Colonel John Greenhough was born in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, on 28th February 1920 and educated at Manchester Grammar School, where he matriculated in 1936. He describes himself as a ‘pugnacious boy’ who had a vocation to be a professional soldier. With two peers from the Grammar School he had attempted to enlist in the International Brigade at 16 years old to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but had been rejected because he had looked too young (although his peers were accepted). Despite his location in the north of England, he had close connections with Cornwall, having grown to love the region when he lived there as a child with relatives and having an Uncle who had served in the Cornish Light Infantry Regiment in World War I. This link with Cornwall, and ‘sponsorship’ from close contacts resulted in him being accepted into the Regiment and sent to Sandhurst for officer training in 1937. His one year training course, where he was taught to undertake responsibility for his men (with an emphasis on the culture of putting his men first) and the necessity to obey orders, was completed in March 1938, and he returned to the Regiment as a Second Lieutenant.
Infantry training had been revised by Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery in 1929 when he was attached to the War Office, having served as an instructor at Staff College, Camberley from 1926 – 1929. He anticipated the Bren Gun, which changed the tactics of training and since the Army trains in a practical manner in the field, John Greenhough (possibly because he was the newest trainee) was placed in charge of a demonstration platoon. He took a platoon and two Bren Guns to depots of Infantry Regiments based in the Midlands (Warwickshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire) where they acted as a demonstration Platoon – in attack, in defence and withdrawal.
War was declared six months later, when John Greenhough was 19½ years old, and his Regiment saw immediate military action. He received a war injury just before Dunkirk (May 1940) and was hospitalised for 6 – 8 months. His medical assessment on recovery was C3 and he was given the option of being discharged, but since his profession and training had prepared him for serving in the military forces he chose to remain as a serving officer.
The Normandy Campaign
By virtue of his 5½ years wartime experience, which included having been parachuted into Occupied France, John Greenhough conveys the impression that his role in the Normandy Campaign was a routine ‘day at the office’. He landed on D + 18 (June 24th 1944), having been medically re-assessed as fully fit, in the role of Captain in the Light Infantry Unit ( 11th Armoured Division) which comprised one Brigade of Infantry and one Brigade of Tanks.
His account is detached, presenting an overview of the role of the battalion (‘But the important part of it was that we contained the whole German heavy armour’) and the military process of engaging the enemy in difficult terrain (on these occasions we did not commit our tanks but did ordinary Infantry attacks’). There is a suggestion of the fierce fighting that was encountered through the reference to the Panzer troops, acknowledged as highly trained soldiers, and to the back-up received from their own division ‘hit two divisions of Panzer troops with superior weapons and often it was an infantry battle
against tanks with only minimum support from our own tanks’ but the conflict and inevitable losses is not made explicit. There is no personal response recorded, although the experience of the troops is specified in terms of their well-being ‘They had sufficient time to form up as they would do for any other operation and in most cases troops got a meal’. In general, the oral account has a neutral ‘report’ mode which gives an overview of the campaign.
Wednesday 3rd November 2004 – John Greenhough Interview
The 11th Armoured Division landed in Normandy on D18 (June 24th 1944) It was an unopposed landing because the beaches had been cleared and there was sufficient time to form up as they would do for any other operation and in most cases troops got a meal before they went ahead to engage the enemy.
At that early stage the first part, and the most confused, was fighting in the bocage country. The hedges were particularly high – I think that why it’s called bocage – and it was very easy for the enemy to hide their (up to 80) 88s (anti-tank guns of III Flak Corps) within this area so the further on we got the more we were open to damaging fire by the German anti-tank guns. On those occasions we did not commit our tanks but did ordinary Infantry attacks.
This was the battalion in attack. Because on occasions the area was so narrow there would be a leading company in front and, if possible, supported by one or two tanks to clear heavy machine guns and then they would fight through the brocage and form a firm base. The follow-up troops, sometimes a follow-up of the same Division or same Brigade (the Infantry Brigade) would clear the flanks. On other occasions another Division (which on this occasion was the 15th Scottish Division) would clear the flanks so the tanks could move up and the same operation would continue.
And it was like that in waves, one wave after another, through the bocage until we hit this very large Panzer unit – two divisions of Panzer troops (probably Panzer Lehr and part of 12th SS Panzer) with superior weapons and often it was an infantry battle against tanks with only the minimum support from our own tanks.
Now what we tried to do was to catch them on the flank because with their weapons – if we could hit them in the side – it was sufficient to put them out of action. And fighting went like that almost all the time until we cleared out. But the important part of it was that we contained the whole of the German heavy armour.
John Greenhough left the Regular Army in 1947 and developed a successful career in publishing, expanding the publishing side of a printing company (to the point that it financially overtook its parent company) and establishing publications such as Cheshire Life, Yorkshire Life, Lancashire Life et al. As Managing Director he diversified and ‘majored on paperback publications’ with Lady Chatterley’s Lover launching the initiative. When the company was taken over by Roy (later Lord) Thompson he worked for him ten years, continuing to develop the company.
A change of direction and the opportunity to undertake a venture with his wife Diana took him to Lancashire as joint managers of two large department stores and the establishment of a chain of ‘Danish Kitchens’ restaurants followed.
He has retained an interest in the Army throughout his life through involvement with the Territorial Army and his regiment. Perhaps the most telling testimonial of his army training are his references to one of the things that the army teaches you is if anyone asks you to do something you always say ‘yes’ and to the skills of people management, empathy, organisation and the enjoyment of ‘doing things’ that he learnt as a soldier and a platoon commander