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Lewis Banham

 

Born Dec 1923

Enlisted in April 1942

Trained as a dispatch rider and served with 44th Lowland, 15th Scottish.

 

He landed on 13th June.

 

He served in Normandy, Belgium, Netherlands and into Germany.

Was in Eindhoven, Breda, Tilburg and spent Xmas in Sevenum.

In April 1942 he got married and a few weeks later was called up for service. During training it was found that he knew a bit about bikes so was trained as a dispatch rider: How to ride in difficult conditions, basic maintenance, he learned everything on a BSA 250. The training officers would test you on fault finding problems with your bike.

 Lewis remembers every instance they tried to catch him out. 'Once they put a bit of paper between the points, I knew straight away' he proudly tells me. More training in map reading, water proofing all done in the hills near Prestatyn, Wales. 'One test,' Lewis chuckles, 'we had to stop on a hill road and they placed a matchbox behind the back wheel. You had to start the engine and ride forward without going back a single inch and flattening the matchbox.' He was in a holding unit till he got called into 15th Scottish Infantry Division and was assigned to the 44th Lowland Brigade. Sent to Northumberland for more training, it was there he was given a BSA M20 along with a Smith & Wesson 38 revolver. Given map references they were tested time and time again, sent to map references, Lewis laughs 'Sometimes you had to go to a village post office and get them to stamp a piece of paper to prove you'd been there.'

 Come June 1944 the Brigade moved South. Lewis was with a forward unit loading onto the SS Empire Duke, revolver taken away and replaced by a Sten gun. June 12th on board during the channel crossing he was given 48 hour rations and a map reference then disembarked at Arromanches and off he went. His job was to run messages front line to Brigade HQ and Division HQ. Asked about the practice of the Germans of tying piano wire from tree to tree across roads, at a riders head height, he gives my arm a tug and whispers 'I did sometimes ride a bit slower and crouched right down on the bike.'  He then calmly informed me of the time a sniper nearly got him. 'I heard the bullet go past my head,' Lewis's action was to brake hard and jump into a ditch. He spent a few minutes working out where the sniper may be hiding. Then he stood up and 'unloaded a whole magazine from my sten' then jumped back on the M20 and rode off.

 Having read his unit’s war diaries I had a good idea of where Lewis was day to day. So many stories came out, far too many for one article.

Do you remember anything about prisoners on 26th June? I ask.

'Yes' smiles Lewis' then proceeds to tell me of him and his mate patrolling the grounds of the HQ and finding 5 young Germans. Took them prisoner one of them was 'A big'un, so I kept my sten aimed at him all the walk back'. Remarkable it is but then you find out it was the SS 12th Panzer Division that these five men came from. The 'Hitlerjugend' men or boys were aged 18,19 according to the war diary’s account.

 To hear him talk about the M20 it's like he is talking about a long lost friend. 'Never let me down', totally reliable and more then a few tales of mechanical aspects of the bike. In over eleven months of riding through war torn areas he only ever rode one bike. It NEVER broke down and only had three punctures in all that time. Two of them were when the unit was bombed and shelled and the bike was riddled with shrapnel. 'My mate’s bike was a right off, so he got a new bike, I just had two punctures which I had to replace' Says Lewis with an slight air of indignation.

 Then a once in a lifetime act of fate: Whilst riding over the Rhine into Germany he came across men from the Manchester Regiment. Lewis stopped and asked if they knew where Douglas Banham was to be found? So it came to pass that two brothers who had not seen each other since 1939 came to meet in Germany in 1945.