591 History Part 1 : compiled by Major Allan Jack dated 20 Dec 1945Note: Additional notes to Major Jack's History of the Squadron are in blue italics
It is hoped at some time in the near future to publish, for private circulation, a history of the Engineers of the 1st Airborne Division and that this will be followed by a similar history of the 6th Division. For these I was approached to provide a history of 591 Airborne Squadron.
Since the full Squadron history is not likely to feature in either publication and since to produce 60 copies of typescript is, almost, as easy to produce as one I am circulating this book (if such it can be called) to as many as possible of the former members of the Squadron.
That most of these had left for Palestine, for Malaya, or for "civvy street" by the time this story came to be written has made it impossible to gather all the material I would have liked. Not only details of operations but the personal stories of hardship and heroism, or humour and rascality that lurk in the memories of officers and men and which, however poorly strung together, must make a most human and moving history - and perhaps even a scandalous one! This is but the framework on which those who helped to make the history can rebuild their own experiences as a paragraph here and there stirs the memory.
I have been greatly helped by Captain Hinshelwood, Lance Serjeant Taylor and the few remaining members of the Squadron, particularly with the earlier history. There must be many grave omissions and even more inaccuracies, but in spite of these I hope that for those who have served in the Squadron the story may have some interest. Certainly the writing of it has brought home to me vividly the privilege that has been mine in Commanding the Squadron for the past fourteen months.
BULFORD, 20 Dec 45.
The Origin of "591"
At the outbreak of war in September 1939, "591", then known as the "Antrim Fortress Company, R.E.", was stationed in a fort on the shores of Belfast Lough, County Down. Raised some two years previously as a territorial unit, they had been converted into a Searchlight Company, R.E. and were to spend the first twelve months of the War as part of the anti-aircraft defences of Belfast.
In October 1940 the first laborious steps were taken to reform the unit as a Field Company and about 30 men, under Captain Bures moved to Portaferry, south of Belfast. It was intended that the remainder of the unit left behind at the fortress should be relieved by Gunners of low medical category at an early date and should follow on. Unfortunately, this plan fell through and, although augmented on Christmas Day by 100 recruits, of the original Irish Territorials only thirty crossed with the unit to England the following month.
The Non-Fighting Forties
At Halifax a further fifty recruits joined the unit and Major White took over command. After intensive individual and unit training at 22 Training Centre, followed by a month at Wallingford bridging camp, the unit moved to Luton as a Corps Field Company R.E. in 2nd Corps.
In the summer of that year the unit came under command of 76th (Norfolk) Division near Norwich, to be followed by a six month spell under 11 Corps before finally settling down in the 54th Division, stationed at Woodbridge in Suffolk. During this period they were employed for the most part on the building of defence works and camp in common with most other Engineer units in Britain.
On 3rd October 1942 Major P.A. Wood took over command of the unit at Woodbridge. By now, works were giving place to serious training. With the Division the unit took part in ambitious exercises and a considerable part of the winter was spent in bridging and in realistic training in demolitions and mines.
The spring of 1943 found the unit still at Woodbridge, by now a highly trained, fit and happy entity. Under the leadership of Major Wood and the encouragement of being at last firmly established as an operational unit, a fine unit spirit prevailed and, though the number "591" casually allotted during foundation at Halifax had meant little then, it was now "something" to belong to 591 (Antrim) Field Company R.E.
[War diary records indicate that the number was assigned while the unit was based at Portaferry]
About this time the 6th Airborne Division was born, and during the spring and early summer vigorous recruitment was carried out for the Division throughout the country.
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