John Collier was a wireless operator/ loader on Cheetah of Number 2 Squadron of the Coldstream Guards of the 6th Guards Tank Brigade. John addressed LandmarkScout after reading the story of the Jackal tank and Jonathan ‘Johnny” Lambert. Well in his nineties John wrote us;
I was alongside the Churchill tank the Jackal when it blew up. My old mate, Bob ‘Robert’ Dare was on that tank and unfortunately we were unable to stop. I was convinced that Bob was dead and it was only later I found out what the casualties were. I stayed in contact with Bob after the war and met him a few times until he died a few years ago. It was good to hear Jonathan led a full life after the war despite his appealing injuries.
During the winter of 1944 I had the pleasure of being billeted in Helmond and made friends with Antoon and Carrie van Leishout Sleegers at their home in Tournistraat. I visited them after the war. Sadly, I believe they will have died by now. I most remember the St Nicholas Day party which was a welcome relief from the stresses created by the war.
I presume that your nationality is Dutch and I must admit, borne out of my war experiences, that I have a great affection and admiration for the nation as a whole.
John presented us a letter from Bob Dare who describes the faith of the crew of the Jackal on this awful day in 1944.
The letter from Bob is send to Bill Hutchinson. Bill was a Dunkirk veteran and a Market Garden veteran, in later life he was associated with the Market Garden Veterans’ Association. He unfortunately passed away in 2013 at 92 years of age.
On our return visit to Holland shortly, would you be so kind to pay my respects to two of my fallen comrades who so tragically died in my tank, the Churchill named ‘Jackal’, which you will no doubt see when you visit Overloon Museum. Now I am the only survivor of the crew of 5, when we unfortunately ran over a mine about 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, 12th October 1944.
I have returned several times over the years to pay homage to them, and to ask them for forgiveness for not being able to help them to get out if the turret. Their cries for help are still with me to-day, 54 years later.
They have been many questions asked, but not answered, as how so many of us got caught in this trap.
I remember getting ready for the attack during the morning. My crew were made up of Sgt. Garner, L. Commander, myself, the driver Gds. Bob Silman and Gds. Gordon Wright, turret men, and my co-driver was L. Sgt. Johnny Lambert. Johnny Lambert only came to join us the day before, from another tank which had been blown up and my original co-driver had received injuries which made it possible for him to take part in any action.
We had the order to move out and steadily drove up this small lane, line astern. We were being shelled mercilessly – moaning minnies. The days before were bad but things were worse. Then we had the order to turn LEFT clean through hedges and woods and proceed over open ground in ‘V’ formation. I was the lead tank. The tank on my left had been hit, but we were ordered to carry on. A few minutes later my tank was lifted up in the air by a huge explosion, smoke and flames filled the tank, and Sgt. Garner shouting ‘OUT’ that was all. The explosion was on the left side, lifting me to bale out- my clothes were burning and blood was coming from somewhere. I crawled to the back of the tank, stood up and saw no one else. My co-driver’s escape hatch was still shut, so I went back into the tank undid my co-drivers hatch and pushed him out, he was unconscious and burning. Bob and Gordon were screaming for me to get them out, but there was no way through. I got out of the tank, my eyes were nearly closed. I went round to Johnny’s side and dragged him away in my own tank track marks. Away from the tank and smoke I noticed he had no legs. His right one was completely severed near the ankle and hanging on by a piece of his denims. When I was about 10 yards to the rear of the tank I went back to the tank, jumped in to the top to see if I could help the others. Out of the flames and smoke coming from the commander’s hatch came Sgt. Garner, he was burning, his hands were black, but I managed to drag him free, dropped him on to the engine cover, which were already red hot, and dropped him over the back of the tank, and dragged him beside Johnny Lambert.
They both laid still, I thought they both had died. I had a look at Sgt. Garner and the front of his body had a huge hole in it, a piece had been torn out. Several tanks laid smoke down and some of the other crews came and put us on the top of the nearest tank and drove us back to the first aid post. I wanted to return to help Gordon and Bob but was stopped because, little did I know, I was walking in a minefield. Three more of our tanks were hit, but was the Lord on my side that day?
While I was on a stretcher waiting to been to Sgt. Garner was being carried past on a stretcher, at the first aid post, but saw me, and as God is my judge, he leaned over and said thanks for saving me, but I could do nothing for the others. I have never seen Johnny Lambert or Sgt. Garner since, but as you can see, Johnny Lambert’s story came to light in 1994’s edition of our Gazette.
I contacted him, but he is reluctant to talk about it because he was unconscious at the time. Jonny recently passed away aged 74 years. I know nothing of Sgt. Garner, but in 1994 I traced the family of Gordon Wright. We had a reunion, a very emotional affair it was because Gordon’s mother was still alive, aged 91 years.
After 50 years I was able to set their minds at rest as to what really happened, without the details and that he died among friends. I indeed also made many friends of Gordon’s family. Alas, I could never find out if Bob Silman had any surviving relations, perhaps one day.
You will find also a copy of a letter from one if the crew and a close friend of mine, John Collier, written in 1946. He was in a following troop. Unfortunately, he, like many of us, is reluctant to talk about things – old age, sad memories, and the loss of dear friends.
I saw ‘Jackal’ many years ago after u had related my story to some veterans. Having told them some said ‘THAT’ tank is in a museum in Overloon. The first time I saw it was very emotional, so many memoirs came back, and when I found their graves it all but Destroyed me, so close yet so far.
I have enclosed a few photocopies of a tank, which was the 6th Guards Independent Tank Brigade, of crews sat by the side of the Churchill tank, on the big photo you can but novice the smiling faces of L. Sgt. Tommy Hunt from Worksop, as all drivers carries John Wayne style, theri Smith and Wesson 45 on their hips. Alas Tommy passed away a few years ago.
The crew of the Jackal were;
2665338 Gds. Robert C. Dare Driver Light wounds and severe burns
2665937 Gds. Rober Silman Turret Killed in action
2666077 Gds. Gordon Wright Turret Killed in action
2661079 L.Sgt. Johnny Lambert Co-Driver Wounded
2661529 S.Cm. L. Garner Commander Wounded
Mr. R.C. Dare
A note from the Scouts,
The commander of the Jackal in the letter from Robert Dare differs from the commander in the article on the Jackal. In Roberts letter he speaks of Mr. L. Garner and the article on the Jackal refers to Mr. Dick Mc Dougal. Unfortunately we do not have more information on this subject and decided to place Roberts letter as it is for it is a part of history and let the article of the Jackal untouched.
Well said by the son of a tank commander in the same unit; ‘detail is not that important, the fact they tell their stories is!’