Tom Stokes' Story

Tom Stokes ( see photos) was born in 1910, and now lives in Heaton, Bolton though he is a son of rural Hereford, from a style of life long gone. At 92 he is as sharp as ever and I was most impressed by his fantastic memory.

An Optometrist by profession he was at the forefront of the development of contact lenses. He joined the army at the outbreak of the war, enlisting in the 5th Bn South Staffs, and went to France with the BEF as a member of the 7th Bn King's Own Royal Rifles. It was during this short spell in France that Tom had some of his worst experiences of the war, being locked inside a goods wagon crammed with soldiers heading for Belgium, and witnessing the Luftwaffe bombing and strafing the roads packed with civilians on his journey back to Dunkirk. It was after Dunkirk that he was commissioned into the 6th KSLI and eventually transferred to the Artillery. After serving for some time as assistant Adjutant he was posted to B Troop / 177 Bty as GPO(gun position officer).

Tom was one of the first Officers I contacted, and helped me contact other Officers from the Regiment. He recalled many aspects of the 25pnd field gun and the gun drill after almost 60 years. The guns were calibrated in the UK, and, he explained that the shells were fired to land about 200 - 300yds in front of the Infantry, and were lifted 100 yds every 3 minutes. The FOO (forward observation officer) would warn the infantry if they were advancing too quickly. Forward movement of the guns would be made at night to maintain accuracy. After the Infantry had gained their objective, the Guns would be directed onto Military targets, troop movements, tank laagers, railway stations, machine gun nests etc.. A map reference was the preferred methods of bringing the guns on target, but only if the maps were accurate. If not a ranging shell would be fired though this would alert the enemy. The shell would have an accuracy of about 25yds though the shrapnel would cover about 100 yds, the effect of a concentrated barrage was devastating, those not killed or wounded by would be driven mad by shellfire.

There were different types of shell A/P (armour piercing), A/B (air burst) etc., and different types of charge for power; a double charge (supercharge) would send a shell over 12.000 yds but quickly wore down the barrel. Smoke shells were also used, to cover troop movements, there was a 20 mile smoke screen during the preparation for the Rhine crossing….

stories from Tom here.