Black Rat Tom Maton

This is the story of “uncle” Tom. Two years after WWII he married Truus, she is a sister from my mother’s father. Tom is a veteran from the C-Battery, 4th Royal Horse Artillery, 4th Armoured Brigade, the famous… Black Rats…. and before that it was one of the original units of the 7th Armoured Division, The Desert Rats, too

Tom Maton was born on 28 October, 1919 in Marylebone, London. He went to the Church of England School.
When England got involved in the war against Germany, Tom, at the age of 20, got the call.

He received his training in Borden, Hampshire, and was posted to the 4th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. The Regiment originally consisted of RHQ, C-Battery, F-Battery, until in on 13th October 1941 a third battery was formed from men and guns of the original two to become DD (Jerboa)-Battery. The regiment was in Egypt before the war and was part of the Mobile Division, from 1938.

Having been established before World War 2 in the Division and its two original Brigades 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades fought in the desert of North Africa, fighting in almost every important campaign, against the Italians, Germans, with 7th Armoured Brigade later fighting the Japanese, too.

In December 1939, Major-General Michael Creagh became commander of the Division.

On 16 February, 1940, the Mobile Division became the 7th Armoured Division, they got their world famous patch from the red Jerboa (a rat from the desert) and became the Desert Rats.
All units in the division carried the same symbol

From June, 1940, the 7th Armoured Division which included the 4th & 7th Armoured Brigades, plus Infantry and Artillery Support, including 4th RHA, fought against the Italians on the borders of Egypt and Libya.

It was here that Tom saw action for the very first time, in April 1940. The Division was resting and receiving replacements in the Nile-Delta when the German Africa Division (with their famous leader Rommel) together with the Italians attacked in the desert. In Tobruk they lost a lot of men and tanks, but the enemy had to retreat.

“Everybody was very afraid, and the ones that weren’t were mad or foolish. Between the men grew a band that stays a lifetime, you had to depend on each other.
Your buddy beside you could save your life, and you could save his. Together you talked about the nice things, the people you met and the strange, awful things of the war you kept to yourself. You didn’t talk about them”.

Tom’s best friend was Jim, and until the day that Jim died he stayed that special friend for life.

In May 1942, the enemy once again attacked. The 4th RHA was not yet at full strength, but fought a successful rearguard action with other units from the Division all the way back to the El Alamein line.

By the time of battle of El Alamein in October, 4th RHA was the part of the 1st Armoured Division, while 4th Armoured Brigade operating as an independent Armoured Brigade, under the command of 7th Armoured Division. The enemy was defeated in the beginning of 1943, and by May that year the war in Africa ended.

Tom, at that time promoted to Sergeant, got wounded in that battle and was brought back to the military hospital in Alexandria, Egypt.

The 4th Armoured Brigade had now its own symbol… a black Jerboa. The Black Rats!

In June 1943, the 4th Armoured Brigade fought in Sicily, and in September the Black Rats went to Italy, serving with the 8th Army, while 4th RHA remained in North Africa before returning to the UK in November and December 1943, with C Battery being billeted in St. Mary’s Abbey, East Bergholt in Suffolk where they prepared themselves for the invasion of Europe….Operation Overlord. In the UK 4th RHA became part of an organisation called 5th A.G.R.A (Army Group Royal Artillery) which provided Artillery for special tasks within an Army Corps, which in this case was 30 Corps.

4th Armoured Brigade left Italy in January 1944 and returned to home, England, concentrated around Worthing on the south coast.

D-Day… 6 June 1944, the biggest invasion the world has ever witnessed and the beginning of ending World War 2.

On 7th June the first tanks of the Brigade came ashore in Normandy, and they came in action at once and by 25th June 1944, 4th RHA had been assigned to 4th Armoured Brigade to provide its artillery support. The Brigade fought their way through Normandy including the (Falaise-pocket), then across the seine and out from France, into Belgium and arrived in the Netherlands, during which time 4th RHA was converted from regiment with 24 towed 25 Pounder guns to one with 24 Sexton Self-propelled guns

The 4th Royal Horse Artillery was not involved in Market Garden, but they got stuck in our town, Weert. Weert was just liberated by the 1st Battalion The Suffolk Regiment from 3rd Infantry Division (Monty’s Ironsides) and was on the frontline, (Maas-Peellinie). Because of the traffic roadblocks (Hells-Highway) they could only came as far as Tilburg. So they had to return to Weert, and made their camp along the Eindhovenseweg (as it is called today) at Hushoven, but they were spread as far as Tungelroy.

At the city-bridge, Tom met a nice young lady, her name was Truus. All the boys, girls and children from our town came to see the English soldiers who had their camp there. The talked and made jokes with each other, the soldiers offered them chocolate and cigarettes.

Truus invited Tom and his friend Jim to her home to meet her parents, and so started a friendship that grew into love. Because Truus had a very nice smile, Tom explained!

The Black Rats left Weert and moved on to Nijmegen, taking part in the Rhine crossing in March 1945, before joining up with 7th Armoured Division near Hamburg just before the end of the war and though 4th RHA was near Bremen when the war finished.

The Brigade and its regiments then celebrated VE Day, 8th May 1945 in the various unit messes and canteens. To signal the momentous day the C.O. of 4th RHA assembled the whole regiment, in the afternoon with the twenty-fours guns of the Regiment lined up - one might in the part have said: " Wheel to wheel with the Regimental flag in the centre, and after standing informally round the wireless set, to listen to the Prime Minister's speech and holding a short service which followed, " Take Post " was given, the Colonel gave the signal, and the Regiment fired a salvo, followed by a round of regimental fire and another salvo.

The war ended and Tom went home to England. He continued to stay with the RHA to train soldiers for Korea, but after some time he left the army and became a welder.

Truus followed Tom to England and in 1947 they got married. They had two daughters, Lynda and Margriet, and two grandchildren Matthew and Abigail

Thank you aunt Truus, uncle Tom, Lynda & Margrietje.

Special thanks for all his help and advices to Ian, the Historical Consultant of the Desert Rats Memorial Association, and owner of a beautiful website about the “Desert Rats”.


gerealiseerd door
Enovative Webdesign