The Double Hills Memorial in North East Somerset commemorates the first fatalities of Operation Market Garden.
Just after 10.00 hours on Sunday 17 September 1944 sixteen glider and tug combinations took off from RAF Keevil for Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden. Horsa Glider RJ113 (Chalk 389) was in this group of aircraft and contained 21 men from No 1 Platoon 9th (Airborne) Field Company Royal Engineers. The glider was flown by S/Sgt L. J. Gardner and co-pilot Sgt R. A. Fraser from D Squadron, The Glider Pilot Regiment. It was towed by a Short Stirling, No. LK 148 of 299 Squadron, 38 Group.
The tugs and gliders took a course north-west towards Gloucester to pick up Squadrons from Fairford and then headed out over the Severn and Bristol Channels to form up. Here Stirling LK 148 with Horsa Glider R113 took a turn south-west down the Bristol Channel with other aircraft and gliders, and made a turn east over Weston-Super-Mare and headed for Arnhem.
While over the village of Farrington Gurney an explosion occurred in RJ113 splitting the glider in two. With no tail section the glider lost lift, broke its tow line and crashed into the Double Hills meadow near Paulton killing all occupants. The event was witnessed by the Stirling’s rear gunner who recalls watching the glider falling like a rock to earth after the explosion had occurred.
One villager was in the field picking blackberries at the time of the crash and was injured by flying metal fragments. The Stirling marked the spot by circling until they could see locals running to the crash site. This included Farmer Teak: “When I arrived at the place of the crash I could see that there was nothing I could do. The soldiers had all been killed. It was gruesome.”
The Stirling returned to Keevil and the crew grabbed a jeep to return to the crash site. The second pilot on the Stirling, Flight Sergeant Ken Crowther recalls "I saw a scene of carnage, the like of which I hope never to see again. Time passes; I was 21 then and didn't particularly ever want to come to Double Hills again, but I came to live locally, joined the Memorial Committee and am glad that the chaps are now remembered."
The police, Home Guard and ambulances soon arrived on the scene. The bodies of the men were recovered and buried in the Milton Road cemetery at Weston Super Mare.
In the early 1970s a committee was formed by Peter Yeates with a view to erecting a memorial at the crash site. At the time of the crash Peter was 7 years old and lived near Paulton. The dedicated work of Peter Yeates and the Double Hills Committee came to fruition when, on the 23rd September 1979, a memorial was unveiled by Roy Urquhart, the general commanding the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. An annual memorial service has been held ever since to commemorate the tragedy. The stone centrepiece of the memorial, built by Sappers of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, contains a plaque commemorating the crash and the names of the 23 fatalities. The memorial was enhanced in 2008 by the addition of two bronze resin sculptures of a Glider Pilot and Airborne Sapper, which now flank the stone memorial. The sculptures were made by former Sapper Roy Cleeves.
The following men are commemorated on the memorial and buried at Milton Road Weston Super Mare:
D Squadron Glider Pilot Regiment
No 1 Platoon 9th (Airborne) Field Company Royal Engineers
Relatives have been traced for 14 of these men by Bob Williams and the Double Hills Memorial Group. Relatives of the fallen continue to attend the annual memorial service, with over 50 present in 2009.
HRH Prince of Wales has maintained a strong interest in the memorial and assigned the land on which it is built to be held in trust.
Compiled for ParaData by Harvey Grenville with the kind assistance of Peter Yeates.