[page last updated 14 May 2015]
MEMOIRS - Unknown author
The identity of the writer of the original material upon which this article is based, is unknown at this time, it is an unsigned and undated memoir. From the end notes regarding Brigadier Poett, the article can be dated circa 1950-1952.
I have taken the liberty of correcting spelling errors of place names and breaking the text down in to
sentences and paragraphs where few existed before.
I joined 591 Antrim Parachute Squadron RE during the August of 1944 as a reinforcement for the Squadron after Normandy. I was posted as a member of No.3 Troop. The Troop Commander was Captain Harbord and the Subaltern was Lieutenant de Watteville, the Troop Serjeant was a Serjeant Lenagan or Lonnegan. As far as I can remember my section Corporal was a Corporal O'Dwyer (who is I believe still serving on extended careers regimentally.)
We were stationed in Bulford at this time, in Beacon Barracks, and one of our many forms of exercise was to run to the top of Beacon Hill and back before breakfast. We trained through the autumn on field engineer tasks and tactical Exercises in preparation for the Rhine crossing. In November 1944 the squadron went to Ripon for three weeks, to practice rafting and watermanship at the School of Mechanical Engineering (SME). We were accompanied by our sister squadron, No.3 Parachute Squadron, for this period and many were the 'battles' that ensued in that ancient 'city' until in the end the city was placed out of bounds to each squadron on alternative nights.
On returning to Bulford we were preparing to go on Christmas leave when we were suddenly, on 22 Dec 1944, alerted and moved to a concentration area in Folkestone, and on X-mas eve 1944 we embarked on a cross channel steamer at Folkestone pier and moved across the channel, disembarking at Ostende (Belgium) on 25 Dec 1944.
We were moved up to the village of Deerlyjk where we were quartered in a school house. We stayed there for approx 3 days, held in reserve for the Ardennes offensive.(I still write occasionally to a family there, who made me at home.)
SS Canterbury cross channel steam ferry
We eventually moved up and we were quartered in a ChÃ¢teau near Rochefort. Our troop duties were mine detection and clearance along the roads, we built an improvised bridge for the tanks using railway lines which we took up from a railway siding. The weather at this time was bitter, snow was thick on the ground and I can still remember having to break the ice on the water outside in order to wash and shave, also most of us had straw in our boots as well as socks in order to keep warm. The section at this time travelled around in a TDV which each troop had allocated to it and we carried all our kit with us and also our sleeping bags.
During this time we also built a 60ft Bailey Bridge at a village which I think was called Jemelle, this was still in Belgium. We kept moving forward still clearing roads and occasionally delousing booby trapped houses until we finished up in a small village in Holland just outside either Venlo or Venray. I rather think it was called the latter. I remember that Brigade Headquarters (5 Brigade in whose support we were) was in the village of Maastricht and the village we were in was only 2 or 3 miles away from it.
In Holland we concentrated on the roads. The time was Feb 1945 and the thaw had really come and with the passage of Divisional transport, the country roads were a quagmire, so road drainage and construction was our task.
I can well remember working on a church at the base of the steeple, with a Warsop petrol driven pick, breaking down the walls for hard core for these roads, (the church was a ruin as it had been badly shelled.)
We also did a number of engineer recconaisances across the river. This was the River Maas. We held one side and the Germans the other.
At the beginning of March we were withdrawn from Holland to a village between Bruges and Ghent. Here we left our military transport and drivers behind as a rear party, and we left by air to UK, where we had 7 days leave and then assembled in Bulford and refitted. We then moved to a concentration area near Cambridge.
On 24th March (I think it was a Saturday) the squadron was airborne for Operation Varsity. Apart from parachuting into action we also had 5 gliders. One of these gliders broke its tow over Holland and landed at Eindhoven, and three of the gliders were hit by flak and as they were carrying jeeps and trailers loaded with 'General Wade' shaped charges they blew up in mid air.
The squadron were parachuted into an area north of Wesel at a village called Hamminkeln, here the squadron were met by heavy defences including a high percentage of Volkssturm (People's Army) troops mostly youngsters and the elderly.
We had a high casualty rate and amongst our losses were Captain Harbord and Lieutenant de Watteville who were both killed, also my section Corporal but I cannot remember his name except that most of my section called him 'Darkie', (Corporal O'Dwyer had moved on by this time on promotion.) (Darkie is possibly Corporal John Eaton)
3 days after the landing our military transport met up with us and we started to move forward. I remember we moved via OsnabrÃ¼ck and Minden, the latter was blazing furiously. Our tasks were bridging and a lot of mine detection, lifting or pulling, but the only bridge I can remember was one that we built over the Dortmund-Ems canal. The canal was empty and quite deep so we had to build a 120 ft Bailey bridge, we started at last light and the bridge was open at about 6am and we spent the rest of the day fixing footwalks and deck surfacing. Whilst we were building this, we were under fire from 2 German Self Propelled Guns and also at first light we were dive bombed. We had two 40mm Bofors (guns )as cover for us and these saw the JU87s off. (Junkers JU87 Stucka dive bomber)
We had dug ourselves slit trenches round the bridge and during the bombing we ran to these slits, I remember one section Lance Corporal who was called Goreing and naturally he was nicknamed 'Hermann'. Anyway after the raid he was missing, and we looked for him thinking he had been hit. However we found him lying at the bottom of his slit trench unconscious, he had dived in head first and knocked himself out, he was the only casualty from the bombing or the shelling that we had, the Self Propelled (guns) were firing airburst by the way.
When we reached Celle (Germany), the men from 15 Scottish took over the lead and we had a rest, we fitted out for a parachute descent over the Elbe but this was called off after 2 days and off we went again via LÃ¼neburg to the Elbe (river), the Elbe was bridged (I think) by the engineers of either 15 Scottish division or it may have been the 5th 'Y' Division who arrived about this time, anyway I remember crossing over a FBE ( Folding Boat Equipment )bridge and we pressed forward and at Schwerin (I think) the war finished and there were thousands of prisoners, I have never seen a sight like it ever, the squadron carried on and we finished the war in Wismar, all of 5 Brigade were in Wismar and a part of the town was held by Russian troops, my section used to go drinking with them and Vodka and Arak were the tipples out of tiny mugs.
I remember on VE night (Victory in Europe 8 May 1945) we had a party with them and I was arrested for firing my sten (gun) outside Brigade Headquarters as a 'Joie de Vivre' however the Brigade provost let me go with a chewing off, unfortunately I returned to the party and my section didn't make morning parade, I collected 3 days field punishment for this.
One of my duties whilst at Wismar was to escort a hospital train full of German wounded to LÃ¼beck. There were two of us on this detail, a Lance Corporal with a sten (gun) and myself with my bren (gun). This was a pretty fraught journey as the country side was swarming with DPs (displaced persons) after 'blood' and the train was halted many times and we were hard taxed to keep them off the train. I had to fire a burst into the air at one stop to warn them off, they usually did when they saw that we were British in charge of the prisoners, we lived on this 3 day journey on the food that the Germans had on board and this was mostly sausage and black bread and coffee although on the second night when the train was shunted into a siding for the night we managed to get a first class meal from an American tank squadron also a breakfast from them and a carton of Luckies (cigarettes).
We handed the train over at LÃ¼beck and we hitched back to Wismar, we managed part of the way in an old German van that we commandeered from a German farmer until we ran out of fuel. We stayed at nights in German Hotels, this was fairly easy as there weren't many bona fide travellers around at that time.
At the end of May we were moved back to LÃ¼neburg Heath and we emplaned and flew back to UK via Bruges in Sterlings and landed at Netheravon (Wiltshire), from there to Bulford and all demobilised groups of 27 points and under, were posted to 591 and all groups over were posted to 3 Para. All 3 Para went on 28 days leave, and on return in July we moved to Greenock and boarded HMS Glengyle bound for India and the Far East War.
HMS Glengyle troop carrier
(1.) On joining the squadron in Aug 1944 the OC (Officer in Command) was a Major Davidsonas the OC previous Major Wood (now a Colonel) had been captured in Normandy. Major Davidson left us at the end of the Ardennes and we got a Major Jack. Major Davidson went as Officer Commanding 40 RHU (reinforcement holding unit) and we heard after that he shot himself, this was a rumour though.
(2.) The 2IC (Second in Command) was Captain Fergie Semple
(3.) The Squadron was in support of 5 Parachute Brigade and I think that the Brigade Commander was Brigadier Poett who is now Commander in Chief FARELF (Far East Land Forces)
(4.) In view of the 'joie de vivre' and the 3 days Field Punishment, I didn't get my LSGC, (Long Service and Good Conduct Medal) however I think perhaps it was worth it. It was the happiest time I had.
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