My cousin, Paul Gent has an interest in Military Vehicles and we began corresponding. He was very interested in his Uncle's war memories, especially as he was in a Tank regiment. Some of my father's memories were first published on the Historic Military Vehicle Forum website, and as a result it has been arranged for my Father to drive an original WWII, rebuilt Sherman Tank at the Armour and Embarkation in Dorset in June. A gentleman by the name of Adrian Burrell acquired a wreck of a Sherman in 1991 and after 9 years of painstaking restoration is now the proud owner of a superbly, restored Sherman Tank. He has kindly offered my father a chance to drive it and my father is eager to take up the offer.
The photos above are of the Sherman Tank as it was found and after Adrian Burrell had finished his restoration. Very impressive!
My father, Frank Dennis Gent all ready for his day at Armour and Embarkation and to be in a Sherman tank again. He looks so happy.
In this picture he is sat in front of a model of a Sherman Tank he made out of old cans whilst he was in action in Italy during WWII.
My father, Frank Dennis Gent, his younger brother Ralph in centre, and to the left Paul Gent, my father's nephew, who along with his friends from HMVF made this dream come true for my father. Ready to set off for a day of action!
Finally, after months of anticipation my father, Frank Dennis Gent is in a Sherman Tank again, after nearly 60 years!
This is the actual footage of that long awaited occasion.
The happy look on my father's face says it all as he drives around in the Sherman Tank.
So many memories must have been evoked as he did so. Some happy, many tragic but all part of his 89 years, and the part he played in WWII, and all precious.
I think the grin on Dad's face says it all!
My Aunt Mary (Paul Gent's mother) said in an email to me:- "Hi Rina, From what I hear, Dennis had a great day. Ralph said he didn't eat anything he was so excited. He climbed up and slid into the Sherman like a young man, rode in the co-pilots seat as he did before, with a huge smile on his face,then sat around with folk asking him lots of questions as they had not met anyone who had actually been in the war. Certainly a Fathers Day, to remember.
From what I hear, Dennis had a great day. Ralph said he didn't eat anything he was so excited. He climbed up and slid into the Sherman like a young man, rode in the co-pilots seat as he did before, with a huge smile on his face,then sat around with folk asking him lots of questions as they had not met anyone who had actually been in the war.
Certainly a Fathers Day, to remember.
It certainly was, just sad I was not there to share this momentous occasion with him.
Paul Gent, my cousin, who arranged the day, also said in an email to me:-
"Your Dad talked and they listened with genuine interest and asked a lot of questions too. He then went back to my car to get his model Sherman he had made in Italy. While he was gone they said amongst themselves that this had made their weekend, which I later told your Dad. I think he was surprised by the level of interest and respect."
Dad showing the model Sherman Tank he made during WWII, out of old cans. It really is amazing.
Paul Gent, who sent these photos also said in an email to me:-
"This guy in the full combat gear introduced himself as a Dutchman and said "I'd like to thank you for my freedom", which I thought was very touching."
I think that says it all!
Thank you Dad and everyone who fought for our freedom. We will always be grateful for their bravery, their sacrifices and their losses. Who knows what would have happened if not for them.
Let us always remember, lest we forget.......
Today, 8th July, 2010, I received a letter from my father and in it he describes the day for me.
"We were up early because Paul said he was coming for us at 8 o'clock. In the end it was just the three men. Mary had a bug and wasn't well and Lesley, (Paul's wife) hadn't had a good night with the kids so didn't come. I'm sure it wasn't good for Paul either but he certainly seemed fresh enough.........
So, we set off on the Sunday morning with blue skies and sunshine and it was pleasant for us three men to be able to natter together. It was a long journey to Dorset, nearly 100 miles, but the roads were quiet and it only took us 2 hours.......
After 3 or 4 wrong turns we met a farmer who directed us to the right track.... and it was a track! It was just earth and full of deep pot holes and would have been impassable to anything except a tractor (or, of course, a tank!) after rain. However, it was quite dry and we bounced along about 5 m.p.h. for at least a mile. It seemed deserted and then, suddenly, there was the field before us, with vehicles and tents where many owners had spent the night.
About half the trucks, armoured cars, motor bikes, etc. had already left, but there were 3 Sherman's and a Honey tank still there. One Sherman was on a low loader about to leave on a long journey to it's base, and another had broken down, but the third Sherman was O.K... We immediately started chatting with the owner, (I don't know his name, but I am sure Paul does), and he asked me if I'd like a drive round the fields. Of course I was delighted because that was really what I had come for more than anything else.
I was pleased that I had no difficulty climbing on to the hull of the Sherman and dropping down through the hatch into the co-drivers seat. I said 'no difficulty' but it was a snug fit and I would not have made it if I'd been any fatter! It's funny how your memory plays tricks because two things surprised me. First, the tank looked much bigger than the ones I was in, and second, when the owner started the engines ( I believe this was a Chrysler Multi-Bank petrol engine, five car engines all linked together), there was an earth shattering roar, far louder than I anticipated, indicating immense power. Which it was, of course, to enable it to throw around nearly 40 tons of steel at more than 30 m.p.h. I shudder to think of the petrol consumption. Probably gallons per mile and not miles per gallon!
What a thrill and what memories! There we were rolling and bounding around the fields, taking hills and ditches in our stride, just like the old days so long ago. Thank you, for arranging such a fantastic event to happen.
On our return other vehicle owners gathered round (including one all the way from the Netherlands and in full combat gear), firing questions at me and looking a me as if I were a member of a pre-historic species which, I suppose, I practically am. It was a wonderful and gratifying experience to be 'the centre of attention', asking me what it was like to fight in a Sherman and hanging on my every word completely engrossed. At the end, each and every one shook my hand or clapped me on the shoulder, and wished me luck. It certainly made me re-think my belief that all WWII veterans were clapped-out geriatric has-beens, whom nobody was interested in or cared about.
There is a lot of respect out there for us.
So, we climbed back into the car, to join all the vehicles going down to the village of Maiden Newton as the skies cleared. There were hundreds of people, many dressed in clothes from the 1940's, quite quaint, old fashioned (what did I expect?), also police, Fire Wardens, Home Guard, etc. Also, three young ladies made-up and dressed identically in navy and white polka dot frocks and seamed silk stockings. When somebody asked they said they were The Andrew Sisters. More memories. When our tank was not in action we used to tune in the radio to the American Forces Network so all the crew could listen to it on their headsets and hear all the popular U.S. hits.
There were food and drink and ice-cream stalls and lots of marquee's either selling or showing souvenirs and memorabilia, including every type of military equipment and uniforms. It was all quite fascinating. Next, most went to a sloping field overlooking a valley where there was to be staged a mock battle.
The weather was perfect as we sat on the dry warm grass, under a hot sun. The "battle" involved more than a hundred participants, all in German, British or American uniforms, as well as several armoured cars and half-tracks but, sadly, just the one Sherman. Never mind, they put on quite a good show with lots of crackling small arms fire and mortar bombs but, not surprisingly, it did not impress me when compared to the real thing! It would have been much more authentic if they'd used live ammunition instead of blanks!!
All the bodies littering the fields got up and walked away at the end.
By the way, there are no prizes for guessing who won! At least, all the kids, and there were a lot, loved it and although I think I was the only veteran there, many boys wore berets and when I asked, they said they were their Grandad's.
Well, that about sums it up. On the whole a most interesting, exciting and enjoyable weekend. Pity about the blanks though!!"
Thanks to everyone for making this day so special.