The Last Man
Today was to have been the official launch of my book. A gathering of our surviving veterans and their families, however with the continued lockdown,this is sadly not to be.
The date for the launch was to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the last soldier of the 1st Battalion to be killed during the NW Europe campaign. The story of the Battalions final loss is a sad one. On 4th May 1945, the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel R.E. Goodwin received an order allowing his men to go into the city of Bremen to relax and have a drink. In ‘D’ Company, Major W.S. Bevan therefore permitted small numbers of his men to go into the city in pairs. The orders stated however that all men were still to be armed.
Later that evening, as the men converged in a cafe, the beer was flowing. The nearby Becks Brewery meant that supplies were not short. As the evening came to a close, the men got up to leave. One NCO a little worse for wear, accidentally knocked the chair of the man next to him and his Sten gun, which was slung over the back of it, dropped to the floor. The jolt of its sudden landing, caused it to go off on automatic and the unfortunate soldier got the full magazine’s worth.
That soldier was Corporal Ernest Fountain who had joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1932. A pre-war professional soldier, he had served with the 2nd Battalion in India, being a specialist in machine guns. (seen here behind the sights of a Vickers at Mhow in 1939). He was a first class athlete and served in the 2nd Battalion football team.
After service in Burma in the Arakan and at Imphal, ‘Ernie’ came home and after a brief few weeks with the Royal Norfolk Regiment, he joined the 1st Battalion in Holland in January 1945.
It was a sad ending to the campaign as Major Bevan recalled later ‘The excitement of the ending of the war was marred for me by this tragic death of a comrade I’d served with for many years.’ Ernie Fountain is buried in Becklingen CWGC Cemetery and hopefully soon, I will be able to travel to see him and the other Suffolks that lie there. Tonight though, I will raise a glass in his honour and to all of the 215 officers and men of the Battalion lost between D-Day and VE-Day.