[page last updated 14 May 2015]
MEMOIRS - Sapper Bernard (Mac) McDonough:
Transcript of an Interview dated 30 Nov 1995.
Recorded on to reel to reel tape by Mr. Conrad Wood for the Imperial War Museum.
Sapper Bernard Mc Donough, the interviewee, spoke with a strong Lancashire/Derbyshire border dialect, hence the use of local turns of phrase that make listening and reading a bit difficult for the those unfamiliar with it, but this is typical speech for natives of the Glossop area. His memoir covers 1943 through to 1948, and thus includes the years following the squadron history published by Major Jack in Dec 1945, when many of the squadron were shipped to the Far East when the 591 Para squadron merged with No.3 Para Squadron.
As much as possible, this is a word for word transcription of the recording, for those who are unable to hear the recordings or who don't understand what they have heard in the interview.
Additional notes are in italics within [block brackets].
Illustrations and maps have been used to provide readers with further information.
Q. indicates questions posed by the interviewer Mr Wood to Mr McDonough; occasionally where it is vice versa, this is noted in the text in [block brackets].
[Tape 1 Side 1:]
Q1. Mr McDonough where were you born please ?A. Glossop , Derbyshire.
Q2. Which year was this?
A. 1923, 17th of January.
Q3. What did your father do for a living?
A. Well he was working at that period, in a paper mill in Glossop.
Q4. You tell me that you lost your father... when you were young?
A. After the First World War yes, he got pneumonia watching a football match and he was dead in 3 days.
Q5. Did you go to school in Glossop?
A. Oh yes yes, St. Mary's Primary School.
Q6. How old were you when you finished that?
A. At 14.
Q7. Did you get a job?
A. Yes straight away yeh.
Q8. Doing what?
A. Well it was at an engineering factory, Isaac Jackson's of Glossop.
[Isaac Jackson had been a leather saddle maker by trade, but had the good fortune to invent a metal staple to easily mend broken leather drive belts used in the hundreds of cotton mills in the North West of England and beyond. Thus he set up his own production company which took over a former 18th century cotton mill, Hawkshead Mill, Glossop. The engineering works also branched out in to smaller hardware items and during WW1 took on production for the war effort. The mill changed hands and production several times after WW2 and was abandoned in 2005.
The site is currently derelict and awaiting re-development.]
Q9. What were you doing when Chamberlain declared war on Germany?
[British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940)]
A. Well I was in Glossop, working on the railway at that period, at place near Hyde in Cheshire.
Q10. How did you feel about the news that we were at war?
A. Well with being young at the time, it didn't register with me that...I knew it was important, and the majority of the chaps that which was slightly older than me, young fellows, they was volunteering for a local signals unit in Glossop, The Territorials, but me grandfather,
(which was only my grandfather and myself then, because my grandmother had died,)
he said "There's no way that you're joining any territorial unit", so I just did what he said at the time.
Q11. Were you in any of the bombing of Britain in those early years, by the German Airforce?
A. Previous to going in the forces, it was when I was coming through Manchester, working on the railway, it was bombing Manchester, I was on nights, and er I was on my way home from Manchester, when they started to bomb, they was bombing Manchester area, at that period.
Q12. What exactly did you see of the bombing?
A. Well the only thing I saw, firstly they would not release the train, then they decided to do so because I was on my way to Glossop and on the way out from Manchester. When we was passing a place called Gorton, er we could see a glow in the other side of Manchester, so all I was doing then was just making my way home, all I was interested in then.
Q13. Did any bombs fall on Glossop itself?
A. Er no, there was a viaduct which was a connection between Manchester and Sheffield, going through Woodhead Tunnel which is a very important point, but the nearest they got to it was a place called Hyde and I believe it was only to release bombs when they'd left Manchester, and unfortunately it hit this farm house and killed all the people in it.
Q14. Now how did you come to be in the Army yourself?
A. Well they was going to reserve me on the railway but I wouldn't let them do it, so I had to go for examinations then, to Manchester, Dover Street, which I wanted to go in the Navy, because most of my family had, and my interests seemed to be that way, but after a period of time, I passed A1, but after a period of time I had to go for another examination to Stockport, and after the examination which I passed, I'd just come off nights working 12 hours on the railway and the interviewing officer was in the Gordon Highlanders, and I couldn't weigh up why there was a Army chap there, when I was going in the Navy, so after the interview I said to him
"Why are you interviewing me, when I'm going, I've already passed for this?" and he said
"Well, we've put the block on people going in the Navy now and you're going in the Army" which I didn't want to go.
When I got home I told me grandfather I wasn't going to go, and he said
"Give it a whirl, and you may like it, if not well then take it from there." So that was it, up to then.
Q15. So when did you actually go in to the Army?
A. It was, I forgot the actual date, but err tail end towards '43, that's right yeh, I was sent to um first of all, I was sent to first of all, [chuckling] I was sent to... to Preston, which wasn't too far from Glossop actually. Now at the interview after the training, the interviewing officer, I happened to notice that he had the Para badge on his right arm, so after the interview he did quote
"What would you like to go in?" and I did say to him
"Well either Commandos or the MPs" and I had a talk with him about the wings and parachute and he said
"Oh yes I don't wear the red beret on this interview."
So from then on they sent me to Cardiff to learn all about stevedoring which I wasn't interested in, because that wasn't my kind of scene I wanted, but while I was there, they put a big notice up that they was wanting volunteers for the Parachute Regiment but there was strict tests which didn't mean that you was in, you'd be volunteers.
So I went to the interviewing officer and told him, so we went through the rigmarole well
"Have you thought about your parents, what they'll say?", which I told him, that I only had me grandfather etc etc, so after about a fortnight, I received notification to go to Worcester for an examination, a preliminary examination for the Paras, and it was eye sight tests, and colour tests, and I passed all those, but the interviewing officer when I walked in, he was the same officer who interviewed me at Preston when he hadn't got his red beret on, and immediately he saw me he said
"Well you've passed everything here, and this interview, as far as I'm concerned, is finished, you can carry forth", because I'd already talked to him previously about the same things he was going to ask me that day.
So from then I just waited until I got notification, and I was sent to Chesterfield, Hardwick Hall, and that's where we they... we did fortnight's PT [physical training], No Smoking from 7 in morning to 7 at night, running on the spot wherever you are, and um...
And of course that prepared you then for the toughening training which was the rest of the period. I forgot how long it was then, I think it was another three to four weeks.. And so I passed there, but it was very very difficult, it was using live ammo in those days as well and rock climbing what I'd never done, but it interested me, I passed all the lot. From there, after passing that, we was taken then to Ringway, Manchester for synthetic training.
A. Yes that was preparing you for jumping. Synthetic training you come down slides with a 10 foot drop and learn how to fall when you're landing; and then they had these different parachutes on a SWR [steel wire rope], from about 70 or 80 foot high, and it's controlled by a fan for speed, and you had the... it was you walked off a gantry, in to the fresh air, we'll call it, to give you the idea of jumping out of a plane, and then the winch took over for you dropping to the ground, but that was after a lot of training, of learning how to fall left, right, backwards, which was really interesting to me.
And briefly after that, the first after all those different exercises, which you had to pass anyway, otherwise they'd RTU [Return to Unit] you for everything, even from Chesterfield they did.
Well the first drop was from a balloon, which was er quite a strange experience because it's very quiet, all you hear when you go up in the ballon is the noise of the wind blowing in the SWR riggings, and so after that it was learning to jump out of apertures, which was a round hole which in those days was a Whitley, (we didn't get the Dakotas while just a bit after ..from the door which was easy,) but the er jumping from a Whitley with the aperture was very difficult... because you only had a certain diameter when you sat on the hole to jump through and you had to go through 'to attention', because if you didn't your pack would catch on the edge of the ring and give what we call err [Ringing the Bell] well you got your nose bashed on the other side... and it was... it happened quite regular that.
So from then, after doing... we did the eight jumps altogether then you qualified, and of course we was very happy about that because you also got some back pay then, which was a nice pick up actually.
Jumping through the hole of the Whitley Bomber.
Q17. What does SWR mean?
A. Steel Wire Rope.. yeh, but on one occasion I more or less saved a chap's life, because when we went up in the balloon, the instructor... you normally... there was just four of you, because there wasn't a lot of room in the box... in the balloon you know, and the aperture was there and he just used to just sit on the side of the box, and when you hooked up you had to put a pin through to stop the clip opening when you jumped out. But one chap hadn't hooked his up and was just sat there and fortunately I noticed that he hadn't hooked into the er in to the coupling, and he was number one to go because there was only four in the small aperture balloon, and fortunately I just saw that he hadn't hooked up otherwise he'd have been going through without being hooked up. So that was one point which I remember for the rest of the time about hooking up.
From there then, after the training there, we got just a short leave, and we was sent down to Bulford. I was going to be sent to the 1st Divi [Division], but they was just starting the 6th Airborne Division at Bulford, and er so er that's... Beacon Barracks at Bulford was my first place with the 6th Airborne Division, where I joined 591 Antrim Parachute Squadron, that was it's proper name, 'cause it was the only regiment in the forces which, you know the red hand of Ulster, well we used to wear that on us overcoat, the red hand, a small red hand ..yeh
So from then on of course it was all training with regards to explosives, mines, anything at all in that line, so it was quite interesting. Of course we had all the infantry training, that was just normal procedure beside being the Sappers.
Q18. How were you treated by the people who were training you?
A. Oh very good yes, very good indeed. It was very specific, everything you was taught, the PT instructors, everywhere where you was, had the best training, good food, very strict, very hard training, I mean exercise was the main main factor all the time. But even before breakfast when we called what we was doing nothing, it was a 10 mile run before your breakfast which was nothing... normal. Five mile up to Tidworth from Bulford and then over the top and five mile back down, and that was just the normal before breakfast routine, unless you was on a drop exercise or a long march. Course we used to do all kinds of marches, 10 mile, 15, 20, 25, 30 ....varying, sometime from the air, sometime they'd take us out in trucks all covered up, just dump you somewhere, give you a map reference and then you had to find ways back either with er in pairs or in troop and then you'd be... you may have a 25 mile march to do after or at different periods we did what they call... it was a really long march, no resting whatsoever, you may march for 12 hours during the night or part way during the day, no resting whasoever, but as you normally could have a rest, if you was on a long march about every hour just for about five or ten minutes.
And so even then we could be walking in the dark asleep when you'd already been up, but there was always somebody there just to whack you on the head to er wake you up that was the general to see, in other words it was a sufferance to see how much they could get out of you. Which, at the time, I was so interested to know or to do everything to ensure that I remembered everything what we'd got to do, and the man who was with you, or the men who was with you, you know you could trust them to do just the same as what you was doing but with a lot of other regiments, with all due respect, you couldn't do that because you didn't know their capabilities, of the endurance they could put up with when they was wet through, tired, fed up, anything you name it, you know you could still depend on them to be there when you wanted them, and that's what I really liked about the regiment. You could..very dependable people yeh.
Q19. What about the Sapper side of your training?
A. Oh yes well, we had everything. I used to love that because blowing things up. We went to Clitheroe, that was a RE [Royal Engineer's] place just to give displays when we'd been fully trained. How fast we could blow anything up, whatever it may be, such as abutments, and bridges with camouflet charges, or cutting charges, PHE plastic explosives, for blowing guns up, which was our big priority, because once we'd dropped anywhere the idea was to destroy... attack and destroy all guns from stopping gliders entering into the area.
And then mines of course, that was an important factor, because if you got in an area where... where there was mines, sometimes they was patterned, you could follow some kind of pattern but other times [when]they was withdrawing quickly , they just put them higgledy piggledy, then that was your biggest problem then, and of course in those days there was one, a German one, which was called a Schu Mine, and it was made of wood, not the plastic er Bakelite, so as that you couldn't tell where they were at all, the only way you could find those was with you getting your fighting knife out and just prod until you found it, because at one period we released no end of those, the other one was Teller Mine, they always put a Teller Mine (which was an anti-tank, you could use it for anti-personel, but anti-tank) and they'd pop a Schu Mine in between these just to er ... as you was getting interested in the Teller Mine which was a 12lb explosive charge, you'd possibly step on the Schu Mine and that was the idea, it just blew your foot off.
[fig a= a wooden Schu Mine, fig b= Teller Mine, fig c= Riegel Mine (not to scale)]'Cause at one place when we was in Holland, (this was part way after the Ardennes,) one of our Corporal's Billy Mills, unfortunately he had his foot blown off, through one of those little Schu Mines, wooden mines.
So and then there was another one called a Teller Mine that was approximately two foot long, a different shape altogether and that could be used either way and then we was trained to lay anti-personel mines for booby-traps which was a very good thing because at a place called Le Plein in Normandy when we was there, the Commandos was in a bad way because they were short of men of course, which everybody was at that time, and General Gale sent word back for some Engineers to come up and lay as many anti-personel mines to protect 'em on a certain flank, and we had the job to do that that day, and er which we layed I think it was about 400 to protect the flank with them being short of men, and the first one to go out in to the booby-trap just as we'd finished... coming through orchard was the... a French farmer who we was trying to tell him to go back and he thought we was waving but unfortunately he got hurt.
Q20. What about the explosives side of your training?
A. Yes, well we had plenty of that, because up on er... near where the er... oh what is it? ...oh it was at Bulford, we had a lot at Bulford, but you know where the um ooff stones are... I can't think... Stonehenge, well there were some old houses just near there, and we used to practise attacking old houses, blowing them up, girding material, but the best one we had when we went to this Clitheroe, was give the display, how quick , how good we was in other words, and we had to do camouflets. Well I don't know whether you know what a camou flet... well what it is, you drill down in to the ground, you can do it very quickly by you insert pipes, put a small charge in when you pull pipes out, which if you want to go down 6 foot or 10 foot, then you just put in the bottom (when you've made sure it's dry, 'cause you can either wet it doing one thing or another,) then you pour Black Ammonal in. That's the lifting power, black ammonal, and so after that you put your primers and your detonators, whatever in, tamp it in, and then set off.
[AMMONAL was a cheaper explosive, a combination of TNT and Ammonium Nitrate at a ratio of 4:8]
Well we did all this, as an experience for these young men what was knew know nothing about it. They were training, but the officer in charge that day said
"Well just to show them how good we are...", he says,
"...while they're on lunch, I want you to set all these charges up for one blow, with about a 32 charge exploder"
And so we did all this quickly, we did the camou flet, some houses which wanted blowing, girders, a small bridge that built in, and we connected it all up you see. Well every charge you connect up, you're supposed to leave erm one lead with black tape, black fuse rather, as you can either set fire to that or... which gives you two foot a minute that, plenty of time to walk away then get back to your exploder, and then explode it and if it hadn't exploded by your charge, when you've wound up the electric charge to fire, all the fuses will explode it anyway.
It's just a precaution if you've time. You haven't always time.
So anyway after the lunch was over, all these guys came back with the Officers from that area, and so we had to tell them to get right back because the camouflet which we did, was going to lift 25 foot in diameter of earth up in the air you see, so [chuckles] which is shattering for anybody that's never seen it before, plus all the other charges, and when they blew the exploder of course all the other chargers went up at the same time as the..of course it was quite a terrific bang.
Which we'd told everybody to watch it lift, but ensure that when they saw it coming down that they made sure it wasn't coming for them, because if you see something which might have gone up hundred foot up in the air which looks this big, but as it starts to come your way it could be this big you see.
So that was a great day that for us then, to show off actually. But the number one part about it, was this Officer stated that if we did it in good record time that he'd buy us all a drink after .[chuckles]
Q21. So you got a drink?
A. Oh yes, yes. But I liked that part of it, but it could be very dangerous because even when we dropped over Normandy we had what they called, you know bicycle tubes, like a bicycle inner tube, well we had similar things filled with PHE plastic high explosives... so I mean... you had to be very careful what you was doing and we could all...see you don't cut exp ..PHE plastic, you're supposed to have a piece of wood sharpened and go through it, because with the friction of a knife went through it could set it off. But when we dropped, blowing the guns up over the Rhine, you can't look round for a piece of wood to sharpen you know, and so I just pulled my knife out, fighting knife, and of course just going through it very, very slow, when one of our Officers came in.
To tell you this story would be so difficult because the guns had been annihilated and we was walking among all shells, and all this, and each one were very important, and I was in charge of this section, there's only three of us in that section and to blow the gu.. ensure that once the charge was laid the other man gets it prepared on the next gun while I ignite this one, run to the other, that should be ready, ignite that so on. Like a leap frog system.
And how we learned about.. the easiest way to blow material up like that was, we went on a course at Bulford itself, to the Artillery people, and the Colonel who give us the instruction didn't know why we was there, only that we was learning about blowing guns up, he didn't know where we was going, and so my question to him was
"If you're not carrying a lot of explosives, which is the quickest and the easiest way to blow a gun?"
and he says "Well, that's on the cradle,"
which is you know the barrel of the gun, it recoils on a cradle, if you see what I mean, well by putting it on the cradle, underneath the barrel, it blows the cradle away and the gun's just loose altogether. So that's what we did with all the 88s [German 88mm anti-aircraft guns] when we dropped, 'cause you can't carry a load of explosives, talking about 'blowing the breech' is a non-entity, because you can't carry that much explosives when you're in the Paras, so it paid off, that... paid off altogether yeh..
Q22. Let's go back to the early part of 1944, did you know at that time you were doing the training, the type of thing you were training for?
A. Oh yes, we had... we knew quite a bit about it and then later on as it got nearer the time, they took us to a place, (I can't remember the name of the place, it's down south anyway,) and we was near the aerodrome which we 'as going to take off from and it was all er Triple Dannert Wire [see Fig 1. below] all the way around and guarded by Paras who knew nothing about it, in other words 'new men',
Fig.1 Three coils of Dannert Wire stretched across the ground.
So from there we was shown all maps of where we was going, what we was going to do, to blow the battery up at Merville, Franceville Plage and carry on from there.
Anyway when it came on to the night for going, which was the 4th, evening of the 4th, the weather.. we got up to the aerodrome, it was all masked up, everything, everything loaded up and um they cancelled it and took us all the way back which was very frustrating after getting prepared to go, until we took off the next night which was the 5th, which was about half past ten or quarter to eleven in the evening to go over to drop on Normandy that was the... but I can't remember the name of the place just now. [RAF Broadwell in Oxfordshire was the embarkation point for the parachute assault on the Merville Battery.]
Map of Bulford to D-day airborne departure points for the 591 Para Squadron.
And er going over, the er... as we approached the area we was going to drop on, which was on the coast, the guns was there which we'd been told was so big that they could've blown quite a lot of the craft out of the water, which was coming to land on the beaches... but in our plane as we came over to drop on the battery, the pilot (he's stated that he took the wrong river,) instead of... there was the Orne and the Dives, he took the wrong river and this is what we was told, but we thought that he was frightened and he give the green light for us to drop when we shouldn't have been dropping.
One of my friends Griffiths, he was hung up underneath the plane because the plane was in such a bad condition, rocking and rolling. I went out and on our legs we had kit bags which were about a hundred pound weight, with all kind of material in, extra rounds of ammunition, explosives, I released it which er you paid it out hand over hand and when it went down about 20 foot, and as I approached for a landing procedure I was coming in to some trees, unfortunately I was hung in the trees when all what was going on around us, which wasn't very nice at all.
So to ensure that I knew exactly the height... I just got hold of the rope, 'cause the kit bag was hung about 20 foot below, found out it was still swinging, so I knew that I was over 20 foot high. So what I did, I took the fighting knife out, pulled up the rope and cut the bag, released it, just waited to see how it dropped and what distance it could be extra, knowing full well that when I released my webbing from the parachute I could slide down below about 6 foot and then drop, so I did this and dropped in to a swampy area which the Germans had flooded.
So then I had the job of get... I had a Bren gun at the time and the Flash Eliminator [a funnel shaped attachment on the Bren gun muzzle to stifle gun flash from blinding the user when firing the gun in the dark] was stuck in the mud, when I heard someone coming, hid behind a tree, took the fighting knife out and luckily for both of us that we didn't attack one another, because the man who I was going to attack was a Canadian Paratrooper who'd been dr[opped off course.]
[Tape 1 side 2:]
Q22. answer continued..
So from there we gathered one or two more of the guys who'd had been dropped off from my stick, and headed forward through the swamp. We encountered various things, but we kept proceeding trying to find the Merville Battery, but this didn't come in to view at all, so the day light was coming later on, so we headed down the side of this road towards a place called Varaville, but on the way Brigadier Hill who had been dropped off course, (though we didn't know that he had at the time,) was coming along the road with his bodyguards and told us that anything that we could see, to blow any installations whatsoever up, that's included telephones, electrical, anything whatsoever which would distrupt that area.
So from there on we set about blowing all these different posts down and headed towards, like I said before, Varaville, where we met some more of our men, which was Captain Hinshelwood, Serjeant Warden and quite a few more of the other chaps.
From there we was holding Varaville, because there was quite a contingent of Germans in that area. And erm I just got to think now ... that's right... anyway as the daylight approached we found it very hard. There was a Officer there who was a Major in the Canadian Paras, who had got injured in the right leg, a very bad wound, he would not be attended.
During the day he did die, but previous to that, we encountered quite a lot of fresh German troops coming down a lane, so I had to protect three entrances to this farm where all the rest of the lads was hidden so to ensure that they thought there was more Paras there than what there were, we did the cowboy style efforts.
Some of the chaps who'd been killed, we used their weapons and put them in the hedges and we kept running from one hedge to another to make them believe that there was more men there, because we finished up there was about only fourteen of us left in that area.
So later on in the day, after holding it all that time, it was later in the afternoon rather, we could hear some bagpipes in the distance, not knowing who they were but apparantly when we was told after, it was Lord Lovett's Commandos coming up the road to relieve us.
From there we encountered some more Germans and captured these and with them being quite a few ranking Officers, we was told that we had to take them then by our wireless operator contacted some more of our men and Brigadier Hill was at a place called Le Mesnil... So we was told to bring these for interrogation, which from Varaville to Les Mesnil was quite a distance of about five, six miles where we didn't know what we was going encounter on the day, in the daylight, down these roads.
So the German troops which we had as prisoners, we made them run on the road as if they was on a road run and we went along the edges making sure that they kept going till we got to Le Mesnil which then they was taken over by the intelligent people to see what they could find out from these. Then getting on from there, we stayed at Le Mesnil quite a while during that day and overnight, guarding the area, and all the Brigadier and the rest of the HQ which was in that area, which was er... we had to do one hour on and one hour sleep, which was very hard after going all through from the day before.
The day after, we had to then go down to Varaville, er sorry down to Ranville which was quite a mile or two from Le Mesnil to take up positions there, because we'd been told that they was running short of Paras down in that area. So Varaville[sic] was our most horrible area during the War because all the Germans knew exactly where we were, and they was throwing all kinds of stuff at us, and the Panzer divisions was sent in to that area, the Ranville area.
So from then on, you can imagine what it was like. There's quite a lot of men lost in Ranville and erm... now from there I'll have to just think now... 'cause we was there..we had to hold it there quite a while and we was told that the 51st Division would be coming up from the beaches to go through us to take over, as we could have a break from that area, which, that was quite a while after, that must have been within four, five days or maybe more than that, while we held this area.
Q23. What had you personally done in Ranville? Had you fired your own rifle?
Map of locations mentioned in this account and the Squadron war diary.
A. Oh yeh, while I had a Bren gun at the time yes, we had to do because, the thing was there was only so many men in the Ranville area and so we had to do, had to do ours best to make people believe there was more there, and especially with the Panzers being sent up to that area.
Er one of the er..., I've forgot which battalion now it was from that area just off hand... but they was told to... the panzers which was coming in and some of our chaps was directed to another area to... they had to just drop on the top... Course we had no heavy equipment... to drop on the top of the tanks and just do the best they can, attack the tracks or anything to disrupt.
We was sent to blow charges up to er trees across, anything at all to disrupt this advance with the er with these Panzers. So er it was really a horrible, horrible time round Ranville at that time so i'll have to just...
Yes during the day the 51st came up, or a percentage of the 51st... er I didn't know what battalion it was, went through our lines, the idea was for us to have a relief then, when they was advancing to hold an area forward of us.
But later on that day, some of these people was running back, in other words retreating and we was given orders that if this was quite a lot of people coming back, when we should have been having the rest, that we had to um... fire on these men to make them stop from running past us, that's so we was told to ensure that they stayed no further that where we were... so er.
Q24. Did you have to do it?
A. No we didn't, because when they knew ..it was shouted out that if they did... that what would happen and so they just stopped within the area, but it was within our area even though it was just .. only just in front of us. So from then on, well then they got established and er... got dug in and then they advanced, day by day, a little by little. Then we didn't know any more about them after, no, no.
Can I ...[pauses]
After this we had a break, which was very welcome only that they kept shelling and mortaring just where we... knowing full well that there was the Paras in that area. Later on we was given the instructions, this was after... possibly within a week, that we had to advance then, to a place called Troarn which some of our.. the 3rd Para Squadron (which I joined later) had Major Roseavere, him and some of his men had blown the bridge up in that area because there were so many bridges to blow up to stop these Panzer divisions entering into our area... that we had to go up to Troarn then to see if anything else wanted clearing out in that area, which we did, but when we got there the Germans had left and it was just dead in Troarn area which give us chance then to have a break. Just a short sleep and the..where the bridge had been blown some of the Engineers then had forded the bridge, in other words any of the rocks which had been blown in that area, we blew some more and forded the bridges so we could get the jeeps and all the other stuff across because we knew then that the Germans had retreated further back and so that we knew that we could ford it, otherwise it would have been just left as it were, just to stop any advance.
So from then on,
(I'll just have to) [takes a drink]
after Troarn we knew then that the ground troops had taken over from us so we was directed then to a place called Equainville [possibly Fiquefleur Equainville] on the coast near Honfleur, maybe a few miles from Honfleur where then we was going to have... we was given the chance to have quite a few days rest before coming back to England... so this was a little, small village only a few houses and small school room and they billeted us in the small school room. That was what was left of 591 Parachute Squadron. From there, we came from there, back then home and back to England... from Honfleur.
Q25. How did you feel by the end of your experiences in Normandy?
A. Well, relieved to make sure tha's still alive number one, but also an experience which you won't forget because during the night different battalions who we encountered who [we] was with, even in one night, a Para Battalion consists of 600 men, equivalent to 1200 in a normal Infantry Battalion and were as little as, some battalions was only 200 left, just after the night's attacks, and so you think about it after but we didn't think so much about people who was dead at the time, we'd thought a little about them, because everything was too quick, too fast, and we had to get through all this terrible situations which we were given, and so the only time when it really struck you, was when we came back home to Bulford, and when we went to our's barrack rooms, there may be Jimmy, Joe, Jack or whoever it might be, their beds was empty, and that's when it came to you and hit you, hit you very hard, knowing full well that they was still somewhere over there, and you'd come back. That was the hardest part then, not just when we was there, because it's an old army saying
'As long as you're going along, you're all right, and the rest will have to just persevere if they've been hit.'
That's the only way you can look at it..so
Q26. What had you thought of the German enemy in Normandy?
A. Well, in that area it... they was pretty efficient in some senses but I think by the... all the training we'd been given, and the hard work, which was very hard when we was in England, paid dividends when we was there, because it didn't matter what it was, wet through, tired or whatever, you'd already done that back home, the only thing you hadn't experienced was people firing rounds or mortars at you, which you learned to live with that as time went on.
Q27. What did you think of the Germans as soldiers?
A. Well... the ones we was again... in some areas was very good because they was SS, but some of the German Wehrmacht was just the ordinary soldier to us, and even the German Fallschirmjäger which that's the German Paratroops is highly trained troops like we were. Just the normal Wehrmacht wasn't up to the standard or quality that we'd been trained... the British Paratrooper.
Q28. Did you come across French civillians very often?
A. Oh yes, yes, er going back to Varaville, one day there, our planes during the night of the... when we dropped, on the day following rather, our planes was coming to bomb one area and they nearly bombed us, and all the men was cursing about the RAF bombing, nearly bombing us, and coming out with all kinds of lingo of course, but a lady appeared, a French lady at the side... and some of the lads was saying
"Oh that's all right she doesn't understand this", and all of a sudden this cockney voice says
"I do understand ever..(in the cockney voice) everything you say...but thank God you're here anyway", and she orignally came from London. [chuckles] yeh.
Q29. Did the Normans seem to be friendly or unfriendly?
A. Oh no the ones we incurred, what few we encountered were very friendly, the Normandy people, yeh definitely..after all we..different times we..in Ranville there was quite a few er ..there was an old quarry nearby in Ranville and at night time the...some of the people were very frightened with their children, used to come up to this quarry, because there was caves and we used to ensure that they were comfortable in these caves...'cause what was going on were very terrifying for them, and so we ensured that they was well in to the caves which was sunk in to the rocks... then some, they made a habit of coming every night while we was in that area. We give 'em permission to come during the day time if they wished.
Q30. What did you do once you got back to Britain?
A. When we come back to Britain then, we were just given some leave, and after we came off leave then, er it was only a short leave, the idea was, it was coming up towards Christmas, December, and everyone was looking forward to going home for Christmas but unfortunately Runstedt [General Gerd von Runstedt] had pushed through in the Ardennes, all leave was cancelled and we was whipped down to Folkestone, er within no time and over into the area where the er where Runsted had pushed through, which was the Ardennes.
That was terrible because the winter were at it's highest peak, and to live out in the snow, and the frost in them conditions. It was horrible. But there again with the training we'd had, we'd learnt to persevere in all these situations back in England, but it was one of the worst, the coldest experience I've ever had, in all the time we were in the forces, in the Ardennes.
Q31. Where abouts in the Ardennes were you?
A. Well there was erm... I'll have to think now... Dinant.. I remember that, and erm what was the other now..er Jemive is it? I've just forgotten the actual pronunciation..Jemive [possibly Jemelle] I think it was... I cant remember. Names like Namur, but that's going further away from there, but our job was to... we had to... it was a very highly wooded area, so part of our job was to blow trees down to make it impossible for them to come any farther.
And um we was given the instructions that the Germans had pushed through dressed as Americans with American equipment so at one period the orders was given at a certain time any American troops in those sectors to be withdrawn and anybody dressed as Americans had to be just annihilated to stop all this advance which within what I would think would be within quite a short period, there seemed to be an abrupt stop... halt to this Runstedt push, more or less after we got there. For the tanks who was coming to help us, I've forgotten what division it was, it was very hard because even on these slopes the ground... it was that frosty, the tanks used to slide, instead of going forward, across the hill they used to slide down the opposite way... it was impossibility for them to really help anybody at one period, it was that bad.
So from there, after this... after this came to an halt in that area we was... we was diverted then through from Luxembourg in to Holland and we was on the er... on the er... a place called Elvin(?) on... near the River Maas where we had to protect that area, also there was quite a lot of... it was heavily mined in those areas so while we was in that area, even although we needed a rest, we was given the job of moving all these mines and anti-personel mines, Teller Mines, Riegel Mines and then Schu Mines.
Schu mine, which I said previous all made from wood and Bakelite so you didn't know... you couldn't use a mine detector to qualify that there was any kind of mine there.
So from there... at the time when we was there the er... the Arnhem situation popped up and with them getting in a terrible situation as they did through the fault of someone other than them, we was going to be taken back home and re-grouped to drop over to assist them but at the last minute it were cancelled because the entrance in to Germany was going to be over the Rhine for the 6th Airborne so it was all cancelled throughout and about.
So unfortunately the men had to suffer at Arnhem because they didn't get a back-up not just from us, but the land troops which 'as directed by Montgomery... and I don't know whether I should say it but most of the Paras blamed Montgomery for all the loss of lives in that area, they always do... they said that they should've... they asked them to go too far but they didn't get the support that they could've, not by the men in the Divisions... by the ones who was controlling the operation. It's always been thought that, anyway.
So after that we was taken... took back to er... back to our depot at Bulford to train then heavily for the... over the Rhine. So we got some practise in at a place outside Swindon called Wroughton, on this farmer's land, there was a canal runnning through and the er... and some bridges, so was given the... a drop... we did a drop... in that area and we had to blow these bridges up within a specific time and then replace the... some culverts after, for the farmer, but that was all part of the training to go to... over the Rhine, knowing full well we may have to blow bridges it was just extra practice on this farmer's land.
Bulford and Wroughton Map (with additional M4 motorway)
So from then on, the training was er... had to be very hard, on account of knowing you was going in to... right in to German Territory and after what happened at Arnhem a lot of the guys was wondering
"Is this going to happen to us?",
" Are we going to be let down?", because when we drop, you don't drop one mile in front of the ground troops, it's normally six or seven mile to cut off behind the German troops and then be prepared to... for the German troops who's coming, to attack you as well... in other words to make a decent bridgehead.
So our job... it was... we was going to drop at a place called Hamminkeln, which is over the Rhine and er the jobs 'as given there, was varied, not knowing, we had to be prepared and like we didn't know when we dropped over Normandy what could happen, so we had to be prepared by dropping in to Germany that if we was dropped off course, was given orders to disrupt anything which would put the enemy in a bit of a turmoil.
So er dropping at Hamminkeln, we did group pretty well together, and had it not been for a man, one man from another battalion being off course just as I landed er I think I'd be dead today because he asked me
"What do I do?",
I said "stick with us because you'll never get yours"
... we used to have a little coloured tab on the er.. .on the top of your smock, camouflage smock you had a colour
Q32. On your shoulder?
A. Yeh on your shoulder, each side a little band colour and you knew what Battalion or whom you were or what you were. So knowing full well that he were quite away from his Battalion he stuck with us but unfortunately as he were running side of me, the mortars 'as coming over and he unfortunately got hit with the mortar whereas, thank goodness in one sense, that he were at the side of me when it happened otherwise I wouldn't be here today.
So getting over to where... that was on the DZ [parachute drop zone]... but getting over to where we had to go to the RV [rendezvous] er one chap er Bill Hobson (who had a twin brother who had joined us from the commandos, wanted to be a Para he could only come by glider that day,) well Bill who was at my side then, was wounded in Normandy and so he didn't see too much of Normandy only that he got wounded, so I was trying to be more protective with him, so when we got to the RV (knowing full well we still had time before we had to blow anthing up) I told him just to relax a bit, and then I would tell him when to move forward. On looking through this copse, this wood, he could see some of the other guys who was just digging in for the time being but (knowing full well that we'd be better on the edge of copse than in the copse I told him to stay with me,) but he did what he persisted want to go, and this copse was being shelled by mortars left and right, so he proceeded forward, and I waited a while, and then I went in, but there'd been such an avalanche of material coming over, shells, whatever, 88s, that when I got there quite a lot of the guys was layed about dead and er so I asked where Billy Hobson was, nobody'd seen him, but anyway when I turned some of the guys over and look at their discs I found that he'd been killed.
So, I shoved him... me and my friend Davies who died the other year... we shoved him under a tree, then from there we proceeded to attack this er house where there was SS [Schutz-Staffel] and in that area there was the German Paratroops, it was very difficult in the distance to know whether it was our men or ours [sic: theirs] because they dressed identical to us.
So what we did, we was told to take off the helmets and put on the red beret, which was... you stuck out like a sore finger but at least people knew from us own mob that we was with them, because in the distance you couldn't tell the German Paratrooper any different than us.
So anyway we got to the... we got to do the small jobs we had to do like blowing installations up and whatever, and later on in the day we was... we was given time for a short rest and so I asked the officer could we go back and see to Bill.
So we had enough time to run back fast, taking along with us two German prisoners and me and Heslop I think it was, and Davies we went back also and took Billy to this farm that we'd attacked and there was a big lawn there, so right in the centre of the lawn, I said
"This'll do for Bill",
this where we're going to put him, not leave him on his own there, we didn't know how long he might have been there, so the Germans dug this small grave and we rolled him in to a blanket, put him in, covered him up and put his cigarette case in a big jar with his name and rank, made a cross from some bits of wood, left his beret on, said a few prayers and then we shot off.
But later that evening, when we was in a barn, his brother who'd been coming by glider was late because their glider had come unhooked coming across Holland area, so they had to come up by road, anyway Tommy who was as I said before, a commando, come running in to ask where his twin brother was and I had the horrible job of telling him that he'd been killed.
So we couldn't go back that night but I did request that I could take him back to where I'd put him anyway, which you're only allowed a short period and he went with us then.
And we continued on then right through Germany in to various places, I can't remember them all off, I'd have to look...but we attacked different airfields and er we found out that the Germans was in a bad way, because on one airfield in particular the name I can't just think now but I've a photoghraph I should have some where... where somebody took of us... and a lot of the soldiers as we thought in that area, was all very young men, which the airfield was taken over in no time and the planes I think some were Stuka bombers, there were fighters, well we destroyed as many as possible of those and had a break in that area just for quite a few hours.
Now from there we went er all the way up from there er... to er... I can't remember the places in between, but Minden, a place called Minden they er even set fire to Minden to halt our advance because we were advancing that fast then, and it disrupted it slightly, and from then on we had to scour round on to the farms looking for other troops... er on one farm... er to check out... sometime the Germans would try to dress up in civillian clothes but knowing full well if they wasn't disabled by war that it was a German s...[soldier]
[TAPE 2 : Side 1]
Some of the German soldiers would dress up in civillian cothes, and on this particular farm we was rooting round and I saw this man who looked about forty-ish and approached him and asked him
"soldier?", and he said no.
Now the lady who musn't have known this man, only that he'd told her to keep her mouth shut, was waving behind him that he was.
So in turn I told some of the men to just take charge of him, whilst she showed me in to this bedroom. In the bedroom, underneath the bed was his uniform and he was a high ranking party man. Er which is the... you know the brown with the eagle and swastika.... you know like Hitler wore, well the uniform, the jacket I have.
So I brought out this, and told all the other chaps, the prisoners which we had, was redirected with this man then, to the prison camp, the Auffang. [Auffanglager =reception camp].
Because that day, as we were proceding along, there was that many prisoners that we could not afford to take prisoners and there was just... and signs was put up pointing to prison camp and all these men, there was hundreds of people as we went along, hundreds of German soldiers, who'd just thrown their rifles away, they'd had enough, and they was all marching following the signs to the prison camp. And that was the only way we could deal with the biggest weight of them, we couldn't do any other.
So from that area we proceded along to er Osna... was it Osnabrück?... there's places in between I can't just remember unless I was looking at something, but Osnabrück we were all round those areas, cleared all the areas where possible, and in turn it became that there was thousands of German soldiers, all just wanting to... they'd had enough in other words, they didn't want no problem whatsoever.
So from there we went right along up to the Baltic coast, a place called Wismar... and it was right on the Baltic coast and we... as we was approaching a wood from another copse, we could see some tanks hidden in behind the woods, so we just... we spread out, and run across the field, I can remember it just distinctly, but oh previous to that we used a monocular which is a one side of a binocular type of thing.
And we could see that was beside the tank there was people there, but being very careful in case they was Germans wanting to sacrifice their lives, could have been SS, Panzers anything, we couldn't tell, so we diverted and just dodged around till we got over to the tank, and coming in from the edge of the wood we found out that these was Russian troops so in turn we was amongst the first to meet these Russian troops.
Which one were... er some of the lads was that excited, doing a bit of swearing here and there and all of a sudden one of these, this German er ...this Russian Officer who we thought was...pulled the helmet off, it was a woman, a Woman Major, she was in charge of the tanks. It was about five tanks there. And er so they had this bottle of vodka which they give the lads a drink of this vodka and I think that as far as we were concerned more or less , one point towards the end of the war as far as we were concerned.
We went back to Wismar, where we was having to stay on rough ground but the... we was told some of the people in the Wismar, where the houses were, these big houses, were having to leave, so as we could get billeted for the time being because some of the troops had been killed in one house by some troops who'd been dressed as civillians, so this house in Wismar which I've got photograph of, we stayed there and on this certain night some of the lads got it on the radio that the war was over, which nobody told us, because we was still scouting around in to the area of Wismar itself, the town, seeing if there's anybody around there.
So we hadn't even...while they were all celebrating perhaps back in England we hadn't even got a bottle of beer or a can of beer to celebrate so...
Q33. Do you want me to say this part? [asked by Mr McDonough addressing Mr Wood]
.A. So er one of the Officers, Lockey , who now lives in Australia, and Hinshelwood, who lives in Scotland, said well I'm sure that er Mac... which we had nicknames so Mac's easy for me... and er Davies that's Dave, would take a jeep and go and find something somewhere, so what we did we set off down in to Wismar, and looking round, of course everywhere was empty and the shops was... nothing in the shops and all of a sudden we heard this singing,
it sounded like Russian to us, so when we went down towards this area where the singing was and went down a few steps in to a cellar we found that there was great big barrels and five Russians with some candles, sat around, who were Mongolians, which was the er they used the Mongolians as their advanced party so as that the best soldiers didn't get killed you see... oh yeh... they did that.
So we just said
"Russki Anglaise", offered cigarettes, and they offered this drink, well when we had a taste of it, it tasted like brandy to us, so I thought well we must have some of this, because this's what they've sent us for you see, but we hadn't got a bucket, so anyway, one of the lads went in to a shop and tried to take the globe down, unfortunately he'd broke it with his revolver and it was no good, so I thought so we must have the bucket, so we got the bucket off the Russians. I won't say how we got it, but we got it anyway, off these Mongolians.
And so that was the only celebration that we managed to get for the rest of the men from the 591 lot.
So from then on, of course our job was just routine then, knowing full well that we had nothing really to worry about, the only thing was that these Mongolians caused trouble in the town. There was no lights, and er we was just doing guard duty this night, near where there was these flats, they was kind of high, not like they are today but pretty high up these flats, and all of a sudden there was a woman jump through the window, killed her of course from that height, and when we run in, these Mongolians were trying to rape the women, so we had to deal with them.
Anyway the German people in that block thanked us very much and one lady er took us up to her flat to show what she'd done and she had her daughter about fourteen, and so's that they didn't know that she had a daughter she'd put her in one of the wardrobes, so as... and she'd run out to let them chase her, in other words you see.
And so she was so grateful, but you could tell who lived in the flats because they always had a plate outside you see with the name on, Herr or Madam or whatever, you know Fräu rather, or Frälein you see, on the outside the... so they was so grateful, so at least we didn't have no problem with the German people in that area after that for what time we was there.
Q34. How did you stop the Mongolians?
A. Oh well, they had to... well they was going to shoot us, see when because they knew that they had done wrong and they was a load of rabble anyway, because what they were doing was wrong, it was only giving our troops a bad name as well, so there was... actually we saw two, and the third one, he was that terrified that he just jumped straight through the window like the woman who they'd try to attack there. So that was the end of their problem.
But they was... they was scruff you know, they was real scruff...yeh...oh yeh.
They fired... when we was going up the steps they... what started it off, they fired down the steps, thinking that we were coming to shoot them, we weren't, we were going to stop them, but with them firing of course you return fire, you don't... there's no arguing about that is there let's face it.
So anyway we reported it when we got back, and we was told
"Well just forget about it", that's fair enough you know.
Anyway the lady in particular with the girl, the daughter of fourteen, came up to our... where we was, and asked for Officer in Charge, she said that she was so grateful, what had happened you know, and so the other woman who it'd killed jumping out, before they could touch her, well then they buried her just before we left that area...yeh.
Q35. So you had to shoot the two Mongolians?
A. that's right yeh... oh yeh
Q36. And the other one jumped?
A. The other one commited suicide his self yeh... oh yeh...
Actually we wanted to er... we didn't want to do that, we wanted to take 'em back with us, we didn't know their Officer and we weren't interested... to take 'em back to ours, Officers, to show them... to tell them what had happened, so it ended it, as far as we were concerned that was the end of it. So from then on of course well it was just a matter of being prepared, ready, to get back... to come back home.
So what we did then, we was going to Lünaburg Airfield and taking off from there to come back home, thinking we'd completed everything and that'd be the end of the war for us, but er at Lünaburg Airfield which I've a photograph of the Dakota which I 'as going on, I was detailed off to... instead of coming straight home I had to... we'd captured two German Motor Torpedo Boats, [Schnellboote / S-Boote / E-boat] so the idea was that we had to bring them back to England, which they'd be very valuable for training at R.E. water camps, you know for watermanship which we'd already been trained back home in England er up in Yorkshire [Ripon] and down at Lyme Regis and er so that's what we did, we brought them back to Oostende, one of them the tyres burst so we had to ditch that on the way back, but we brought one back anyway.
[Image of a similar 35 metre long German Motor Torpedo Boat captured
in 1945 with torpedo tubes visible at the bow of the vessel.
Source:copyright Lt JE Russell RN, Admiralty Collection IWM.]
A. The tyres on the trailer. On the Motor Torpedo Boat, they was on big massive trailers, because the motor torpedo boat is a fair weight you know, so the tyre had burst and luckily it didn't turn the vehicle over which were towing it, so we had to ditch that one, but the other one was brought back to Oostende and then diverted to some place I don't know, back in England.
So from then we went back ho..we got back home and er we was given... that's when I got married actually, when we come back home, and er, but they told us then that we hadn't finished at all, that we was going out to the Far East with the 5th Brigade as a Independent Parachute Brigade to drop on Changi Airfield and capture it, and release the prisoners from Changi jail, which by the time we got there, the drop wasn't required, they just brought us in by sea and er took over Changi, Changi jail, relased the prisoners, and there was a race course er over the Johor Bridge er The Causeway and er it was called the Bukit Timah racecourse, just off the Bukit Timah Road and that's where we had hundreds of Japanese which had been captured, but we got all the tradesmen out of this by the Japanese Officers who spoke English, to tell them we wanted all the electricians, tradesmen blah blah blah, and they was going to make the camp for these poor lads who were in such a terrible condition, they had to carry a lot of them, and there was a hospital ship down in the harbour at Singapore for the ones who was really ill, you know who couldn't walk at all.
So up at the Bukit Timah race course all these huts was made and there was medical staff in attendance to help all these lads who'd been prisoners there and to bring 'em back to reality because they couldn't feed them as we were being fed because their stomachs had shrunk so it was just a matter of a period of time and they could take em then to the hospital ship, some of them. So from then on...
Q38. What job were you doing at the Bukit Timah Race Course?
A. Well we had to organise these which were tradesmen, in to what we wanted doing for the men who were ill, in other words telling them exactly what... some of our men were tradesmen so they were detailed off to tell them exactly what we wanted, through the interpretation of the Japanese Officers who could speak a percentage of English and anything at all which would help, 'cause it had to be done as fast as possible 'cause some of these lads were already... they were in such a bad way you know
And then of course the er ones who was er committed crimes these Officers was... they was taken to Changi jail, the Japanese Officers, and were committed to trial there, to be hung, but they demanded... and there was a Sikh and little Malayan who hung them... and they demanded, these Japanese Officers, that they should be shot, it was dishonourable to be hung, so that was arranged by a firing squad from a certain battallion.
So from there on of course we got... we were then was stationed at Raffles College, to all the rest of er these Japanese Officers had to be guarded until their crimes was qualified as to whether they'd be shot or whatever.
So from then on, after that was over...oh we was shown different things... cruelty what they'd done to these lads...because at Raffles College they had a er, had a place there where they used to er torture them and that was they used to hose pipe 'em, in other words put a hose pipe in and blow their stomach up with water and then beat 'em, well all these was... all this was taken down and used for evidence against... when there was er at this special court, we didn't see the court wherever it was you know.
So from then on we er...what was after that now...oh yes...they transferred us then to a... we had to separate from different units then and we went to a... for a billet to a place called NanYang Girls School and that was to fit our squadron in, as a unit, so from then on there wasn't very much to do at the time, only just round [up] different people, if there's any more about, then a request came through from Netherlands East Indies in Java that the Japanese troops there were Kempeitai as well. [The Japanese equivalent of Germany's SS] T hey weren't handing in their arms and so there was a request for the 5th Brigade to go to ... go to Java, of which we did, and the first place we went to was Batavia [Jakarta] in Java and there was er fighting in and around when we got there. The Dutch had no... no idea at all of anything other than a rifle, they'd never be trained to fire machine guns, or mortars or anything like that, so some of our people then was there to train them how to fire them and then we had to put attacks in to these Japanese people who was robbing, raping, looting, burning, they were doing just what they wanted.
Q39. The Japanese?
A. The Japanese that were yeh, this was in Java, so anyway er to finish the story er on that part, the highest rank Officer... Japanese was told by our Officers, that the men... some had handed their arms in, so they were prisoners, and the others, he was told that his men would be given the job of trying to get back the arms off his men who disobeyed his orders.
To a Japanese Officer if anybody disobeys his orders, it not like ours, he will be executed, he's be classed as a traitor, so he knew it was very important that he had to er to get his honour back by his men not obeying the orders, he'd given them orders to hand their weapons in, you see.
So, not a lot knows this, but they was given the job without weapons, the ones who'd handed the arms in, to retrieve what they could and attack their own men, and they got about I think it was 75 to 80 percent of the weapons back, and the rest of the men who wouldn't, they were destroyed, and how they got them back, they made spears and bows and arrows out of bamboo, that's the only weapons they could have, the ones who we told to er attack their own men.
So to us that was something, and er it's not in a book yet, but I believe there's a book somewhere where's it's about the only enemy who's ever helped the other troops to do something when the war was on, so that's something to be thought about and all. i'n't it.
Q40. This was in Batavia?
A. That was in Batavia, and then from Batavia we went to Semarang, that's further up the coast and er the trouble then had kind a quelled a little, but there was still some in that area, which was... they was seen off.
But the only thing they was frightened of in Semarang then, they couldn't get no lights going, so any engineer who was qualified on diesel was they had a big diesel unit to er for electricity, so as it happens a destroyer pulled in to Semarang and some of the naval men who was used to these big engines, diesel were brought up to help get the lights going to give the people confidence you see, we had to get the confidence of the Dutch people and the Javanese people, because when we first went there some of the Dutch people said
"Oh these Para men are like the" er what are they? "The French Foreign Legion, they're convicts" and all that,
which our Colonel made them apologise openly in a letter, that it wasn't so.
So anyway they came and got the lights going, but our main job was protecting the reservoirs which er they was frightened of... what were left, they might poison the water in them areas, which it didn't come off anyway, so those had to be guarded heavily.
After that the general thing was, getting back to what I said, that er the confi... getting the confidence of the people, and the Chinese people. Some Chinese people had buried all their jewellery and gold in the ground, and when it come to find it, they couldn't find it, so [chuckles] having mine detectors, we was given the job of helping to find their er... of which that, the Chinese people in those areas couldn't say enough about us.
Oh and after this... after these people who said about there was convicts in the Paras and all like that, er it was so disgusting, but anyway, their head man who ever he was, the Dutch man, there was all information sent out to our lot and each Dutch house, course some were pretty wealthy, there was invite for so many Paras to come and have tea with them, whenever they couldn't come and have a meal with them, as a recompense for the wrong doing that they'd said, and so they became very good friends of us.
As a matter of fact before I left I was about the only one to first get a German automatic Colt, which held 14 rounds in the magazine, they have them today, Brownings they're called, and er... and they was always a four five we had, which only held 7... one in the spout, so the actual thing was when I first got it in Germany, I noticed that the butt was pretty thick, broad.
And that's how it was done, instead of the bullets coming down like that, they came down like that, so it held 14 rounds in the mag. Now one of the people who we got to know, our section, our stick, this er Dutch man, he had a family and he were frightened then when we was leaving, that if there was any strays might come round, he had no weapons.
So he asked, could he buy this off me, and I didn't want to part with it actually because there were nobody else in the mob had one.
So I let him have it and I left him a thousand 9mm rounds and he couldn't thank me enough because he was so terrified, he couldn't get a weapon from nowhere, in case there was an odd stray come to affect his family.
Q41. An odd stray?
A. Yes, a stray Japanese or, you know, which there's always odd ones as floated off, so I thought we did a good turn there. So from then on there was more to it than that, but I can't just think of anything more on that situation now. From then when....
Q42. Did you ever come across any or the Javanese Nationalists who wanted to ...?
A. Not in them days, no... no... no. They may have been there, the only thing that we had problem with... there was a Japanese medical stores which there was thousands of pounds worth of medical equipment and it were... there was a river run through Batavia you see, right down... it was used as everything, washing and or whatever you know... and across this er river, more or less like a canal it was, running through the town, there was this big medical stores which we had to guard incase we needed that equipment, we could use some of that medical equipment, it's a big warehouse, thousands of pounds worth of it, but at night these natives used to come across a bridge at the far end and they'd have nothing on, only just they had like a kriss, you don't know what a... you know what a kriss [Keris- see fig. below] is? Well it's like all jagged and they put it in the scabbard and that takes the poison in to it, in to these cut outs, if they cut you with it, well your as good as dead in no time, and they used to come cross with nothing on as you couldn't tell in the dark, and they was trying to get in to the medical stores, and we had to sort all them out, so whether or not they were that type I wouldn't know, I wasn't really interested as long as everything we was running under control you know.
Q43. Were they trying to get drugs?
A. Yeh they was trying to get in to this stores but I don't know whether I should say this, do you want me to... just...
Q44. Well Why not say it?
A. Well what it was, er the old man said
"Well we'll have to deal with this",
but we didn't know where they was coming from, we couldn't chase them back, so what we had between the men, we had an idea like this... we said
"Well tonight, what we'll do, the ones on guard",
('cause the 12th Battalion were further down) said
"Ensure that you are out of sight, make sure you can see them coming over the bridge, make sure you can see them coming along the wall because in the dark" you know... which we did... leave the stores open... the door of the stores, medical stores slightly... make sure they go in the side... then go inside and chase them out, and the reason that we had to chase them out was 'cause they didn't go back over the bridge, that they dived in to the canal to get away but that night, as everyone knew, the canal was down, so the rest of it was sludge about this deep... you see, so when they was chased out, of course they're coming running out to dive in to the canal to get away, and of course the next day, there was so many legs sticking out of the... out of the sludge which meant we didn't have to do anything, they did it their self.
So that were... that we never saw no more of those after, so whether the message got back I don't know, but they was left there anyway, barring but when the... when the tide came in or whatever of course, then it released later on, and may have took them away.
Course they used to send different things down you know, if they killed anybody, some of these...they'd put 'em on a raft and put em... to let you know that they'd done it, you see... and it'd come down this river... well canal type it was... coming through this town in Batavia
Q45. With a dead body on it?
A. Oh yeh, yeh, aha.
So they wasn't nice people to know, so you had to treat 'em just the same really. So that...that er in that area then, things became... as everybody was happy, the shops started to open, which was all empty, little shops, er we even put a display on, which I showed you previously, er for er
Q46. A display of what?
A. Well it was just, it was about er... this is the one...there was a parade to give the people more confidence in Semarang, there was a parade ordered for a march past of the 5th Parachute Brigade on the 30th March 1946 to mark the 1st anniversay of the the Airborne crossing of the river Rhine, the commander were Brigadier Darling DSO and the salute would be taken by the Commander in Chief Allied Forces Netherlands, East Indies, Lt. Gen Sir M.G.N Stopford KBE CB DSO and MC [1892-1971] that was done also specially to give the people real confidence and it was to commemorate it anyway the crossing of the river Rhine, so at that period in time things had er slowed down, in that area of Semarang, more or less, peace and quiet had come to the area and the Dutch troops had been trained by us to be able to handle more heavier weapons. So we thought then we might be coming back home, but apparantly not.
We was shipped back to Palestine to rejoin the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine, where there was problems with the Jewish people, and Arab people, you name it, it was all going on at that time.
Q47. And you were still with the same unit?
A. 3rd Parachute Squadron it was yeh. because I was 591 in Normandy, straight through to the Ardennes, the crossing of the Rhine and then after the crossing of the Rhine of course there was that many men lost with the 591 that er... and 3rd Parachute Squadron... that we amalgamated, and we was called the 3rd Parachute Squadron RE then.
Q48. Which year did you go to Palestine, 46 or 47?
A. It was er forty... well it were 46 when we was there, so it must have been about 47 because I came home in 48, that's right.
Q49. Where were you based in Palestine?
A. At a place called Qastina...yeh
Q50. Where's that near?
A. It's well er, Tel Aviv's up the road as I... well we called it up the road...but it were a few miles
[Tape 2: Side 2]We were stationed at Qastina, and er which is not far from Gaza, Tel Aviv up the road as we would say, and our job was to ensure that the roads were kept clear because the... these different terrorists was laying mines on the road to disrupt the progress of what was going on at that period in time.
With coming back, with coming from Normandy and over the Rhine etc, to us this was just a simple operation, because we wasn't encountering the er the things which happened in that... that period in time, in Normandy, over the Rhine or the Ardennes. So in actual fact some of the men...it was just a piece of cake.. we'll call it a piece of cake. There's not too much to tell about Palestine really, only as I repeat meself, just to ensure that everything was kept in order, any problems starting all they had to do was just buzz up and the troops'd be there in a flash, but we didn't enconter too much problems that way.
The only thing which we... did happen once, some of the chaps had er gone there in to Tel Aviv and er two chaps which was on their own, and one of 'em got his eye kicked out by some jewish gangs which in turn, even although it wasn't really disciplin, some of the men got the wagons, the trucks and went down and backed in to a load of the shops to let 'em know that we wasn't having anything like this again.
As a matter of fact the er... one of the Officers, I think he was with the er I don't know... the Artillery side, he only quoted that if it happened again he'd possibly set the guns on, but er he was er sent home for quoting such a thing. That's the story that we'd been told.
He promised...he told the Mayor or whoever it was... that he'd... he told them that he'd open the guns on them, these 17 pounders whatever they were at the time... so when it came to the ears of the hierarchies he was just shipped home for saying such a thing but.. when we were trying to keep everything down, but it was very annoying because we was... when you went in to anywhere, you weren't allowed to take your weapons you see, and so consequently this gang of jews, routed these two and kicked all the hell out of them, one in turn lost his eye though it, so it upset everybody that.
Q51. Did you know this man?
A. Didn't no, I couldn't tell you his name because he wasn't in our squadron you see...no
Q52. So as far as you were concerned were your duties in Palestine like an infantry man or as a sapper?
A. Both actually, both, because where they couldn't cover we'd cover, see we guarded a perimeter and then the infantry was in another section so it was well co... what it was, to space troops out, to... if anything happened, we could be there in a flash.
The only thing was that er with these... one in particular, he was a serjeant with us who were called Adamson, he wasn't my serjeant but he was in the squadron at 591, as time went on he had the chance to become a Officer and pass, which was very unusual in them days, and er when we was due for coming home, he was out that day going up the railway lines, because they had the...you know the old er by hand rail..it is, it's a little unit which you can put on tracks up the rails you can go, or we did have some jeeps as you could change the wheels and put railway wheels on to go down if you had a long distance,
anyway unfortunately it was only about...I think it was a week or so before we came back to England...he was going down inspecting looking for...this booby trap had been hidden of course, so he got blown up, and he was killed.
So er that were a really upsetting because we knew him from way back and we thought he'd done so well to get in to Officer rank and become a 1st Lieutenent not just a 2nd Lieutenant you know and that was... he were going to make it his career then because we said at the time "Do yer think yer did the right thing by going in for Officer rank?", because there was always a little bit of 'them and us' type of thing in the situation like that, but anyway being in the Paras it didn't seem to work that way like it did in other regiments, 'cause it happens in regiments 'cause a man's come off the ground floor, we'll call it, he's not one of the clan in a lot of ways, I suppose it's not as bad today but it was then.
So unfortuntely he lost his life, but er from there after that of course we came back to England, came back home er to a place called Ludgershall er which is on Salisbury Plain, near Bulford Area, and it'd been an American camp and so er we were really glad to get back home, the only thing was it was snowing really hard, and I was wanting to get home, because being... I was married before we went and we hadn't seen one another for three years then...so er when we got to...I got to Manchester er from Bulford, they'd kitted us all out with the heavier equipment for the winter, and when I got there they said
"Oh there's no trains running to Glossop", which this was about 14 miles away, so after being so fit with the exercise we had, I'd have run the 14 mile anyway and so er then one of the porters
"Oh there's a train going to Guide Bridge", well that was half way there, so when we got to Guide Bridge they said they've open the line further on to Dinting which is on the way to Sheffield but that's only a mile from Glossop, so when we get to Glossop [sic Dinting] so I thought well I'll walk up the railway line, 'cause being on the railway line from when I was young, I knew the routine, but they said
"Oh no if you go down by the side here's on to the main road, there's a bus waiting",
I thought great, so I just picked me kit bag up and away I sailed down on, when I got on the bus... I was smoking in those days, so I just lit up and there's the driver smoking away, so there was only another guy got on with me so he's still sat there,
so I said "?Oh" I said "There's no more getting off the train now you know" I said, "Can we get going?"
he said "Well I 'aven't finished me cigarette yet"
I says "Oh"
so what I did, I got...I left me kit bag there, got off the bus, and I'd just opening the drivers door and getting in the drivers seat when he come running round and said
(we knew this guy after didn't we? Mick he were called)
and he said " What the hell d'ya think your doing up there?"
I said " Well if you won't finish your cigarette, I've been away for three year, all I do is I want to get home to my wife okay" I says "So you sit in the back, and finish your cigarette and I'll drive the bus up to Glossop."
"No, no" he said "I didn't mean anything"
So anyway, I got out and he got in, and he never forgot that because we used to see him years after, and he always used to say to the guys
"You know, this is the guy I told you about, that was going to drive the bus, well this is 'im here".[Chuckles]
Oh dear... that's the... that was the home coming, anyway I got home, and as it happens there was a dance on so er it was only about..you had to get yer tickets at nearly a year in advance to go to this special Police Ball and the wife knew that I wouldn't possibly be home, so she'd gone with her friends.
Anyway, see which I'd told her
"while I'm away carry on dancing, don't sit in morbid"
and so er when I got home to her mother's house, Bert, who'd been in the navy, that's her brother-in-law said
"Oh I'll go and tell her, she's at the dance",
I said "Okay" like, 'cause I didn't want to go, all tired, so anyway she came home and that was it, and in between me being in the forces all that time, she'd managed to get a cottage up in the hills and er she'd got it altogether nicely done and clean and everything and so away we sailed up... up to our house then.
So that was me, my homecoming...yeh
ALL images and content on this website are copyright - DO NOT copy or use without permission via e-mail. Contact website