Joe Lake

Joe Lake was a private in the British Army from 1940 to 1945. In September 1940, when he was fourteen years old, he officially enlisted after convincing the recruiting officers he was nineteen. At that time, The Battle of Britain raged in the skies above England and Luftwaffe bombs rained down nightly on his home city of Birmingham. In England, he served as an infantryman in the South Staffordshires, and as a Red Beret in the Regiment’s Glider Battalion, before landing at Normandy during the D-Day Allied invasion at Sword Beach in June 1944. By then, just eighteen years of age, he was a seasoned soldier, having had four years active service. He saw heavy action during the autumn and winter of 1944–45, through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, first in the trenches, and then as a reconnaissance sniper for the 8th Brigade, often in No Man’s Land between his and enemy lines. Now 97, Joe has lived at Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia, for almost forty years, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 2015.


Chapter One: 1940, a Second War for Dad, a Second Husband Missing for Mum

On the evening of Friday, June 7, I arrived home from work around a quarter past six as usual, to find my mother with her ear jammed hard against the radio, listening to the BBC news. The situation was grave. Even though it had been almost a week since the last survivors had been rescued from the beaches around Dunkirk, Mum had heard nothing that could throw more light on my father’s whereabouts.

There was one small ray of hope. Our neighbours had heard there’d been soldiers at the local pub the night before and there was a strong possibility some may have been members of our own county regiment, the Warwicks.

After tea, my mother thought I should take a stroll to the Gospel Oak to see what I could find out, telling me that any bit of information might help explain Dad’s absence. By the time I eventually arrived at the pub it was nearly nine o’clock and I was surprised to find the big crowd that crammed the public bar was already getting into singing mode. Their carryings-on made it hard for me to believe that only a couple of days earlier, the humbled British Army had suffered its biggest set-back in over two hundred years. Hardly the time for celebrations, I thought.

The army was well represented. Many of the soldiers frequenting the pub during the past nine months were serving with one of the locally-based heavy anti-aircraft batteries. This particular territorial unit of two or three hundred men, along with their guns, were encamped near the Robin Hood Golf Course, just a few hundred yards away, close enough for many of the gunners to have made the Gospel their second home. In the months ahead, these young artillerymen would be spending less time at the bar, and more time around their guns, much to the dismay of those unfortunate enough to be living within a mile of them.

Too young to enter the pub, I tried to make myself comfortable sitting on a concrete step near the entrance to the public bar, as I listened to a fine rendition of “Roses of Picardy”, followed by a pretty loud but very ordinary version of “Lily of Laguna”. I began to wonder if my little excursion was going to help in any way to resolve the mystery surrounding my father’s whereabouts. The light was beginning to wane, but there was no let-up in the singing.

Suddenly a khaki-clad figure came shuffling backwards through swinging doors, almost falling on top of me. This fellow appeared to be very much under the weather, but since the forage cap screwed up beneath a shoulder epaulette bore the badge of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, I thought I’d better try to have a natter with him.

‘My father’s in the same regiment as you,’ I said, eventually able to get through to him. ‘Is there any chance you’d know him?’

Showing the single result