Tank hero’s possessions help tell his astonishing story

A young Prichard and other items donated

Mementoes from one of the most incredible heroes of World War Two who lost an entire squadron of tanks in one action have been donated to the Tank Museum.

Lt Col Jack Prichard DSO MC had an astonishing war and now some of his most personal possessions will remain at the award-winning Dorset attraction.

Prichard in his early 30s

Prichard’s war involved fighting Germans in north Africa, capture, escape, fighting with Italian partisans, escaping to Switzerland, swerving internment, and returning to Italy to help finish off the Nazis.

Now his Popeye mascot, which was attached to the front of his tank, swagger stick, sweetheart brooch, fake identity papers along with photos and other documents have been donated by his daughter.

Prichard’s Popeye mascot and his identity tag

Prichard’s swagger stick

The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) hero joined up in the 1930s and served in India before being sent to north Africa after war was declared.

Prichard, centre with moustache, before the war in India

There he fought fiercely especially at the Siege of Tobruk for which he was awarded the Military Cross.

He lost 17 tanks and the whole regiment was captured, but luckily for Jack the German officer in charge had been a drinking buddy of his in Maidenhead before the war and ensured he and the men had food and water.

Prichard was held in an Italian camp and after the Italian surrender in September 1943 he broke out with almost everyone else.

While his comrades were captured, Prichard hid and moved around Italy for months, living on sweet chestnuts that he loathed for the rest of his life.

He met with sympathetic Italians, had false documents made, travelled on trains and drank in bars.

Prichard’s fake Italian ID document

Prichard’s fake Italian ID – cover of document

Finally he ended up fighting with the partisans against Germans and fascist Italians.

Ultimately the Germans sent 16,000 troops to the area and Prichard escaped to Switzerland where he was due to be interned for the rest of the war.

He was put in custody but due to the connections of his father he was appointed Aide-De-Camp to Lady Mountbatten on her visit to the country.

When he saluted her off on her aeroplane she asked whether he was coming too, so he jumped aboard and flew to Paris where he had drinks at the Ritz.

After 42 days leave he was back in Italy fighting the Germans in terrain he knew very well.

During that period he commandeered a lorry of oranges from the US with the intention of giving them to his old partisan pals.

One Italian thought he was a German spy, and he was subsequently detailed to be shot.

Fortunately Jack’s superiors sorted out the situation and that evening Prichard was drinking with the senior US officer who hours earlier had wanted him executed.

For his efforts during this period he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He stayed in the army until retirement in 1957.

His daughter Lacy who has found the items said: “He was a gregarious man who got on with everyone and that was important in a tank because you were all together in a tiny space.

“When he returned home after escaping our mother Eilleen – his future wife – heard he had come back and knocked on his door.

“On hearing the knocks he leapt behind the sofa to hide – a hangover from his months on the run.

“When he went on holiday to Italy in the 1960s he stopped at a petrol station and was recognised by one of the partisans he had been fighting with.

“He would never have considered himself a hero, but just someone doing his job. And there were hundreds – if not thousands – of people with similar stories.

“He was a family man and mum was his rock. He also loved the Royal Tank Regiment and what better place is there for his things than the museum?”

Jack Prichard and Eilleen married in 1948 when he gave her the RTR sweetheart brooch which is one of the objects donated.

Jack and Eilleen married in 1948 when he gave her this RTR sweetheart broochJames Donaldson from the museum who has further researched the man said: “This is an incredible story.

“It sounds like a plot from a film but Jack was very much a real hero, fighting in several theatres of war.

“He lost an entire squadron during one action in the desert and was highly decorated for his fighting at the Siege of Tobruk and later fighting in Italy.

“His capture by an old German drinking friend, escape, time on the run, joining the partisans, getting to Switzerland and then travelling to Paris for drinks at the Ritz is quite the tale.

“And then he went back and fought up Italy until the end of the war in Europe.

“It is extremely generous of the family to donate these items which help tell Jack’s incredible story.

“He was a tank man through and through and with so few of his generation surviving these mementoes become even more poignant.”

Jack and Eilleen married in 1948 when he gave her the RTR sweetheart brooch which is one of the objects donated.

Jack and Eilleen married in 1948 when he gave her this RTR sweetheart brooch

They had three daughters and the couple retired to the Isle of Wight from Iver in Buckinghamshire.

Jack worked with the Royal British Legion and the Old Comrades’ Association.

He died on 12th June 1993 aged 80.

Major Prichard when Squadron Commander

Popeye – Prichard’s tank mascot. He chose the mascot because he and Popeye both smoked pipes

Prichard’s swagger stick

Prichard’s passport

Prichard later in life