Several years ago, while I was interviewing local veterans about their service in World War II, I was introduced to a man named Ron Ineson. Curious about Ron and his service in World War II, I called him and organized to meet him at his apartment on a Saturday morning.
I ended up spending multiple Saturday mornings with Ron listening to him tell me about his service in Europe during the Second World War, and I am pleased to share with everyone what I learned on those Saturday mornings.
Ron Ineson’s service began when he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in August of 1939. On arriving at military headquarters, Ron was promptly sent home and told to report the next day. “The next day, war was declared, and I was a full-time soldier.”
Billeted in a local dance hall, Ron’s section was the 20th Field Hygiene Section attached to the 42nd Lancashire Division. He was soon to ship out a couple of weeks before Christmas of 1939. With a stop in Cherbourg to collect trucks, they moved south arriving in the town of Laval and then finally to the small village of St. German, France.
Directed to Belgium, Ron found the area in tumult. “The roads were filled with refugees, cattle, horse drawn wagons, and cars piled high with belongings. People by the hundreds were all trying to escape the oncoming Germans. This made it impossible for the army to move at more than a walking pace.”
Ron’s stay in Belgium would be short-lived. News came that only three kilometers away was a Panzer column heading in their direction. “So as fast as we could, we moved out. By the time the first shell dropped 100 yards behind us, we were around the bend and gone. Close but no cigar.” From one spot to another, Ron and the British army were all over Northern Europe. Days would become weeks, and months, until finally, Ron found himself caught up in a grand caravan of retreat. Ron was heading for Dunkirk, France, and hopefully a boat ride home.
During the march to the coast, orders began to come through about abandoning unnecessary material. “The further we went, kitbags and all types of equipment were thrown into the ditches. It didn’t seem to matter what was thrown away, so you could keep going; material things could be replaced.” Dunkirk was swelling with retreating British soldiers. From the beach Ron took in the sight of the evacuation. “We saw the lines of men as far as the eye could see, we knew this was no place for us.”
Spending the night walking down the road, Ron and his friends heard a voice calling. “We found a naval officer instructing us to join the long line of men heading out to sea. The line seemed to be endless. We walked across a path made of spare parts from stretchers, to wood planks, to anything that would help fill the gaps. We eventually came to a destroyer and hospital ship but were told to keep going. We then came to another one and were told to climb aboard. Keep moving could be heard all down that long line.”
Once filled, the ship cast off in less than five minutes. Dawn was breaking on the horizon, and the evacuees caught sight of dozens of sunken ships of the beach. “So many that it was impossible to count. Our haste was also soon apparent. The tide was going out. Everywhere on that ship were soldiers, even below decks was full. I laid down on the deck and fell asleep. Someone gave me a kick, and I looked up and we were in Dover. The shouting began again, ‘get a move on you lot’.” Ron and the other evacuated soldiers were given tea and a bun by some volunteers. “They asked our name and home address and they said they would send a telegram home for us, letting our family know we are safe.”
Loaded onto a train and sent to Larkhill Army Training Camp overlooking Stonehenge, Ron finally got a proper meal, blankets, and was told to find a place in the field to bed down. “Within three days we were sent on leave. By this time, the ships stopped going to Dunkirk. The people left were taken prisoner.”
Stationed in Northumbrian, Ron went through daily drill and planning for the Allied attack on Nazi-occupied Africa. It was not until they were on the bow of their invasion ships, did Ron and his fellow soldiers learn about their next destination. “We got off in Algeria, there was nothing when we landed. We docked and disembarked at a harbour. We were the support troops. The fighting troops were first, then the odds and sods like us were sent in.”
Ron’s primary task was to locate water and make it drinkable. “Everything else was brought, water had to be found. I was sent on long-range patrol with some French Foreign Legion members to find drinkable water. Instead, we found wells that had been poisoned by the Nazis.”
At one prospective water hole, Nazi troops started lobbing shells, and for Ron and the rest of the search party, the only safe place was down in the well. “It was stressful in that well. The walls were coming in on ya, your nerves could get to ya.”
After the success of North Africa, Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily began. On invasion day when Ron went ashore, he says “no sooner had I got on the beach, then I was told to get back on the barge and leave the beach.”
Ron’s service in Italy did not end on that beach. He would spend the rest of the war marching from the heel of the boot northward and beyond. Leapfrogging from town to town, Ron and the Medical Corps would enter the town and get the essential services working following a battle.
During Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy during the 1920s, he had pumped out the water from all the marshes to make work projects for the citizens. Since the war had began, the marshes were flooded, and with the inundation of water, the appearance of mosquitos and malaria started affecting the health of the Allied soldiers.
As a member of the Medical Corps, Ron spent many days working on the purification of water, and the treatment of malaria. Ron even made many daring runs across enemy territory to collect mosquito samples. His commanding officer was meant to report on the progress combating malaria, but fell ill, and Ron ended up making the report to famed British General, Bernard Law Montgomery.
Expecting Ron’s commanding officer and receiving Ron who was a sergeant, Montgomery had commented, ‘A sergeant? Have we no officers?” Assured that Ron was an expert on the subject, he began his presentation. “You know, all Monty said was thank you and I could go.”
“I was in Foggia when Rome was liberated on June 5th, 1944. I don’t remember any big celebrations, it was just another stop.” His journey continued beyond Italy and right into Austria. Attached to a Russian unit, Ron couldn’t enter Vienna for three days, “until the organized looting was over.”
“One morning in Vienna, I heard a ruckus outside my window and I went to look and see what it was. There were these two Russian soldiers trying to steal these fur coats right off the backs of these two ladies. An officer came along and got into an argument with the two would-be thieves, and the officer shot them both right where they stood.”
When the war did end in April of 1945, “I was sleeping in a billet outside of Vienna. I heard cheering, but I didn’t bother joining. A load was lifted off my shoulders.” His greatest commendations came when his name was mentioned twice in British dispatches. A soldier that is mentioned in dispatches should feel especially proud, for they have done something notable in the war zone and the commanders in the field have felt the need to make the superior officers aware of these actions.
Settling in Kingston, Ron went on to become a successful electrician. “I am glad I was there to see history made, and to be part of it. But I wouldn’t want to go through it again. Many of the horrors we saw are best left unsaid. We try to forget, but one never can.”
Thank you Ron for sharing your story with me.