IT IS 76 years ago this week that a young Glasgow soldier found himself in one of the Second World War’s most ferocious battles.

Joe Quinn, serving in the 51st Division of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was just 20 years old when he took part in Operation Veritable, or the Battle of the Reichswald Forest.

It was the northern part of an Allied pincer movement which took place between February 8 and March 11, 1945, in the final stages of the Second World War.

His sister, Sally Conway, 83, explains: “Joe spoke of the camaraderie and hardship he experienced during that period. It was a time that would in a way define the rest of his life.

Joe with Sally (centre) and a friend in 1957.

Joe with Sally (centre) and a friend in 1957.

“This was the biggest British barrage since the Second Battle of El Alamein, involving 50,000 men with 500 tanks. Soldiers were literally deafened for hours by the noise of more than a thousand guns. Joe’s hearing was irreparably damaged. When in Joe’s company he would often say, ‘speak up, speak up, stop mumbling…’”

Sally, who grew up with Joseph and three other siblings in Milton Place, Cowcaddens, has been documenting her brother’s fascinating life. Joseph sadly died in June, just a few days after his 96th birthday.

Joe Quinn

Joe Quinn

“Joe went to St Roch’s Advanced Central School, now known as St Roch’s Secondary, in Royston,” says Sally. “At 12, he won a scholarship for St Aloysius College. He left school when he was 14, as most children of working class parents did in those days, to find gainful employment.”

After a spell at Ross’s Dairy delivering milk, Joe joined the New Empire Boot and Shoe Company and then the Army, at the age of 18 in 1942. He was injured by a German shell in the trenches on March 6, 1945, which left a scar on his cheek.

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Sally. says: “He was only 20 years old at the time and had witnessed shocking horrors.”

After the war, General Eisenhower commented the Battle of Reichswald Forest “was some of the fiercest fighting of the whole war” and “a bitter slugging match in which the enemy had to be forced back yard by yard”

Sally adds: “Joe’s strength of character saw him go back to Germany after a short period of recovery and he served in the peace keeping process until November 1947. He also won an impressive array of medals and in due course the family intend to put these on permanent display at the battalion’s HQ in Stirling Castle.”

After being discharged from the army, Joe worked for the GPO (later, British Telecom). He retired on his 65th birthday in 1989.

Sally Conway. Pic: Colin Mearns

Sally Conway. Pic: Colin Mearns

Sally smiles: “He always said his claim to fame was that he installed the telephone in Jock Stein’s house, and his wife made him a cup of tea.”

Joe married Margaret in 1959 and the couple ran two post offices in Glasgow.

Sally says: “He was an engineer at heart and often recited the story of making a TV tuner out of an old oscillatoscope so his mother could watch the Queen’s Coronation (with the rest of her Milton Place neighbours) in 1953 on a black and green four-inch screen.”

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Sally says: “His school motto was ‘alios adiuva’, which means ‘help others’ and this is something he carried throughout his life.”

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