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Jack Swaab, Royal Artillery officer who survived many brushes with death and received an MC for his service in Africa and Europe – obituary

The Swaab regiment returned to England in November to train for the Normandy landings and, on June 8, 1944, D+2, it landed at Sword Beach. A week later, he took over the command post. There was a comfortable barn to sleep in, but he had a premonition and, to the irritation of his men, insisted that they go out and lie down in a big hole he had ordered to be bulldozed.

That night there was a heavy enemy bombardment. The barn received a direct hit and collapsed. If he and his men had been inside, they would all have been killed. A few days later, he fell seriously ill from a bad dose of malaria, which he had probably contracted in Sicily.

He was flown back to England but, after recovering, he rejoined his unit in August in time for the breakout from Normandy. The following month, he became the forward observation officer (FOO) of his battery. The need to select observation posts (OPs) like church spires or tall buildings, which became prime targets for enemy aircraft or artillery, made this a most dangerous task.

In November, near Heythuysen in the Netherlands, on the Meuse battlefront, Swaab was FOO for a night assault across a channel. Under the artificial moonlight, in a cold and stifling rain, he walked in front of his transporter while a flail cart pounded the track in front of him. In the first hour about 100 shells fell, most in close proximity, one only seven meters from its carrier.

Trees were sawn in half by the vicious, sharp shards, and chunks of hot steel tinkled, mingling with the rain. The faces of the dead took on a waxy appearance in the eerie light. The stretcher-bearers painfully returned with the wounded in the mud.