge-hopping" and scattering anti-personnel bombs which fragmented as they exploded. They killed 2 ambulance drivers who had dug a very wide trench and in the morning we saw two ragged holes in the "Cobbler's Tent." Jack was very proud of them!

Jack was one of the best men I met in the Army.

Jim Wisewell. October 31st, 2002.


This is a condensed version of an original letter (scanned from Keighley and District Local History Digital Archives – with permission to use) sent to Jack's daughter on her enquiring to his comrade as to "What did Dad do in the war?", as Jack would not speak of it.

Information sources and acknowledgements:

Jack's daughter.
Transcription: Joyce Newton, Keighley and District Local History Society.
Photo: Keighley News, 1951.

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