An offer of a bun and a cup of hot tea sounded awfully good to Victor Gregg on that raw London day in October 1937—enticing enough to follow a recruiter back to his office and sign up for the British Army. “It was my 18th birthday,” recalls Gregg, now a hundred. “And you know, as far as I recall, I never did get that cup of tea.”
Instead he got a harrowing front-row seat to World War II, from start to finish. After qualifying as a sharpshooter, Gregg was posted briefly to India and was serving in Palestine when the war broke out in September 1939. He spent the next three years in the north African desert, on covert missions behind enemy lines. Later he became a paratrooper and took part in the invasion of Italy. In September 1944 he was dropped into the Battle of Arnhem—a failed Allied attempt to secure a bridge over the Rhine River.
“They told us it would be a walkover,” he recalls. “Instead, we ran into some Panzer divisions nobody seemed to have reckoned on.” The fighting was brutal, hand to hand, and the British paratroopers were overrun. Gregg was captured and sent to a labor camp near Dresden, Germany.