Wolverhampton war hero Cyril still going strong at 100
“There were shells coming over every few minutes. We were under machine gun fire from the Luftwaffe. It was pot luck whether we were going to be hit.”
Cyril Gregory knows his life could have ended at any point during a three-month bombardment on the Second World War battlefield.
But more than 70 years on he is still around to tell the tale.
Cyril, from Goldthorn Hill in Wolverhampton, celebrated his 100th birthday and recalled the turbulent time while on duty in Italy when he went day to day not knowing if it would be his last.
Born in 1918 in Stafford as the First World War was coming to an end, Cyril was 21 and working on the railways by the time the second conflict broke out. By now he was living in Wolverhampton, with his parents having made the short move when he was seven.
“I thought I should have to go eventually,” he remembered. “I was pretty upset leaving. I had just done my exams and really just started work.”
Cyril joined the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), which led the transport and support effort, delivering ammunition, food and other supplies to troops. While stationed in Preston, he met his future wife Kathleen but it would be seven years before they could be together properly.
Cyril revealed was anxious about making a commitment to her, knowing there was a chance he could be killed at war.
He said: “I didn’t want to get engaged, I knew what the future might be – knowing we were going to be in active company.”
Now a second lieutenant, he was sent overseas to Algeria and then Tunisia.
"When Tunis fell, the men thought they were going to be sent home, they had done their bit,” Cyril recalled with a smile.
But their journey was only just beginning. His platoon was one of the first to travel on amphibious vehicles known as ducks, small vessels which were able to take supplies from ships and land on the beaches.
Rather than going home, they were sent to Italy and tasked with supporting troops locked in a fierce battle at Anzio.
Cyril said: “We were under constant artillery fire. From when we landed, there was fierce fighting up the way up to Naples.
“There was a lot of machine gun fire and air raids. It was terrible. The shells were coming over every few minutes, coming from 30 miles away. We dug fox holes to jump into. It was pretty frightening, pretty loud.
"On fireworks night it tends to come back, at the back of my mind I can feel it. A lot of people were killed in Anzio. We were just surviving, one day at a time. We were on tenterhooks the whole time but we had to do our duty and that was it.”
The Allied forces eventually gained the upper hand after months of toil and Cyril survived the battle which killed 7,000 men.
He was promoted to captain and had a spell back in Algeria. He was then involved in the effort to stabilise Italy.
Cyril was finally able to return home to his sweetheart Kathleen, who he married in 1947 in Preston. They lived in Kingswinford before moving to Goldthorn Hill in the 1960s. The returning war hero got a job at Albright and Wilson, a chemical company in Oldbury, where he worked in various positions until retiring 36 years ago.
Kathleen died in 2006 aged 83. He still lives at home, where his Africa Star, Italy Star, and General Service medals hang proudly, and does his own cooking and shopping. Cyrille said: “I eat very well. I’m keen on fresh fruit and veg. I go out as much as I can. I quite enjoy life – why not?”