World War II Gunner Tim Stowe brought home the first 25 pounder artillery shell to be fired in Operation Torch as part of the successful North African campaign.
Tim had the honour of pulling the firing lever to fire the first shell on 25 pounder number C3 to mark the beginning of a massive artillery bombardment of the Germans.
This shell along with notes Tim made about his experiences on cigarette packets have recently been donated to the National Army Museum collection.
Tim, like the other gunners of the 48th Battery, 6th Field Regiment, formed part of an Allied 1000 gun battery which began its massive bombardment of the German lines at 9.40pm on 23 October 1942.
Tim talked about his experiences to reporter Roger Moroney of Hawkes Bay Today some years ago describing the preparations for the attack , effectively the start of Operation Torch, as being very intense. “We dug our gun pits at night, rolled the camouflage nets over and stayed under there during the day. There were German spotter aircraft going over during daylight hours, but as soon as night fell, we’d roll the nets off and carry on.” During the day Tim and his fellow gunners would chat, smoke foul tasting cigarettes and play endless games of cards. He said the anticipation was overwhelming, “It was like the feeling you get on the day of a big rugby test match”.
The El Alamein offensive lasted 12 days and pushed the German line back 8km. Tim wrote notes of their progress on his empty cigarette packets. On 25th October he wrote, “Dust storm. Advanced three miles in the afternoon. There’s a raid going on in the distance. Ack ack. Woken by guns….put down a barrage at 10.50pm. Tanks going past in the 100s.” The next morning, “A single Jerry plane dropped a few eggs. Big air raid just before dark….about 35 planes. Two killed in troop. Bang away 60 rounds at 8pm. Noise! Can’t hear yourself speak!”
Tim survived the war almost unscathed apart from hearing damage however his best mate and brother would not be so lucky.
The Second New Zealand Division under Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg played a vital role in breaking the German line at El Alamein and opening the way for a victory in North Africa.