Lieutenant John Hodges, was awarded a Military Cross in Italy in 1944 and subsequently had a successful teaching career.

Lt John Hodges, MC - 3rd Hussars
Lt John Hodges, MC – 3rd Hussars

On June 17 1944, Hodges was commanding one of the forward troops of 3rd the King’s Own Hussars in the advance on Città della Pieve, north of Orvieto. The approach to the town curved around the side of a hill; on one side was a steep drop, on the other an unclimbable bank. Above them, the orchard was teeming with German paratroopers.

Hodges’s troop of three tanks nosed carefully around the corner and past an enemy 88mm anti-tank gun with its crew lying dead beside it. Between him and the nearest houses, there were 500 yards completely devoid of cover.

Suddenly, two anti-tank guns opened up from 400 yards away. Hodges’s troop Sergeant’s leading tank was hit and slewed across the road, its rear end see-sawing over the edge of the precipice, blocking the way forward. The tank behind was also hit and immobilised, its 75mm gun silent as the gunner had had some sort of breakdown and, impervious to threats or inducements, was lying huddled on the floor of the turret.

Hodges’s tank returned fire until a high-velocity shell passed within an inch of his head with the noise of an express train. He yelled “Bail out!” down the intercom — but his crew, unaware just how precarious their situation was, chose to stay put.

Hodges jumped out and, using hand signals, directed his driver to reverse around the corner. He then remembered that, concealed inside his sergeant’s tank, there was a precious bottle of Canadian whisky; so he moved forward and mounted the tank. There was already a round “up the spout” and he fired, as he said afterwards, in the general direction of the town, having aimed by kicking the barrel with his feet.

The citation for his MC recorded that he had knocked out three enemy guns and had enabled the infantry to get into the town without suffering casualties. More important to him, however, was the successful recovery of the treasured whisky.

John Henderson Hodges was born at Abergavenny on July 31 1921 and educated at Monmouth School, where he was good at sport and won a prize for playing the piano. In spring 1940 he went to Paris and studied Phonetics at the Sorbonne and the British Institute.

When the sound of approaching German artillery could be heard, he climbed over the railings at the Gare St Lazare and fought his way onto the last train leaving Paris. At Bordeaux, he took a number of trains before arriving at St Malo and finding a vessel bound for Southampton.

After basic training at Warminster, Wiltshire, in August 1942 he was commissioned from Sandhurst into the East Riding Yeomanry. In January 1943, after three months at sea, he arrived at the Royal Armoured Corps base camp near Cairo where he transferred to the 3rd King’s Own Hussars, which had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of El Alamein.

The following month, while Hodges was travelling by night from Aleppo to Beirut, a saboteur ran two trains into each other. There were few survivors. Hodges regained consciousness after the crash to hear a nurse admonishing some passengers in the corridor. “Keep quiet,” she warned, “there’s a man dying in there.” Who is that? he asked himself. I am the only one here, and no one has told me.

After a long convalescence, he recovered and rejoined the 3rd Hussars in the autumn of 1943 near Pardes Hannah, Palestine. One day he arrived back at the camp to find no trace of his tent and the whole area blackened and smoking. A careless soldier from a nearby unit had dropped a lighted match, setting the grass ablaze and driving the flames towards an ammunition dump. Seventeen thousand shells and 700,000 rounds of small arms ammunition had been blown sky-high, along with all his personal possessions and those of 350 soldiers. Mercifully, there was only one fatality.

In March 1944 Hodges formed part of the advance party that left Alexandria for Taranto, Italy, and moved up to the Allied front line south of Monte Cassino. After the action for which he was awarded an MC, the regiment fought its way northwards to its winter quarters near Pesaro.

In January 1945 the regiment returned to Syria and Palestine, where it was equipped with Staghound armoured cars for internal security patrols. Based at Sarafand, near Tel Aviv, one of Hodges’s duties, using a road which ran alongside the railway line, was to escort the night train as far as Gaza.
They were not allowed to use guns and drove at high speed with their sirens wailing. One night in November 1945, during a riot in Tel Aviv during a heavy downpour, the driver did not spot concrete blocks that terrorists had used to barricade the road, and they drove straight into them. Hodges suffered severe injuries to his feet and spent the last eight months of his Army service in hospital.

After being demobilised with a small disability pension, in the autumn of 1946 he went up to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to read Modern Languages. On graduating in 1949, he taught French and Spanish at King Edward’s School, Birmingham. He was a housemaster and played leading roles in the Combined Cadet Force and in music.

For several years before he retired in 1981, he was an extremely successful Second Master, a post in which he demonstrated his reliability and his calm, authoritative leadership tempered with a sense of fun. He and his wife sang for many years with great enjoyment in the Birmingham Bach Choir and then the City of Birmingham Choir, performing a large range of the classical repertoire.

For all his married life he quietly shouldered the burden of coping with his wife’s bipolar illness. The need for constant support meant that his career ambitions had to be sacrificed, but he never uttered a word of complaint.

Settled at Sicklinghall, near Wetherby, Yorkshire, where they spent almost 25 years, he took pleasure in his vegetable garden, in singing and playing the church organ, and having a game of bridge with the nuns who lived opposite.

John Hodges married, in 1947, Norah Stratford. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their son.

John Hodges, born July 31 1921, died September 23 2014.

Related topics

  1. A Short History of The 3rd Hussars
  2. Timeline: Italy 1943-5
  3. Gallantry Award: Citation and Immediate award for The Military Cross – Lt J Hodges, 3rd Hussars