Geoffrey Prater served in the 51st Royal Tank Regiment during his five years’ national service and saw action during World War II in Italy and North Africa.
I met the 91-year-old Wanstead resident earlier this year after my article on the Blitz prompted him to write to the editor explaining what life was like during the war 75 years ago.
Over a cuppa we spoke at length of how he and his family coped with the Blitz. Carefree days spent playing over Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats were brought to an end in September 1940 as the Luftwaffe’s bombs started to rain down. In November 1940 Geoff lost his elder brother, Doug, during an air raid in Stratford.
He was called up for national service in September 1942 and, after a year of training at Brentwood, Farnborough and Barnard Castle, his regiment set sail from Liverpool docks in December 1943. Five days on mountainous seas, through the Bay of Biscay, ended with arrival in north Africa on Christmas Day from where he was posted to Italy to fight the Axis.
On returning from Italy Geoff had to come to terms with the fact that his family home in Devonshire Road, Leytonstone, had been destroyed by a V1 doodlebug bomb. His mum and younger brother, Dunc, who only narrowly escaped the bomb, had to move to a flat above a shop in Chobham Road, Stratford.
Geoff has written an account of his experiences during World War II. It’s an absolutely fascinating read and is available both in paperback and download here.
I feel privileged to have met Geoff. We owe so much to his generation’s fortitude and courage in the face of adversity.
In his own words, from the introduction of his book:
“Most people of my generation are proud to have been part of those momentous days, whether in the Services, or at home. They all suffered the grim hardships that existed at that time, with determination to see it through, whatever the cost. So, next time you see some old boy, walking down the road wearing his medals, usually at November time, don’t say, ‘Look at that silly old fart’. Just respect his pride in wearing them, after all he might be one of those ‘old boys’ who saved your way of life.”