Roy died on 5th June 2009, just three days short of his 87th birthday.
He was a loving husband, father and proud grandfather. A gallant and true soldier with a cheerful and mischievous disposition. He was a dignified man, much respected by all those with whom he served and much loved by many. The phrase “a true officer and a gentleman” fitted him to a tee.
Roy was born in Suffolk near Aldeburgh on 8th June 1922.
When war broke out in 1939, Roy was just 17. He volunteered for the RAF but was turned down on unknown grounds. He spent the following years working part in a printing factory near Mornington Crescent. He was not a believer in air raid shelters and as a result, often walked across London during some of the heaviest bombing raids of the war. Many nights were spent as ‘watchmen’ for the printing factory, which consisted of sitting on the roof of the factory with a bucket of sand in case of a direct hit.
A somewhat unnerving ringside view of the Blitz.
Roy remained in London until 1942 when he was called up on 5th March into the 65th Training Regiment at Farnborough aged 20. After two years conducting what was by all accounts dull and almost entirely irrelevant training near Newmarket he was posted to a Regiment he had never heard of and could not understand due to their heavy Scots brogue: The 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. He served with them until they were disbanded after the war and developed a lifelong affection for them; in later years becoming and then remained until his passing the President of their Regimental Association.
Pre D-Day the Regiment were ‘held’ in Aldershot and the Troops were asked to clean their tanks again and again. When asked by his Troop Leader, 2Lt Steele Brownlie, to clean them one more time, the young Trooper Vallance made his views clear in no uncertain terms. 2Lt Steele Brownlie had no option but to put Roy on a charge. He received 7 days Confined to Barracks.
The important message was that the officer, Steele Brownlie, realised that Roy spoke for all the Troop, and the tanks were in fact immaculate.
Steele Brownlie went on to say that Roy was the best Tank Commander he had ever had the privilege to work with, and they became closest of friends until Steele’s death in the 1990s.
He also wrote Roy’s medal citation at the end of the war.
Roy disembarked from Gosport for France shortly after D-Day with the advance party of the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry as the radio operator in a Corporal’s tank. It was his 22nd birthday.
During the sleepless night crossing and in heavy seas there was a great bank, the over-laden transport boat was swamped by a huge wave and listed heavily. All ran for the ladders and contemplated a watery grave thinking a direct hit had been scored. Thankfully they had only collided with another boat, and their ship slowly righted herself and carried on into the storm. Roy was a lucky man.
The Regiment soon moved up to the front for Op Epsom – his first real recollection of battle was being ordered to dismount from his tank to clear German snipers who were firing from tree tops. He remembered moving fast to the tree line only for the fire to become rapid and accurate. He crawled forward to dislodge the Germans and all through the action someone crawled close behind him ‘cussing and swearing’ as Roy had never heard before. At the end of the action, Roy turned around only to find the culprit to be the Regimental Padre.
At Hill 112 Roy could hear talk on the net of everyone ‘brewing up’ in the Squadron and commented that at the time he couldn’t understand why everyone was making tea – he sadly understood later what it really meant.
Roy was amazingly lucky – a bazooka hit him in the petrol tank and it did not catch fire despite it being a blistering June day and the tank engine on – the petrol just poured out and it didn’t ignite.
It was the only time anyone ever heard of a Sherman not brewing up. The downside was that he had to eat cold rations for 3 days as the mortar fire was too heavy to go outside the tank and the petrol fumes too strong to cook inside the tank.
The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry lost 54 out of 60 tanks on the first day of Operation Goodwood. Three of the surviving tanks were from Roy’s troop; he was a man who had an excellent eye for the lie of the ground. His description of Goodwood and the run-up to it shows a glimpse of the determination, bravery and savvy that were to make him the man he became.
As an operator, during their first contact in the tank, his Cpl commander was unable to take the strain of the war and collapsed, unable to issue orders to the crew or answer the radio. Roy was elected by his fellow crewmen to command the tank, and he was already in the turret and the incoming fire was accurate. A task he, as a new trooper, had no experience of. His natural instinct (and not what was taught) was to have his head exposed out of the turret and to blow smoke and move when under initial contact.
This served him well during the first day of Op Goodwood, where he alone kept moving while the rest of the Regiment largely stopped to try and find the enemy – 37 tanks were brewed up in this hour whilst he, as the leading tank, found a railway cutting for cover.
Even in 2009 to ‘blow smoke’, move and then shoot is considered the height of professionalism for modern tank crews when engaged by the enemy – many months are spent practising this reaction, for 22-year-old Trooper Vallance commanding his tank – it was simply common sense. This steely professionalism born of instinct was always tempered by humour and a sense of fun – he always kept a jerry can full of strong French cider on the back of his tank for his crew at night.
His next commander was another Corporal who was also unsuited to battle when it came, leaving Trooper Vallance again in command. Post the break-out in France, Roy was again given a commander – this time an officer, who accidentally shot himself in the foot prior to his first battle. Exasperated Roy’s Squadron Leader promoted him to become a tank Cpl crew commander in Steele’s troop. He was the point tank in the liberation of Antwerp.
By the time they pushed into the Ardennes he had unwittingly already survived the heaviest fighting of the war, with casualty rates in his own unit over 90%, and he had done it all largely as a young 22-year-old trooper with no experience of command. An extraordinary feat. When this was referred to as luck at a Fife and Forfar reunion in 2009, it was quickly and sternly corrected by another Troop leader from that era, who stated that in those days ‘you made your own luck’.
Roy was the only tank commander in the Fife and Forfar’s who survived from D-Day to VE Day.
He fought with great determination. The battle that perhaps had the biggest impact on Roy was a small town called Asten in Holland, where he lost many of his close friends. The first Troop over the canal crossing were all knocked out and killed, including his best friend, Sgt. Dave McMahon, machine-gunned as they climbed out of their burning tanks. Roy liberated the town with Steele Brownlie, killing over a hundred Germans between them in the process.
During the war, as his officers were killed or wounded, Roy was immediately recognised as the natural commander of the unit and for long periods he acted as Troop Leader – still only 22.
He crossed the Rhine and into Germany. He fought at Chapel Hill and was then continuously in action through Germany and supported 6 US Airborne clearing Bure.
He was one of the first to pass by Belsen concentration camp and then continued on and up and was the point tank into Lübeck – this time conquering and not liberating, speeding through heavy fire in Lübeck and dashing to the port where he sunk a ship of firing German soldiers trying to escape.
When victory in Europe was announced, he and those who had survived set fire to a German petrol tanker and galloped round it all night on horseback, bottles in hand – the relief was enormous.
However, he was soon told to be prepared to be sent to Japan with flame throwers. The tanks were loaded and just prior to his departure, Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred. Having survived one war and now a Sergeant, he was relieved to avoid the next.
Lt Steele Brownlie wrote Roy the following citation for which he was awarded the DCM, second only to the Victoria Cross in bravery.
“This NCO has commanded a tank in every battle from Normandy to the Baltic. His troop has seen more action than any other, and for two separate periods of a fortnight, he has commanded his Troop in Battle. In Germany, every time his Troop has been ordered to lead the advance or to attack the enemy, he has either voluntarily become, without any order, or volunteered to become the point tank.
His Troop was doing a standing patrol on the bank of the Elbe, North of Winsen when they were attacked by a bazooka patrol of 22 SS at first light and in close country. Sgt Vallance as point tank allowed the enemy to infiltrate past him, reporting their movements. He then moved under fire at close range into such a position that his guns covered all of the enemy’s lines of withdrawal. None of the patrol got back with any information.
On another occasion, his and another bank were guarding an important road junction on the centre line. They were without infantry support and as darkness fell, a car full of the enemy with bazookas and supported by further enemy infantry in the woods approached his position.
Realising that misfiring his tank gun would disclose his very vulnerable position, Sgt. Vallance went forward alone with a Bren Gun. He brewed up the car at 10 yards range, killing all of the occupants, and firing into the woods, by the light of the burning car, he dispersed the rest of the enemy, killing three of them.
In all engagements with the enemy, he has shown similar initiative, determination and personal courage. He has always manoeuvred his tank and his troop with such cunning, that although subject to heavy anti-tank and bazooka fire on innumerable occasions, he himself has never been knocked out and his troop has suffered the fewest casualties of the Squadron.”
Roy was promoted to Sgt on 28 September 1944 and on 17 June 1945 he transferred to the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry until they were disbanded.
He then joined The 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars on 9 December 1945 at Itzehoe in the rank of Sgt.
Roy made an immediate impression on the RSM Tom Hegarty, but not quite in the way he intended!
For breakfast, on his first morning, he inadvertently committed the cardinal sin of sitting down at the very select Warrant Officers’ table. The RSM was not amused and ordered him to go elsewhere. During this period Roy became a keen horseman, runner and boxer for the Regiment.
Roy then moved to Lingen with The 8th Hussars in late July 1946 before being posted on 15 March 1947 as a WO2 to the Middlesbrough Squadron of the Yorkshire Hussars. It was here that he met and married his charming wife Peggy who throughout gave him such devoted support.
After the regiment moved to Leicester in February 1948, Roy, as SSM of ‘B’ Sqn moved to Warminster in September as the Squadron was taking the role of the Demonstration Squadron at the School of Infantry. Later he sailed with the rest of the Regiment from Southampton to Korea on the ‘Empire Fowey’on 11 October 1950, arriving at Pusan on 14 November 1950. ‘B’ Squadron did not get as far as Pyongyang, stopping one station short of it.
Then began the retreat to Suwon and a further 12 months of fighting and training in Korea for ‘B’ Sqn. This included ‘Operation Commando’ (3 Oct.1951) and the battle of Maryang San (with the Australians and Northumberland Fusilers).
During the Korean war Roy’s operator said that despite being an HQ tank, he loaded more 20-pounder tank shells than the fighting sabre tanks themselves.
It was during this almost 14 months away that Roy was given a short period of leave to Japan; he visited Nagasaki and was horrified by the miles of devastation.
Roy as SSM also remembered the legendary Admiral Burke of the United States Navy coming to visit his Squadron position. The Admiral was in full US naval ‘whites’, and Roy was showing him the Chinese positions on the hills to the front:
‘As normal, a few arty rounds came our way and I just stood there still talking, only to see this Admiral lying face down in the mud – in his whites’.
In December 1952, the Regiment sailed home to Liverpool and on to Lüneburg 1952. SSM Vallance then took part in Her Majesty’s Coronation Parade in London on 2 June 1953.
Roy was promoted to WO1 and became the RSM for the Yorkshire Hussars, before returning to the Regiment two years later to enjoy a further three and half years as RSM. This was a very happy time for the Regiment. Roy was firm and fair and on one occasion put the senior warrant officer under house arrest. On Regimental parades, his cry of “Bend the knees in the LAD” (Light Aid Detachment) was much looked forward to.
Roy was the last RSM of The 8th KRIH and the first of The QRIH in Hohne.
He was commissioned and appointed QM in February 1959 and then orchestrated an excellent handover to the Royal Tank Regiment on the Regiment’s return to Tidworth in May 1960. Later Roy relinquished his appointment as QM and became the Technical QM throughout the Regiment’s time in Aden and Malaya. He reverted to QM in Wolfenbüttel and continued in this appointment in Perham Down and Bovington.
He was appointed MBE in the 1970’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Roy contracted cancer in the late 1960s but soldiered on against it with great courage and determination for another 40 years. He left the Regiment in October 1970 to be Camp Commandant in Lulworth for a short period of time before finally being forced to leave on medical grounds as cancer struck again.
After the Army Roy worked as the Estate Factor at Nostell Priory for Lord St Oswald – a well-known and generous-spirited former 8th Hussar Officer. Sadly Peggy died of cancer in 1981. Roy then moved to Weasenham in Norfolk where he became a member of the Parish Council and was Chairman of the local Conservative Association.
He was a trustee of several committees and cared deeply for the village. Roy had also joined the South of the Border Branch of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, becoming a popular Chairman and then a life President. He had a real thirst for knowledge and was a constant reader of military history in his later years and an avid follower of English cricket.
Roy married Audrey in 1990 who gave him great support before she died in 2001. He was a loyal and regular attendee at the Leicester Troop Dinners and was for many years a valued member of the Regimental Association Committee. In the days when the governance of the Association’s affairs was not so tightly controlled by bureaucracy, his commonsense and knowledge were much appreciated by his fellow members. Roy was proud of having two grandsons serving together in the Regiment and following in his footsteps.
Roy Vallance made an enormous impression on all those he met, including Sergeant Bob Wood 8th KRIH, who said:
“Major Vallance has had a great beneficial effect on the whole of my life for which I am so grateful. His outstanding leadership, calmness, man management, intelligence, bravery and humanity in normal and especially in hazardous situations have been of the utmost example to me during my service with The 8th Hussars and throughout my civilian career in Aerospace.
I have always tried to emulate his competence. He was a natural leader who could get the optimum out of soldiers under his command in all circumstances, however difficult the situation, making it look easy when certainly it was not. We all had the utmost respect for him and I can never remember anyone offering criticism regarding his leadership. He was truly an outstanding soldier.”
Roy was a great soldier; he had unfailing integrity and a great sense of humour. He was always modest. He treated everyone alike with decency and honesty. He was wise and gave excellent advice, but he was so much more, he had a twinkle in his eye and a lovely sense of humour.
He was deeply patriotic and cared greatly about the countryside. His passing leaves a gap that can never be filled.