An interest in engineering led him to join the Royal Tank Corps (RTC), soon to be renamed the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and on completion of his training he was posted to the regiment’s third battalion (3 RTR), just in time to hear Neville Chamberlain utter those fateful words: "...we are at war with Germany."
In the years that followed, Jock (as he was known to his colleagues) would prove his worth to his Regiment time and again, rapidly rising through the ranks to RSM and later being commissioned as an officer.
In the war’s early stages, he had two narrow escapes from the enemy’s clutches. Sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, he managed to catch the last boat out of Calais before it fell to the Germans. Next, he was sent to Greece, as part of an ill-fated force tasked with defending its northern border with Yugoslavia against far superior enemy forces. After a harrowing three-week rearguard action, being pummelled by German aircraft and artillery all the way, he and a handful of other stragglers found themselves stranded on the Mediterranean shore and had to steal a small motor boat and make their own way to safety.
Following an amazing series of adventures and near disasters, he rejoined his Regiment in Egypt, where, as a tank commander, he went on to take part in some of the toughest battles of the Desert War, including the most famous of them all, El Alamein, the turning point that marked the beginning of the end for Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
But for 3RTR there would be many more months of gruelling encounters with the enemy before the fall of Tunis signalled the end of the war in Africa.
Somehow, Jock survived them all and his eyewitness account of the Desert War, as seen from the turret of his tank, has been hailed as one of the finest ever put on record. Without exaggeration and with remarkable candour, he conveys the physical and mental strain this type of warfare placed upon its participants, fleshing out his narrative with a great deal of interesting and unusual detail.
The result is a unique insight into the life of a World War II ‘tankie’.