Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

The Germans Knew They Were Beaten. but I Was No Match for Mannion

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

The Germans Knew They Were Beaten. but I Was No Match for Mannion

Article excerpt

AS a schoolboy footballer Jack Richardson might have dreamed about coming up against professional players from the German national squad.

But when the South Bank lad did finally meet one it was not in the cauldron of a packed football stadium - it was in a German prisoner of war camp!

Jack, a Bren gunner with The Green Howards, was one of the last off the beaches at Dunkirk, after bravely and desperately fighting off the advancing Germans at Bray-Dunes for days.

He was then sent to Weymouth, helping defend his own country during the Battle of Britain.

Jack and six colleagues came across a downed German airman who had the nerve to point his revolver at them. "He soon put his revolver down," laughed the 94-year-old veteran at his home in Teesville.

The young soldier, a joiner before the war, then sailed with thousands of Allied troops for North Africa to take the fight to the Germans and Italians in the deserts of Libya and Egypt.

"We didn't know where we were going," he said. "I was very pleased when we came to Africa. We could have been going to the Far East. There was trouble there and a lot of British prisoners had already been taken.

"We landed at the top of the Suez Canal and went into Egypt. The desert was huge."

But his stay in North Africa was short lived. Jack's unit was sent to Cyprus for two months to meet the threatened German attack there, and he was then hospitalised for six weeks in Palestine with diphtheria.

When he finally came back to Libya he was stationed at Gazala, just outside Tobruk where the British Eighth Army dug in against the might of Rommel's Afrika Korps.

"We only had small arms weapons. The Germans were shelling us constantly.

"On one occasion my lieutenant came to my dugout and said he wanted me to go up to the top of the ridge and a have a look with my binoculars.

"When I got there I was suddenly smothered in sand - a shell had landed right in front of me, I don't even know if it went off. Then when I got back to my dugout it had been blown to bits. If I hadn't gone out I'd have been blown to bits too!" Outflanked by the German army, Jack and his unit had to try to escape - but the only way out was through their own minefield. And it was here that Jack ended up getting captured - through his own brave efforts to help a fallen comrade.

"A lad behind me got hit," he said. "I had to dress his wounds, so I stayed behind to help him. I then pressed on, but as we got to the other side of the minefield I was taken prisoner."

It was June 1942 and Jack's war was over. But later that year, he and his fellow prisoners were able to quietly rejoice in the news of the British victory at El Alamein, thanks to an unlikely friendship he struck up with one German guard.

"This guard was a professional footballer for Germany," Jack smiles. …

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