Difference between revisions of "Ted Rabbets"
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'''Edgar GA "Ted" Rabbets TD OC''' (
'''Edgar GA "Ted" Rabbets TD OC''' (2003) was educated at [[Boston Grammar School]] (1925-31).
== The Sniper's Tale ==
== The Sniper's Tale ==
Revision as of 10:44, 6 October 2019
|Died||2003 (aged 87–88)|
|Education||Boston Grammar School (1925-31)|
|Occupation||radio engineer, sniper|
Edgar GA "Ted" Rabbets TD OC (March 1915 - 2003) was educated at Boston Grammar School (1925-31).
The Sniper's Tale
We were alerted to his interesting life by Wanda Koscia who was researching a BBC documentary about the Dunkirk landings.
The Imperial War Museum recorded an interview with Ted. Thanks to Godfrey Finn and Tony Austin we have not only obtained a copy of the transcript, but also have permission to use it in the mini museum at the School. It is too long to include in this magazine, and copyright conditions wouldn’t allow it anyway. Here then is a taste of Ted Rabbets’ story.
Ted was born in Boston in March 1915. His father was an overseer for the Post Office. After BGS Ted became a trainee radio engineer and in 1935 he joined the Fourth Lincolns, a Territorial Army company formed from BGS Old Boys. He was a fairly good shot and hoped to get some free practice. He enjoyed going on manoeuvres, finding it particularly amusing to step from behind a tree and tap someone on the shoulder who wasn’t expecting it. Ted was already playing sniper, training on Bren guns, Lewis guns and rifles.
By the start of the war Ted was working as a telephone engineer in Peterborough and had moved to the Fifth Northants. In the lead up to war Ted was involved with preparations including wiring up search-light posts. On the day that war was declared he and his TA colleagues reported to the drill hall where they were supplied with new battle dress. They ran search-light posts for anti-aircraft defence.
In early September 1939 Ted sailed from Southampton to Le Havre wearing his battle dress and carrying his webbing, blanket, haversack, rifle and ammunition. His unit was fairly well equipped, but was missing two or three Bren Gun Carriers and some other kit which followed within three months, well before the German attack. When at full strength the battalion had eight Bren Gun Carriers and 1,001 men. It comprised three regiments: the Northants, the Warwicks, and one other. Their early preparation assumed static trench warfare like that of the First World War. This proved to be inappropriate.
The battalion moved to the area of Douai where Ted’s knowledge of French enabled him to forge a role working for the company commander. He was able to supplement the interpreters, making contact with locals, securing a good billet for his commander and himself. People were willing to accept British soldiers in their homes. They were paid for their services, their guests kept the place clean and made their own beds.
When they moved away from Douai they worked on an extension to the Maginot Line towards the sea. The new trenches were abandoned as soon as the German attack started. The first casualties of the war were suffered by either the Norfolks or the Suffolks between the Maginot and Siegfried Lines: two killed and one or two wounded. Ted’s Battalion took over that position in mid-December 1939. They spent a couple of weeks there, sending out patrols every night. The Germans were doing likewise. They were patrolling the woods and setting up booby traps for each other.
The only fire while Ted was on the Maginot Line came from German mortars. At six o’clock every morning their four 4” mortars would fire one round each at 20 second intervals. The British were on a rise and could be seen by the Germans, but they were just out of range, receiving only dirt and stones thrown up by the mortars. They didn’t retaliate because their own 2" mortars also had too short a range.
The French artillery would sometimes rush up to the Maginot Line with horses and gun carriages, position their guns, fire a few rounds and withdraw before the retaliation came. Ted's company in their trenches were ready for the reply when it came after two or three minutes.
Ted was on the Maginot Line for a fortnight after which he was moved out in a planned rotation intended to give every unit the experience. Experience which was useful in that they became used to the Germans doing everything methodically without individual thought. Later this knowledge was to save Ted's life.
The company commander liked him to be there when they met French civilians or military because of his language skills. Ted hadn't yet been designated as a sniper, but discussions with the commander indicated that he was destined for such a role.
The German attack came on 10th May. Ted was standing on Vimy Ridge in the morning having gone with others to see the Canadian War Memorial. They were pleased when they were told that the Germans had started an offensive and that they had to return to their unit. Finally something was going to happen. They would surely meet the Germans on equal terms and win. They returned to Rubais to pick up extra kit and headed for Brussels.
The move to Brussels went smoothly, taking only a few hours. They arrived at a point just to the South of Brussels and marched into the city early in the afternoon of 11th May. By this time the first part of the British army had already met the Germans at Louvaine. In Brussels Ted was posted on a bridge with orders to stop anybody trying to cross. They were waiting for the British troops to return and the precaution was to stop any Germans that might make it that far. Everyone was taking up defensive positions. There were known to be difficulties at the front and this was to be the next battleground. They would have to let their own army through then close the gaps.
The returning British troops were mainly Guards who had taken the first attack. They were rather shocked following the unexpected nature of the attack: aircraft and tanks. The British had very few aircraft and not a lot of heavy armour at that time. After the Guards had passed a few Germans came into sight across the bridge, so the British fired their rifles and machine guns. They fired at the Germans again at 11 o'clock that night. After a couple of hours German tanks started to arrive.
Ted fired 20 or 30 rounds; firing only when he could see a reasonable target. If a German was shot he would be dragged away immediately.
Ted's unit suffered no casualties at that stage and only a few houses were damaged by incoming shells. The British had no artillery in the area and the German artillery fire appeared to be more for effect than to hit particular targets. Their small arms fire also made little impression. The British were hidden in their defensive positions and offered few targets.
The Royal Engineers put charges under the bridge and, with the Germans two or three hundred yards away, they blew a hole in it. Unfortunately the bridge was stronger than expected and could still take traffic.
The Belgians didn’t want Brussels damaged and declared it an open town. Since the British were out-gunned there was a change of plan. Brussels wouldn't be defended; they would all move out quickly on foot. They were supposed to be met outside town by transport, but it was delayed. They marched all night and well into the morning. Ted's feet had became blistered, and he was still marching after 11 o'clock in the morning. In the beginning they took short breaks, but as it became difficult to get going the breaks became less frequent. Their training had prepared them for 30 mile marches but this was much longer.
They marched back towards the French border, then south west, by-passing Tournai. Turning roughly north east along a river their next stop was at Oudenaarde where they stayed for 36 hours. They took up positions on the west bank with the river in front of them giving a reasonable field of fire and some protection. When the order came to move out Ted was with his commander who decided to stay on to help the unit get away under cover. They gathered a good scratch army of Belgians, British, Dutch and French. Lining the river bank they managed to stay for twelve hours.
The attack came after an hour or so, but the tanks couldn’t get across because the bridges were out. They managed to keep the infantry safe and the commander was awarded the Military Cross for the incident. They waited until dusk to move out and left a few people behind to provide cover before finally moving out. Everyone got away safely.
The next defence line was being set up beside the River Leuze. Ted's company was ordered to march back through the defence line and approach the area of Ypres where they stayed to allow the next "leap frog" to take place. The move on foot to Ypres was fast. There were German air attacks at this stage. The planes were mainly Dorniers with some Stukas but there were no casualties.
They took up positions to the west of a bend in the river Yser just north of Ypres. The action was getting closer and Ted would go out for a few hours at a time with a rifle and a few rounds of ammunition to stop German snipers getting through. The Germans worked in pairs. Ted knew this from his experience on the Maginot line when the first man would carry a lamp on a pole to draw fire away from himself. The second man, armed with a Tommy Gun, would be the one to get you.
Ted was the only sniper in his company. He liked to work alone because he didn’t have anyone to look after except himself. He could shoot a man in the head at four hundred yards and put his success down to being quiet. Years earlier he had learnt to catch a rabbit with his hands. In order not to make a sound he would be careful where he knelt and would be aware of the type of ground ahead. He could be quiet even in his army boots.
Without the luxury of modern night sights Ted could only be effective as a sniper during the daytime or by moonlight. He would be roaming around a deserted village when he saw a movement. He would look for signs of the second German, wanting to know where both were before giving away his own position. The two would be about fifty yards apart, always in sight of each other. The second man he saw would usually be closer, so he would shoot him first. Ted hit nine or ten pairs of snipers in this way.
On one occasion a German sniper had climbed on a roof where he knocked a few slates away. He had a good field of fire when anyone entered the village square. His partner was in the corner of the square and between them they covered the whole area. Ted shot at the first man from a bedroom window after he had given himself away by shooting at a British officer. The second man shot at Ted, but missed, so Ted shot him.
Another time Ted had been asleep in a ditch when he awoke to a lot of noise. The Germans had set up a field gun artillery group. He managed to put two four-man gun crews out of action before deciding he was at risk of attracting attention.
It was about the 26th May when they took up positions on the banks of the Yser. Ted went on one or two of his forays and eventually reached the coast near Nieuwpoort joining a dozen Belgians in the sand dunes, firing at the Germans coming along the beach. There were so many of the enemy at fairly short range that it was difficult to miss. When the Germans got too close Ted decided it was time to move on but the Belgians were determined to keep fighting. Ted assumed that they fought to the death.
Ted went along the beach to rejoin his unit near Koksijde. Then he headed inland to see who was moving where and whether he could help. By the time he returned to his unit they had reformed and moved further along the beach. It was the last time he saw them before returning to England.
Ted carried on along the beach, firing when he saw German ground troops. He only tried to fire at aeroplanes on a couple of occasions when he came across groups of men firing in unison at low flying planes with little success. He did help to shoot one plane down near De Panne. It was a captured Belgian fighter. Ted tried to fly the plane, his previous experience of flying being a short flight in a Tiger Moth, but the undercarriage of the downed plane was damaged and it wouldn’t take off. They set the aircraft on fire to make sure no one else could use it.
Moving on they started to find wounded who they carried off the beach to a first aid post in the dunes.
On the beaches Ted found it surprisingly orderly. Some men had lost their units and were strolling around on their own, but most were staying in groups with officers in charge, moving around and firing as directed. It was very noisy and unpleasant; food and drink were short but there were plenty of cigarettes which the NAAFI had left by the crate load and some food could be found in abandoned cafés.
Near Dunkirk a ship had run aground; it had provisions on board including beer and spirits. Ted claimed a few bottles of beer before the Germans got too close. They captured quite a few people on that ship.
When Ted arrived in the Dunkirk area there were a lot of dead and wounded. He helped to pile up the bodies and took on the role of stretcher bearer for a while. The wounded were well looked after by the RAMC who had established themselves in sheltered areas. They were treated there until they could be carried onto hospital ships.
Ted returned to the beach and joined hundreds of Guards in a bayonet charge on Dunkirk. He only used his bayonet on one man because he was a lot shorter than the Guards and anyway he reckoned that if each man got one German that would be fine. Having cleared an area of the town of Germans they returned to the beach.
Night had fallen by the time they reached the beach. It was either that night or the next that Ted left for England. A ship came in to take the Guards. Ted managed to hide himself between two large Guardsmen. He found himself a corner below decks where he could rest. He hadn’t had any real sleep for five or six days and slept soundly until the ship arrived in Dover.
There were ladies waiting in Dover with cups of tea, bars of chocolate and cakes. Ted had some tea and a cake before catching a train which took him to Camberley.
Ted’s war experience didn’t end with Dunkirk; his six years’ service also saw him in Iraq, Persia, Syria, Egypt and Burma.
In 1986 Ted was instrumental in forming the Boston Branch of the Dunkirk Veterans Association. He helped organise the annual Belgian July 21st ceremony in London and founded a branch of the “Ligue des Vétérans de Léopold III”. He also became Honorary General Secretary of the Liaison Committee in the United Kingdom.
In recognition of his involvement in the war and his activities afterwards, Ted was awarded the “Palmes d’Argent de l’Ordre de la Couronne” by the King of the Belgians on 14th May 1980. It was presented to him by the Belgian Ambassador on 20th July. The Queen granted Ted “unrestricted permission to wear” the O.C. decoration.