Ex-Cpl Frank Dennis Gent with model Sherman made during WWII
In October, 1944, the seasonal torrential rain arrived, and our tanks rapidly became bogged down in a sea of liquid mud churned up by the tracks, and several feet deep in places.
So, we were pulled out of the front line and moved to Bagno a Ripoli, a suburb of Firenze (Florence), for the winter months. The tank crews were billeted in farms scattered amongst fields surrounding the school building which was our base.
The front ground floor rooms were used as Squadron H.Q. Officer and Quartermaster Stores, and at the rear were the kitchens and mess hall.
All upstairs rooms were for recreation with trestle tables, benches, etc., where we could write home, read, play Solo Whist and just relax after six months of fighting and hard campaigning.
It was a happy carefree period amongst friendly Italians, and regular trips into the beautiful city of Firenze.
One day I noticed some of the fitters (mechanics), were making models. I was immediately interested. Tins, some quite large which had contained potatoes etc., were retrieved from the dump at the back of the cookhouse. These were cut open and carefully flattened using the shears and tools for metalwork, which all fitters had, and lent to me. I don’t know who made the original plans, but he was obviously very talented. I had been trained and was skilled as a Driver/Radio Operator but knew nothing about metalwork.
The fitters were really kind and tolerant and helped me every step of the way. Showing me how to mark out and cut the various shapes, how to beat them into panels and the various parts of a model Sherman, and how to solder them together. Then they insisted I work alone, with occasional words of advice, saying if I didn’t, it would be one of their models and not exclusively, (well, almost) my own.
The wheels and tracks, as you can see, were the most difficult. Each track plate having to be made individually involving hours and hours of tedious, painstaking work.
The final touches, the painting, (genuine tank camouflage paint), sign writing squadron, regimental and divisional insignia, etc., were easy and I repaid the fitters for their help by painting their models for them.
I made the mistake of sending my model home safely, so I thought, packed in a wooden box, but it arrived at my home at Manley Road quite badly damaged.
After demob I was able to repair and make good all the damage with the exception of the driver's hatch, which had been quite badly bashed in and broken, and missing aerials. There was no way I could get inside to push it back into shape! So you will just have to imagine it was struck a glancing blow by a German 88mm A.P.!
NOTE This photo was taken on Amourment and Embarkation day when my father got to drive a restored WWII Sherman Tank again. The model tank is now in the safe hands of my brother, Frank John Gent to be passed on down the generations. Rina Gent