by Helen Moon
The Royal Regiment of Artillery has also had many individuals who have served in the Regiment and then gone on to achieve fame in other areas. One of the most-iconic former Gunners was the legendary 20th Century comedian, writer and poet Spike Milligan.
Terence Alan “Spike” Milligan was one of the most influential comedians and writers of the 20th Century. Born in India, the son of a Royal Artillery Captain in the British Indian Army, he was originally a jazz musician.
Spike was called up to serve in the Second World War as a Gunner in 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery. By the time he left the Regiment, when he was invalided out due to being wounded and traumatised by being hit by shellfire in Italy, he was a Lance Bombardier.
Spike recorded his wartime experiences in a series of memoirs. Full of his trademark humour, they capture a flavour of ordinary military life alongside the ridiculous situations he experienced. In volume one of his memoirs, ‘Adolf Hitler – My Part in His Downfall’, he joked,
“At Victoria station the R.T.O. [Rail Transport Officer] gave me a travel warrant, a white feather and a picture of Hitler marked “This is your enemy”. I searched every compartment, but he wasn’t on the train...”
A natural performer, Spike entertained soldiers at concert parties, first with his Battery’s band and later as part of The Bill Hall Trio. After the war, he found fame writing and performing in ‘The Goon Show’ and ‘Q’.
Are you interested in finding out more about other famous Gunners, or knowing more about your own family’s history? Then contact or visit the Search Room at Greenwich Heritage Centre.
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