Ernie Couchman

Branch roles: Branch President 1990-2003

Regimental number: 2616390

Service dates: 1939-1945


Ernie (Joe) Couchman had the Regimental Number 2616390 and served with Number 2 Squadron, 2nd Armoured Battalion Grenadier Guards.

It was the 10th of May 1939 that Ernie walked through the gates of the Guards Depot Caterham after enlisting in the Grenadier Guards that same morning.

When war broke out on Sunday 3rd September, senior squads were sent to Victoria Barracks, Windsor where the Training Battalion were formed. After a short while, he was off to join the 2nd Battalion who were stationed at a small town by the name of Hem, which was situated near the French/Belgium border.

On 11th May he was off into Belgium and on the 12th arrived at Louvian where the Battalion dug in.  After a few days the withdrawal began until finally they arrived at Veurnes; which was the final line of defence around Dunkerque.   This we held for three days, the 2nd Battalion on one side of the canal, the Germans on the other.

At midnight on 31st May the 2nd Battalion pulled out and were told: “The beach is in that direction, it is every man for himself”. After some time, being shelled most of the way, they arrived at de Panne. Thousands of troops were there, the whole of the 3rd and 4th Divisions, but there was no one Ernie knew.

Eventually Ernie bumped into another Grenadier from the 1st Battalion who he knew – Charlie Holyoake. As dawn broke, over came the German fighters and bombers. The ships that were waiting to pick them up were forced to leave after some were hit, so there was nothing for it but to make their way to Dunkirk.

Charlie and Ernie set out, along with thousands of others, being bombed and machine gunned all the way until they arrived safely at Dunkirk in early afternoon and there, moored at the stone jetty was a boat – the “Ben-my-Chree”, an Isle of Man packet boat. They arrived at Folkestone late afternoon, boarded a waiting train and finished up at Frome.

The following day some of them were sent to Borden and the day after Ernie was sent to East Knoyle, between Warminster and Shaftesbury, where the 2nd Battalion was being reformed. Coastal defence at Littlehampton, Parkstone and Weymouth followed, then inland to Bruton, Castle Cary and Sherbourne.

Whilst there the 2nd Battalion were told that a Guards Armoured Division was being formed and that the 2nd Battalion was being armoured. From here Ernie went to the 53rd R.A.C. school at Tidworth to train as a Gunner/Mechanic and he spent the early training days on Salisbury Plain whilst stationed in Warminster.  It was here that Ernie met my wife, a London girl on war work, and it was here that they married in 1942.  They were to spend 51 very happy years together.

On to Brandon in Norfolk where the 2nd Battalion were equipped with American Sherman tanks, after training in Covernanters and Crusaders, and then went to Helmsley in Yorkshire. Early 1944 saw them in Brighton, waterproofing their vehicles in readiness for the invasion of Normandy.

Eventually they sailed from Gosport on 30th June. Again they waited.  It was not until 18th July (Operation Goodwood – Objective Cagny) that they saw their first action. In this, Ernie’s Squadron Leader, Sir Arthur Grant, was killed and the then Major James Bowes-Lyon took over.  After another action near Caumont they were soon on the big run through France and Belgium to Brussels and then Louvain.

On 17th September, and the beginning of “Market Garden”, the Irish Guards led, but at Grave the Grenadier group (1st and 2nd Battalions) took over and so the battle for Nijmegen on the 19th/20th became Grenadier history.  It was here that Ernie was given his third stripe and promoted to Sergeant.

After clearing things at Heesch, things eased down and in December Major Bowes-Lyon returned to England with the then Major Wigram taking over the Squadron.

With the “Battle of the Bulge” , they rushed down to the Ardennes to assist the Americans, but saw no action.  Early March 1945 the clearing of German troops from the Reichwald began and on the 30th they crossed the Rhine and on through Germany. Their last action being at the Concentration Camps at Sandbostel.

On 9th June the 2nd Battalion said good-bye to their tanks at Rothenburg Airfield. Field Marshall Montgomery took the salute at their last parade and they were Infantry once more.

On to Seigburg. Number 2 Company being at Troisdorf. In the autumn they moved to Lubeck where in April Ernie came home on “demob”.

Back in England ernie found employment with the local Public Transport Company.  Here he stayed for the next 38½ years, most of the time taking coach parties to the Continent as well as to many places in Britain.

In 1984 Ernie retired and then took life easy. If any of his old friends, or if any Grenadiers had visited the Folkestone area in the years before he died, on 30 October 2005, they would usually have found him of a Wednesday lunchtime at the Folkestone Indoor Bowls Centre having a “tot”, or the Hythe Conservative Club on Sunday lunchtimes.

Ernie served the Branch as President for 13 years and retired from that office in February 2003.