It’s not every day you meet a tank commander. They are a special and rare breed of people.
But today I met the the great pleasure of meeting the second tank chief in my life – very inquisitive nine year old from Saintfield, very clued up in military history and well briefed on World War II writes Jim Masson.
Charlie Lowe (9), a pupil of the Academy Primary School in Saintfield, has a learning difficulty, and has been preparing to celebrate VE day in a special way. Recently his grandad asked him what he’d like, and he said: “A tank!” This piece of military hardware is mostly out of the budget for most grand-dads, but not to be outdone, his grand-dad said: “Why don’t we make one out of cardboard boxes. And so the two of them got to work and before long the tank was in place guarding the slope on his front lawn overlooking the redoubt at Grange View.
“It’s a Churchill tank,” shouted Charlie. “During the war the Allied forces attacked the Germans from the West, and the Russians attacked from the East. It was a pincer movement. Slowly the two armies crushed the German and they surrendered in May 1945. That’s why we have VE Day. That was 75 years ago.” His enthusiasm was boundless. I still had not managed to get out of my car and conduct the interview!
“It fires 88 millimetre shells,” Charlie enthused. “They blow up other tanks and buildings. And there is a small gun down below too. It’s a machine gun to shoot up soldiers who might try and attack the tank. It’s a deadly weapon.”
But, I said to Charlie: “You have a German in you ranks. Is it safe to enter?”
“He doesn’t bite. He’s now a British Shepherd, not a German Shepherd, and he’s on my tank crew.”
I looked at Charlie’s Frabern ‘German’ Shepherd called Chase and thought that I would like like to go to war against that one. Chase was as friendly and playful as a pup. But at the same time as deadly as Churchill tank!
“So,” I said: “Trying to sound an expert on World War Two, “What got you into enjoying this period in military history?”
“Well,” answered Charlie, “It was my school teacher really. “I just love history at school and it is a very interesting subject. I like maths and English and other subjects, but history is my favourite. Especially World War II’.”
Charlie’s mother Jo explained: “Charlie has a learning difficulty. He has ASD and is a very bright nine year old. But the lockdown has changed his routine at school and he is finding things quite difficult. That’s why his grand-dad suggested helping him build a tank. It certainly caught his imagination and has occupied him for the past few days.
“He loves to watch the historical documentaries of World War II on Sky TV. He is quite a buff about the war. And he has been a big hit too on Facebook.
“I dropped his story onto ‘Family Lockdown‘ on Facebook and in a day he received 21,000 likes and 2700 comments which was amazing. Armed forces personnel from all over the world wished him well on VE Day and people too in the RAF. We just did not expect that level of response. It was incredible.
“Charlie plays in his tank a lot during the day. He even ‘bribes’ Chase with titbits not to be a ‘German’ shepherd but to be a British one. He’s very persuasive! Chase is very protective of Charlie. They just get on so great together.”
“And what are you plans next to follow up on the Churchill tank,” I asked Charlie, not knowing what to expect.
“I’m going to build a Spitfire next. I’m looking forward to that.” Charlie doesn’t do things in half-measures. I just wondered if there was room for an aircraft carrier on his front lawn. That should keep his grand-dad busy for a while!
When I said earlier I had met another tank chief, I was referring to the late John Gorman MC from Killyleagh. I first met John in his later years during the All Party Talks in the 90’s when he chaired the Northern Ireland Forum and I was struck by his gentlemanliness. He passed away in 2014, but he had a very active military career in his younger days.
Once, commanding a tank, he rammed a Panzer in the big push after D Day in 1944 near Caen in France when 2000 tanks were pressing the Germans back. This model of a Panzer was something the British wanted to capture as it was the German’s latest designed version of this much feared weapon. For this brave effort he received a Military Cross.
So perhaps one day we will yet maybe be hearing of the adventures of Charlie if some far flung place around the globe.
And be careful if you stray from no-man’s land in Saintfield into Grange View. Charlie and Chase just might have you in their sights!