By Claire Rimmer
Recalling his last few days in the Second World War, Richard Howard Mather reflected that he almost never saw the VE Day celebrations.
“If the German gunman had been two degrees lower perhaps I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Richard Howard Mather, 90, and his wife, Margery Mather, 87, look back with sober reflection.
It was a time of appalling loss and tremendous courage but without the war the couple may never have met.
The couple moved to Sale, Manchester in 1975 after working as licensees of a pub in Clitheroe.
Their son, Philip, 61, was emigrating to Canada and needed to sell his house in Sale. The couple therefore bought the property from him and moved to Sale for their retirement.
“We’ve been married 63 years and 5 months,” said Margery, who was working as a telephonist in Bristol when Victory in Europe was declared by Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, on May 8, 1945.
Richard was ‘called up’ at the age of 20 at the outbreak of war in 1939 but was not sent to Germany until 1943.
He was placed with the 584 Moonlight Battery whose purpose was to use powerful searchlights to light the way for the allied troops.
Just days before Winston Churchill’s famous speech, Richard remembers being given instructions to floodlight the banks of the River Rhine.
The regiment was walking down a gravel path when they came across a board on which the words ‘Dust Means Death’ were written.
Suddenly there was a deafening explosion and a farm building on the opposite banks of the Rhine literally lifted up with the impact.
The meaning of the words, which had been written as a warning by earlier British troops, later became clear.
“The dust blew up into everyone’s faces so they couldn’t see. It meant danger and possible death”, recalled Richard.
The Moonlight Regiment was so important because it cleared the way and highlighted whatever dangers lay ahead.
Following the explosion, the Moonlight Regiment crossed the river to support the infantry to ‘‘clear’’ the Germans out of the woods.
They joined a Scottish Infantry Unit but when they tried to get a drink at the Church of Scotland canteen they were refused.
Richard said: “He refused to serve us. We didn’t have the Scottish Lion on our jackets, we had the 21 Army Cross. It finished up with him being told where to stick his canteen.”
Richard continued: “Our officer called and said the war should end at midnight. He told us to be careful as some Germans perhaps don’t want the war to end.”
The men’s reactions upon hearing this information ranged from scepticism to disbelief. Richard said: “The men said little, knowing tomorrow would be the same.”
Richard described how, in the late afternoon, two cyclists came out of the woods.
He said: “It was two German soldiers. One spoke some English and he asked if we had any food as they hadn’t eaten for three days. He said he’d been a waiter at one of the big hotels in London.”
The men gave the Germans some old biscuits and went on their way.
When it became clear that the war really was over, the men from the Moonlight Regiment were rounded up and sent to the German naval dockyard of Kiel, which had been taken over by the British Army.
Richard said: “We finished up guarding the dock area which had eight to ten U-Boats tied up. When the war ended they fired rockets and that is how I remember the end of the war.”