Friday, April 21, 2006

A dangerous life

John Bridges, who has died aged 87, survived a suicidal march through two minefields in Tunisia to pursue a long post-war career as a BBC radio producer.

As a sergeant with the 6th Battalion, Grenadier Guards, he took over the intelligence role during the advance on a horseshoe feature in the Mareth Line during the night of March 16-17 1943.

To their surprise the Grenadiers found themselves not only under enemy fire but entering two minefields which were so heavily sown that they had to switch from single file to proceeding separately, in order to avoid being blown up together.

Bridges trod on one mine, which exploded at head height, and regained consciousness moments later to find his boot smouldering and his head aching. After wondering whether to retire from the action, he continued onwards, deciding that if he headed away from the gunfire he would risk stepping on more mines....


As a child he escaped unhurt when run over by a coal lorry....

He became a drummer, which led to his appearing on stage at the Old Vic to beat the drum for Ophelia's funeral cortege in the 1935 production of Hamlet; he once inadvertently brought the show to a brief halt when a cross he was holding wobbled over Laurence Olivier's head....

After fighting in the rearguard of the retreat on Dunkirk, he narrowly escaped with his life when a rowing boat he had commandeered was sucked into the propellers of a ship.

He managed to scramble free and, wearing little more than a tin hat, climbed aboard another ship which was subsequently hit by a mine....

Later in the war the Bridges boot attracted attention when he trod on Winston Churchill's foot at a briefing; the prime minister remarked that he "thought it was a bloody horse".

After being concussed by the explosion at Mareth, Bridges was sent to hospital at Tripoli, where doctors were unable to explain why he had gone blind. But he eventually recovered his sight, and joined the Psychological Warfare Branch, producing propaganda to be dropped on German troops in Italy.

After that, he was sent to the Peloponnese with the task of identifying the factions likely to emerge among the Greeks when the Germans left.

He completed the war as a WO1 in Palestine, where his front teeth were knocked out when he intervened in a fight.

After 87 years of that kind of thing, he died of natural causes.

No comments: