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Dated:  October 14, 2008

British 8th Army

Thomas Wadsworth

Gunner Thomas Wadsworth
15th Royal Artillery Regiment
7th 'Desert Rats' Armoured Division
56th 'London' Infantry Division

and his brother
Gordon Wadsworth, Royal Engineers

   This is my first biography that I have added of a soldier in a unit that was not American.  Of course, the first had to be an artilleryman.

  Thomas Wadsworth was born in Dec 1913.  His twin, Irene, died in childhood.  He was the youngest of 9 children, 4 of which died as children.  One of his older brothers was Gordon, who was born on 17 June 1911.  He also had a twin sister, Freda.  Their Farther, Cyrus, died in Feb 1917, but not in the Great War.  He was a farmer and stone mason and farming was a reserve occupation.  He died of pneumonia after being up all night with a sick pig.  Cyrus’s wife was called Fanny ( Ne Lord )  therefore brought all the 5 remaining children up on her own partly running the farm and a transport business. Fanny Died in Dec1957.

  In August 1940 both Thomas and older brother Gordon joined up.  The eldest brother, Roland, ran the transport business.  Thomas was sent for training at Kimnel Bay north Wales and that was the last he saw of his brother until 4 years later.  After training Thomas was sent to the Royal Artillery as a driver mechanic and Gordon, a stone mason by trade, was sent to Royal Engineers.  This became a family joke because this was so out of character for Gordon’s personal qualities.

  The two men then went to their postings never to contact or communicate again until a chance meeting in Florence Italy.  In Jan 1945 Dad was on leave in Florence, Italy and by complete coincidence met up with his brother Gordon.  I do not know Gordon’s service history but he was at Anzio, I think.  Dad landed at Brindisi with the heavy equipment.

Thomas and his brother Gordon
Photo taken of Thomas and Gordon in uniform at the time
of the meeting in Florence, January 1945.

   At the beginning of the war, the 15th Field Regiment was a horse artillery and operated with horse-drawn 18-lb Mk. 1 guns.  The regiment was sent to India for a period, where they turned their mounts over to the Indian troops and became mechanized.  Thomas was posted to the 15th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, in March 1941.   The Regiment sailed to the Persian Gulf and crossed the frontier of Iraq, through Baghdad, and traveled to Teheran, Haifa and Damascus.   In April 1944, it was dispatched to the east coast of Italy where it was assigned to the 7th Armoured Division “Desert Rats” of the British 8th Army.
     At this time, the 15th R.A.R. was armed with Sextons, which were 25-pound guns mounted on a mobile chasis.  The 25-pdr was one of the best field guns of it's day and was very similar to the US 105 mm howitzer.  Although it did not fire a shell as heavey as the German and American 105mm (4.1-in) weapons, it was easier to handle in action and has an excellent range.  The 25-pdr fired a 3.45-inch caliber and the 105 howitzer fired a 4.1-inch caliber round.  The British needed a mobile gun like the open-top “Priest” but the US could not produce enough for them.  They decided on a similar design that was built in Canada, using the chassis of the RAM tank then in production and a few components of the US M3 medium tank.  The Sexton loosely resembled a Sherman tank with a field gun installed in the open top (see photo, below).
   The regiment went into combat on 28th May.  Later in December 1944, the 15th R.A.R. was assigned to the 56th “London” Division and then to the Polish division.

Cap Badge of Royal Artillery
Cap Badge of Royal Artillery Regiment,
worn by all British artillery regiments.

Click to skip the History & continue with Stories.

History of the 15th Royal Artillery Regiment  in Italy

    On March 8th 1944 a letter was received from RA Branch GHQ MEF, stating that the Regiment was to reorganise on a towed basis. This retrograde step was temporarily averted after representations had been made to the MGRA and the CGS.  As a result of them, it was decided that the Regiment would be sent to ITALY and on 3rd April 1944 it moved to MENA Camp to await firm orders for its despatch.
On 7 May 1944 after a visit to HQ, AAI it was decided that although the Regiment would hand over its SP Guns, it would remain on an SP establishment and be equipped with towed 25 ponders. This step was also avoided by the unexpectedly early arrival of SEXTONS (25 pdrs on RAM Chassis), the first of which had arrived at NAPLES that day.
On 11th and 12th May 1944 the Regiment less its guns concentrated at EBOLI, under command of 10 AGRA.  Arrangements were made for it to carry out the servicing of its new SEXTONS which had been despatched to TORINO DEL SANGRO.  On 24th  May the BRA, Brigadier A.H. HORNBY, OBE, MC informed the Regiment during his inspection of it that it was to go to 5th Corps on the East Coast where it would be affiliated to 7th Armoured Brigade. It moved the next day and arrived at its concentration area North of the River SANGRO on the 26th May 1944.
Sexton armored artillery
SEXTONS of the 15th Royal Artillery on parade.

Servicing was completed rapidly and the Regiment went into action against German Troops for the first time in this War on the 28th May 1944.  The sector, which was then held by the 10th Indian Division, was a quiet one, and as soon as all guns had fired 50 EFC they were calibrated.  Great satisfaction with the new equipment was expressed by all ranks, but it was considered that the normal Sherman tracks were superior to the CDP type, an application was made to change them.

There being no immediate task for the Sherman Tank OPs, they were deployed and used as a third troop in each Battery.  The accurate 75 mm gun proved to be especially effective against houses. On 9th June 1944 the advance through the shambles that were TOLLO and MIGLIANICO started, the Regiment being in support of the 4th Indian Division. On the night of 10th June 1944, not only were the first two POW that the Regiment had taken brought in, but a possible Ford over the River PESCARA, was found.  This ford was suitably marked the next morning and the main pursuit force crossed there.   During the subsequent advance the road gave way under one gun crashing down the cliff face caused the death of one NCO and two men. The pursuit against very light opposition continued until the Polish Corps passed through the 4th Indian Division on 15th June 1944 the Regiment was ordered to return to 7th Armoured Brigade. It started back the next day, spent a few days at FRISA moved, with the Brigade, to VENAFRO on 22nd June.  An appreciative letter for its services was received from Major General A. W. W HOLDSWORTH, Commander 4th Indian Division.

A period of intensive training with 7th Armoured Brigade now started, and continued until the beginning of August. Outstanding incidents were visits by Lieut. General C.W, ALLFREY, DSO, MC Commander 5 Corps on 2nd July 1944, the departure of Major R. H. Dening, RA, and the despatch of a party of one Officer and 20 OR’s to attend a parade before HM THE KING.  In first week of August 7th Armoured Brigade moved to Lake BRACCIANO for special training, the Regiment remained at ANAGNI.   I series of conflicting orders were received, but eventually it was ordered to move to near CAMERINO and revert to command 7 Armoured Brigade. This move started on 16th August and so it moved into the concentration area of the EIGHTH ARMY for the Battle of the GOTHIC LINE.

On 26th August 1944 the Regiment started to move forward and came into action beside the River FOGLIA on 30th August 1944.  It was then in the direct support of 169 Infantry Brigade of 56th (London) Division, under whose command was 7th Armoured Brigade.  It moved through the first defences of that line the next day and from then until the 15th October 1944 was continuously engaged in heavy fighting advancing via MONDAINO, MORCIANO and FALCIANO to SANTARCANGELO.  Casualties during this period were 3 Officers and 16 ORs killed, and 3 Officers and 24 OR’s wounded.  During the battle the CDP tracks on the SEXTON’s were changed to the normal Sherman type.

The training and close liaison with the 7th Armoured Brigade proved of immense value and the action during this period further cemented the affiliation. In the first week of October the 7th Armoured Brigade and the 56th (London) Division moved out to rest to the RECANATI area and on 15th October 1944 orders were received for the Regiment to follow them.

On 17th October 1944 the Regiment arrived at OSIMO, where it received high praise from Brigadier O.L. PRIOR-PALMER, Commander of 7th Armoured. Brigade, for its share in the Battle, and he expressed his desire for it to wear the GREEN DESERT RAT, the Brigades Formation Sign. The ensuing period was spent in resting, refitting and general maintenance.  During it Major P. B. Coates, RA left on return to UK.

On 20th November 1944 the Regiment moved forward with 7th Armoured Brigade and concentrated near FORLIMPOPOLI.  The next day it went into action in support of the 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade, and from then until 25th April 1945 was continuously in action.

On 3rd December 1944 the Regiment moved from south of FAENZA where it had been supporting the 10th Indian Division to north of that town. From this position it supported the 7th Armoured Brigade in a highly successful local action, which resulted in the clearing of all enemy from the EAST of the River SENIO.  Two days later, it moved again to PIAVE DI CESATO in support of 56th (London) Division and this was its main winter position. Ammunition was strictly limited and the period was a comparatively quiet one.  As much training as was possible was done, and all guns and vehicles overhauled.

When 56th (London) Division were withdrawn for rest in early March, the regiment moved back to the outskirts of FAENZA in support of 5th KRESOWA Division.

On the 8th April 1945 the Regiment moved to its battle position at S.ANDREA from where it supported units of the 7th. Armoured Brigade who in turn were in support of the 3rd CARPATHIAN Division, and it advanced with them, 2 Polish Armoured Brigade, 43 Gurkha Lorried infantry Brigade and 10th Indian Division up to the crossing of the river QUADERNO.  At times the Regiment was deployed over a frontage of 9,500 yards, but despite this, centralised fire control was maintained.  The steady rate of advance during this period changed to a pursuit, and orders were received to support 12th Lancers who were then under command of 2nd New Zealand Division. After crossing the River IDICE, the Regiment took up its final position near BONDENO, SOUTH of the River PO.  Inadequate bridging facilities prevented any further share in the advance and the Regiment came out of action for the first time since the 21st November 1944 on the 25th April 1945.  POW taken by members of the Regiment totaled 2 Officers and 31 OR’s, our own casualties being 1 OR killed and 3 wounded. Various special orders and congratulatory messages were received, including a letter from the Commander of the 3rd CARPATHIAN Division who forwarded a Divisional Flash as a token of his appreciation of the support we had rendered to that formation.

On 28th May 1945 the Regiment moved up into Austria.

  Thomas Wadsworth passed along a few stories to his family.  He told of traveling on  troop ships that were full of soldiers.  He traveled on a ship to Basra then Iraq and Persia.  He recalled sleeping on the deck and getting a sun tan.  Before arriving in Italy, his unit traveled to Palestine and to many cities such as Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Damascus.   In Egypt, Thomas visited the Pyramids and a group of them even climbed up to the top and played a game of football.  The pyramids are quite flat on the top.  He had sent home some photos of the Dead Sea, the Wailing Wall Jerusalem, and Seven Sister road in Italy.  One souvenir he picked up during his travels was a Gurkha knife.

   Desert heat, sandstorms and night cold also stories of snow in the Desert.  When Dad was ill he would often drink a glass of water with a spoon of salt dissolved in it.  This was a treatment given to all the Regiment to prevent sun stroke.

    The regiment was dug in and facing the enemy.  When an enemy officer approached on a jeep and asked Dads regiment to surrender.  When the enemy realized that the British had Artillery support then the enemy changed tact and decided to surrender themselves.  The enemy being cavalry realized that they were no match of 25 pound guns.

    When asked if he had any near misses he talked about a shell landing at the back of his Tank (self-propelled gun Sexton ) and killing some rabbits they had stored in a box at the back.

After the War
   Thomas remained in the Army for several years.  He was a lorrey driver and the army apparently needed him.  He met Jean Lundy and they were married in March 1951.  Their first son was born on 21 October 1952, followed by another son and a daughter.
    Thomas Wadsworth died in February 1983 and Gordon Wadsworth died on 7 June 1997.


A special thanks to David Wadsworth who graciously provided the photos, stories and recollections so we can remember his father, Thomas Wadsworth

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