591 History Part 9 : compiled by Major Allan Jack dated 20 Dec 1945Note: Additional notes to Major Jack's History of the Squadron are in blue italics
More Hun Beastliness
During these past few days the Squadron had been working almost exclusively in the area from which the Germans had just withdrawn. Amongst the country folk that were met in the village or outlying cottage it is safe to say that there was not a man between the ages of 15 and 50 nor a single dry eyed woman. Everywhere one was met with the harrowing cry "they have taken our men." "When will our men come back?" For the countryside had been stripped by the Boche as they retreated, of every fit male. In chains they were driven back to forced labour with the German army or to Germany itself. One of the mineclearing parties were resting for ten in the village of Haversin when a disheveled wild eyed old man staggered to the door of the first cottage with the news from the neighbouring village that a batch of these civilian prisoners had been murdered by the Germans. The news spread like wildfire from cottage to cottage and soon the road was cluttered with groups of wailing, gesticulating women, old men and children. To the sappers the story seemed unlikely, such action pointless, but within 24 hours the gruesome story of the "Massacre of Bande" blazoned on the front pages of every newspaper in the civilised world, to shock humanity again with the senseless, sickening depravity to which Germans can sink.
The cynics said it was just clever propaganda but there were no doubts amongst the men of the 6th Airborne Division for the heartbroken women of these villages were the wives and mothers of the massacred men and the village of Bande was but two miles away. It was there that a reprisal for some minor misconduct amongst the civilian prisoners that fifteen of the less robust men were bound hand and feet and pushed down the steps to the cellar of one of the houses. A German officer standing behind the door shot each one cold bloodedly in the back of the head as he stumbled past. The cellar was then sealed. When the men of the 8th Parachute Battalion entered the village some days later the whole sordid tragedy was revealed.
The next day they were buried with military honours, sorrowing Belgians from all the surrounding countryside filing slowly past the coffins laid out in the village street covered with British and Belgian flags and decked with flowers. It is certain that all the airborne soldiers who went to Bande, and those who heard at first hand of the massacre, fought the more fiercely for it and in the months to come many scores of German soldiers died quick unpleasant deaths in reprisal.
More Mine Accidents
For the remaining days in the Ardennes no major tasks came the Squadron's way though there was still much work to be done on road maintenance and mine reconnaissance. Almost daily there were reports of casualties to men and vehicles from all over the Divisional area, in every instance from uncharted American mines. Where minefields had been laid by the Americans, there had been some attempt at marking and fencing them off, but the countless roadside dumps were completely unmarked and rarely visible beneath the snow. On 11th January Lieutenant Knox of 3rd Parachute Squadron was killed when one of those American M1 mines exploded for no apparent reason while he was preparing a dump of them for demolition at Le Marche station.
The following day Lieutenant Wade of 591 Squadron was sent to reconnoitre and destroy a dump of mines at Waha which were considered dangerously close to the roadside. Some of the mines were frozen to the ground and while attempting to move one the whole pile exploded, killing Lieutenant Wade instantly and wounding Lieutenant Cox standing by the jeep some distance away. It was found later that in cold weather with this type of mine ice was liable to form inside which caused pressure on the inside plate and strained the shear pin to such dangerous limits that the slightest movement would in some cases set off the mine. Had this been known before, two valuable officers might have been spared.
Operational tasks for the Divisional Engineers having come practically to a standstill, the C.R.E. [Commander Royal Engineers] decided that the Engineers would be best employed on building timber bridges to replace the several Baileys that had been put across during the campaign. The limitless supplies everywhere of timber of all descriptions provided an invaluable opportunity for practical training in improvised bridging and for leaving behind the Division when it left something of real value to the community for a long time. Work was started by the Squadron on foundations to a bridge to replace the Bailey built by 1 Troop at Jemelle, and at the same time plans were prepared and preliminary excavations done for a large timber trestle bridge replacing that blown by the Germans across the main river at Rochefort. The trestles were to be 20 feet high and the span just under 70 feet. The river here was a raging torrent likely to rise at least 10 feet when the thaw came. To provide secure foundations and erect the trestles seemed likely to prove a difficult but highly interesting Engineer task and it was with very real regret that the Squadron learnt, soon after work had started, that the Division was moving to Holland and that work must be abandoned. Probably the most disappointed person was Captain Semple who had designed a most workmanlike bridge and who was to be in charge of the construction.
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