The last time Adam Wakenshaw saw home, in Duke Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, was in February 1941 when he was given compassionate leave because his seven year old son had been killed in a traffic accident. He was serving with the Durham Light Infantry – DLI – which he had joined at the beginning of the war.
By June 1942 the Durham Light Infantry was in Egypt and Adam Wakenshaw was part of an anti tank gun crew. The 2 pounder gun was still very much in use even though it had limited hitting power against German tanks and was being replaced by the 6 pounder.
During the last week of June the British Army was in full retreat back to Egypt. Those guarding the retreat knew that they had to stand their ground for as long as possible to allow the rest of the Army to fall back to the new positions being prepared in Egypt:
Before dawn on 27th June, the German 90th Light Division moved against the 151st (Durham) Brigade of the 50th Division. The blow landed first on the 9th Battalion DLI. The battalion occupied a small plateau, Point 174, about seventeen miles south of Mersa Matruh, where the ground was flat and rocky, making it impossible for the soldiers to dig-in. Instead, the men lay behind boulders or small, quickly-built stone walls.
Before them on the gentle forward slope were 9 DLI’s 2-pounder anti-tank guns. Each of the four guns had its own crew. Their morale was high. All had been highly trained. One crew included Private Adam Wakenshaw.
About 5.15am, the German infantry attacked supported by tanks and artillery. As they advanced, a tracked vehicle towing a light gun came to within close range of Private Wakenshaw’s anti-tank gun. The 2-pounder gun opened fire and a direct hit on the vehicle’s engine stopped it dead. Then another German mobile gun opened fire, and all the Durhams manning the 2-pounders, including Adam Wakenshaw, were killed or seriously wounded.
With the anti-tank guns silenced and the gun positions swept by intense mortar and shell fire, the Germans moved forward towards the damaged tracked vehicle. If the light gun could be brought into action, 9 DLI’s infantry lay only two hundred yards away. This movement, however, was seen by Adam Wakenshaw lying near his gun.
Though he had been terribly wounded, with his left arm blown off above the elbow, he crawled back under fire to the gun. There, with the help of Private Eric Mohn, the gun aimer, who had also been badly wounded, Private Wakenshaw loaded the shells with one arm and five more rounds were fired. One direct hit set the tracked vehicle on fire and damaged the light gun. Then a German shell burst near by. Private Mohn was killed and Adam Wakenshaw, once again brutally wounded, was thrown away from his gun by the blast.
Unbelievably, he slowly dragged himself for a second time over the rocky ground and back to his place by the gun. There he placed one more round in the breech and was preparing to fire, when a direct hit on the ammunition killed him and silenced his gun for ever. There was nothing then to hold up the German attack.
Full details courtesy Light Infantry. The citation for the award of the Victoria Cross completes the story:
This act of conspicuous gallantry prevented the enemy from using their light gun on the infantry Company which was only 200 yards away. It was through the self sacrifice and courageous devotion to duty of this infantry anti-tank gunner that the Company was enabled to withdraw and to embus in safety.