Extracts from 'The Days Gone By' by Richard Adams. Detailing the events of December 1943 to January 1945.

Whilst awaiting his units re-deployment to the UK he again applied for Airborne Forces, and not long after this sailed in a convoy that spent Christmas 1943 at sea. Upon disembarkation in England they were sent to Bridgend in South Wales.

A day of two after we got to Bridgend, Captain McLeod [Unit Adjutant] strolled into my billet. ‘There’s a posting for you, to C.R.A.S.C. 1st Airborne Division. You leave us tomorrow, for Lincolnshire’”. [1]


Lieutenant Richard Adams was officially posted to the 250th Light Composite Company, R.A.S.C. (Airborne) on the 1st February 1944.

It was January and very cold after the Middle East. I made the usual slow, disagreeable rail journey northwards, and at the end of it reported to Divisional Headquarters at Fulbeck, some eleven miles south of Lincoln.

With no delay at all I found myself talking to Lt.-Col. Michael Packe, C. R. A. S. C., 1st Airborne Division. Within a few minutes I felt that I was breathing a new air. I need only say here that I got on very well with Colonel Packe, then and throughout the next eighteen months. After we had chatted for a time, he said he was going to post me to the Light Company - 250th Light Company, R.A.S.C. (Airborne).

At this point I had better explain that, in those days at any rate, an Airborne Division’s R.A.S.C. (who were divisional troops) consisted of three companies - two heavy and one light. The two heavy companies (each a major’s command) were equipped with 3-ton Bedford lorries and did not differ essentially from any motorized R.A.S.C. company. Their job in action was to follow up an airborne attack together with the relieving ground troops, to bring in the division’s heavier equipment and then assist it in its ground role.

The light company was different in function and kind. It consisted of three parachute platoons and three platoons of glider-borne jeeps. Each parachute platoon was commanded by a captain, with a subaltern 2 i/c: the N.C.O.s and men were all volunteer parachutists. Their role in action was to drop with the division, and thereupon to have the responsibility for collecting and distributing all subsequently dropped supplies; medical, food, ammunition (and conceivably petrol). They might well find themselves required to fight for possession of these supplies: if, for instance, containers happened to be dropped outside the area controlled by the division, or if the enemy attacked the dropping zone. They were equipped and trained accordingly.” [2]


It was here that Lieutenant Adams would meet the people who would have a great influence on him:

That same evening I was driven to Lincoln and reported to Major John Gifford, commanding 250 Company.

It would be wearisome - and not really helpful - to give a character sketch of each officer in the company. There were about twelve or thirteen altogether, and they comprised a very strong team, much stronger than any I had yet come across. Apart from that, collectively they have importance to this book, since later, from my memory, they provided the idea for Hazel and his rabbits in ‘Watership Down’. By this I do not mean that each of Hazel’s rabbits corresponds to a particular officer in 250 Company. Certainly the idea of the wandering, endangered and interdependent band, individually different yet mutually reliant, came from my experience of the company, but out of all of us, I think, there were only two direct parallels. Hazel is John Gifford and Bigwig is Paddy Kavanagh.

I cannot really avoid a description of John Gifford - although he will hate it and may even be angry with me, though I very much hope not - because he has had as much influence on my life as James Hunt or Richard Hiscocks, if not more. Yet of all things he always hated any kind of flourish, ostentation or - well, bullshit; so I apologize to him.

John Gifford was at this time, I suppose, about thirty-three or four. He had been an architect in civilian life before the war; and he was a bachelor. He was about five feet nine inches tall and had a rather high colour and black hair. He was pleasant-looking without being spectacularly handsome, and he wore glasses. He moved well and had a quiet, clear voice which he never raised, except when giving commands on parade. He seldom exclaimed and he never swore.

Everything about him was quiet, crisp and unassuming. He was the most unassuming man I have ever known. When giving any of his officers an order he usually said ‘Please’, ‘Would you like to -?’ or ‘Perhaps you’d better –‘. He could be extraordinarily cutting; at least one sensed it like that, because a rebuke from him was so quiet and so rare, and because everyone had such a high regard for him that you felt his slightest reproof very keenly.

He was an excellent organizer. One of his strongly held principles was that it was important to get the right person into the right job, and the wrong person out. This went right down to the level of Private. I had never consciously thought about this principle before (‘Anybody can do anything’), but I realized it all right after I had been under John Gifford’s command for two or three weeks, when he gently pointed out to me that the reason why my platoon-administration was in such a mess was that Lance-Corporal Tull was entirely the wrong sort of person to be trying to do what I had told him to. Since then I have needed no further telling.

John Gifford was brave in the most self-effacing way. One morning a few months later, when I had learned my way around in the Company and knew what was what, I missed the O.C. at breakfast and, since no one else happened to be nearby, asked the mess waiter, Ringer, if he knew where he was. ‘Oh, the Major went out early, sir. He heard last night that some of the gunners were jumping this morning and fixed up to join them.’

No one else knew about this. Jumping is a frightening and unpleasant affair. John Gifford was not in command of a parachute platoon, but he made it his business to do as many jumps as anyone else in the Company and to say nothing about it.” [3]


Lieutenant Adams was given command of ‘C’ Platoon, which were organised as a glider-borne Jeep unit.

As spring drew on and the unknown date of the invasion of Europe (D-Day) came closer, airborne activities began hotting up. I was sent to some local aerodrome or other to get glider experience, and spent a couple of wonderful days flying from somewhere near Lincoln down to the south coast and back, as theoretical co-pilot in a Horsa in tare (empty). The real pilot was a delightful chap and I learned a lot from him about how to be helpful to glider pilots and what not to do in a loaded glider.” [4]


At this time Lieutenant Adams was not parachute trained, but was waiting for a place to become available for him to attend a parachute course. Local parachute dropping exercises were usually carried out on nearby Ropsley Heath:

Someone had mentioned to me that Paddy and Co, were jumping, but I hadn’t given it much attention, being too busy with ‘C’ Platoon’s rifles. We’d just been told that all rifles which weren’t accurate in the aim were to be handed in. About mid-day I had come down to Company H.Q. to talk to C. Q. M. S. Smallwood about this matter, when I ran into Sergeant-Major Gibbs. ‘You ‘eard, sir - we ‘ad a man killed this morning? Private Beal.’ The way he said it, it sounded like ‘Private Bill’; almost like a joke. It was no joke, however, but, like all fatal accidents, a horrible business. What had happened was this. There were at this time two methods of jumping; one standing up, from the port rear door of a Dakota (C.47), and the other - the first-devised, original way - sitting down and propelling yourself feet forward through an aperture in the middle of the floor of a Whitley bomber. (Jumping through the hole, as it was called.) Twenty men could jump from a Dakota, but the complement for a Whitley was only eight. For a ‘stick’ of eight men to jump correctly required cool heads and accurate counting off. Sitting sideways on the floor and inching forward, each man in turn had to swing his legs and body through a right angle into the hole, and then push himself off to drop through it. There was a song (to the tune of ‘Knees Up, Mother Brown’): ‘Jumping through the hole, Whatever may befall, We’ll always keep our trousers clean When jumping through the hole.’ I have never jumped through the hole, but John Gifford told me once that, in comparison with a Dakota, you got a much more frightening view of the ground rushing past below.

Normally two containers, each with its own parachute and filled with arms, ammunition, etc., were fastened under the body of the plane and released by the pilot to drop in the middle of the stick (to ensure the best possible accessibility on landing). When the green light came on, the whole stick used to shout aloud as they jumped: ‘One, two, three, four, container, container, five, six, seven, eight!’ With number eight out, the despatcher would shout to the pilot ‘Stick gone!’ This is why old airborne soldiers still sometimes talk about a ‘container-container’ when they mean a container (e.g., in Marks and Spencer’s or somewhere like that).

A man on a parachute has, as many people today have seen for themselves, a good deal of directional control. Containers, being inanimate, exercise none. What had happened was that poor Beal, jumping number four, had had a container dropped immediately after him (and therefore above him). The container, oscillating on its parachute, had bumped into Beal’s canopy and collapsed it, and he had fallen to his death. The incident cast a gloom over the company for several days.” [5] & [5a]


Lieutenant Adams, and his Platoon, were involved with some of the supply drops into Occupied France during April and May 1944:

“Part of the Allied plan was to keep supplying the Resistance with arms, ammunition, explosives, medical gear and so on. All this stuff used to be dropped, by night and parachute, at pre-arranged places and times. Keeping these appointments was difficult and demanding for our pilots. They flew and navigated, of course, in darkness and could expect only the briefest and least conspicuous of signals from the ground.

The supplies were packed in strapped and lidded laundry baskets, since these were cheap, convenient to handle, drop and open, and could stand a lot of rough treatment. (Even in the event of a ‘Roman candle’ - a parachute not opening - the contents often turned out to be serviceable.) It was 1st Airborne R. A. S.C.’s job to pack these baskets, fit each with a parachute, load them on the planes, fly with them and push them out when the pilot said. Along the floor inside each plane was fixed a line of metal rollers. On these rollers the baskets were strapped in tandem: when the straps were released, they were free to be shoved down the plane, through a right angle and out of the port rear door. The only possible danger was that a despatcher might somehow or other get his own equipment or belt tangled up with a basket’s straps and go out with it. I never heard of it actually happening, but I once or twice knew it almost to happen.

The supplies were kept out of doors, widely dispersed in quite small dumps (smaller than an average drawing-room) in the area north of Fairford in Gloucester - the valleys of the Leach and Coln. It was to this area that ‘C’ Platoon were sent, southward from Lincoln, to come temporarily under the command of one of the division’s heavy R. A.S. C. companies. Naturally, the loading job was principally one for lorries, but the heavy company also needed more sheer manpower than they could muster on their own. We brought our jeeps, of course, and they often came in handy. We were camped in tents in a big field at a village called Southrop, about three miles north-east of Fairford. The dumps were all over the place, along the lanes round villages with beautiful names such as Quenington, Hatherop, Coln St Aldwyn, Eastleach St Martin and Fyfield. The planes usually flew from the airfields at Down Ampney and South Cerney.

I rather missed John Gifford, Paddy Kavanagh and other friends of 250 Company mess: I even quite missed the bawling of Sergeant-Major Gibbs. On the other hand, as everyone knows who has ever been a junior officer, there were great advantages to being on detachment. The heavy company’s commanding officer, a Scot called Major Gordon, known as ‘The Jontleman’ (“Noo, jontlemen, theer’s warrk to be done”), was a perfectly reasonable person to deal with, even if he lacked the charisma of John Gifford, and treated his visitors considerately. ‘C’ Platoon enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy: I can’t recall that Major Gordon ever inspected our camp or ourselves. The men knew we were doing essential and important work and were in good spirits and full of energy. We didn’t fly every night, and this meant that there were a few evenings to spend in local pubs. Once, I remember, some of the N.C.O.s and I simpled as far as Bourton-on-the-Water, about twelve miles away, where we had trouble with Yanks. (At this time, the summer of 1944, there were Yanks in the woodwork and under the bed, as Corporal Simmons remarked.) There is a narrow brook - the upper Windrush, I rather think - running down the street at Bourton-on-the-Water, crossed at intervals by a number of parapet-less footbridges. Sergeant Smith, having been much provoked, had a fight with a Yank on one of these bridges and knocked him off it into the water. We left quickly after that, since there were numerous other Yanks around, and in particular I, as the platoon officer, didn’t want to be called to account for failing to restrain my men from fighting. Relations with our American allies were always so precarious and the authorities were accordingly so touchy that I might easily have found myself on the mat without a parachute, as the saying went.

My own favourite pub, for a quiet evening was a place called the Hill Oak at Ampney St Mary, which no longer exists. Some of the locals sang authentic folk songs and a friend of mine called Pat Jerome and I would find ourselves listening to versions of things like ‘John Barleycorn’ and ‘As I Roved Out One Morning Fair’. This was rural south Gloucestershire in 1944.

I flew over France several times with the laundry baskets, until I became satisfied that there was no real danger and none of the men was likely to say (or think) that I was keeping out. German night fighters seemed non-existent, and although we sometimes encountered a little flak, it was sporadic and short-lived, for we by-passed towns and our dropping zones were always in lonely, rural places. Being inside the aircraft, I never saw a ground-to-air signal, but pilots told me that they were momentary, a mere flash of a torch. The Resistance men could see and recognize the aircraft, of course, and needed to signal only once as it came overhead.” [6] 


Lieutenant Adams eventually went to R.A.F. Ringway on the 6th August 1944, to attend parachute course 128, but was recalled to his unit, along with five of his men, on the 11th August having completed no parachute descents, as they were needed for the Seaborne Echelon of the 1st Airborne Division which was going to France.

250 Company were, inevitably, a little vague about how we were likely to find ourselves split up when the division went into action. At first we supposed that, naturally, all our parachute and glider-borne platoons would be airborne, while the remainder of the company - workshops, Quartermaster Greathurst’s team, the orderly room and so on - would follow up with the so-called ‘seaborne tail’ in a ground role, as would the two heavy R. A. S. C. companies. However, in the event things didn’t work out like that. It must have been some time during July that we learned that, although the three parachute platoons would remain in England as part of the striking force of the division, ready to fly from home airfields, the rest of 250 Company, including the glider-borne jeep platoons, were to embark for Normandy. I dare say it was thought that in the event there wouldn’t be sufficient gliders or aircraft available for jeep platoons, but things turned out differently, as will be told.” [7]


The Seaborne Echelon eventually sailed for France on the 14th/15th August to support Operation ‘TRANSFIGURATION’, and anchored off the beach at Courselles on the 16th/17th August 1944. They began off-loading at 08.30 hours on the 17th August 1944 and proceeded to Goldsmith Transit Camp near La Mine in Normandy. Operation ‘TRANSFIGUARTION’ was cancelled and they were to spend a very frustrating month in the area:

“All this time there were continual abortive stand-by orders for 1st [Airborne] Division. The division was going to drop to the south of the Germans, to the east of the Germans - anyway, on top of the Germans - at Argentan, at L’Aigle - God only knew where. But as fast as these various plans were made, the military situation would overtake them. John Gifford and the ‘Jontleman’ never knew where they were from day to day. The plans came so thick and fast that we couldn’t help feeling some of them must be a bit half-baked. We were to find out that they certainly were.” [8]


At the end of August orders came through for a move and this took place on the 2nd September, with the 250th Light Composite Company and Headquarters R.A.S.C. Bringing up the rear of the Divisional Column. This was in support of the proposed Operation ‘LINNET’, and the column were heading via Bayeaux and Caen to Gisors, then on into Belgium:

“Gisors, Beauvais, Breteuil, Amiens, Doullens, Arras, Tournai in Belgium and still never a German. About 150 miles - no real distance today, of course, but hard going in the stop-start conditions of thousands of vehicles on a narrow axis of advance. The columns threw up such dust as I’d never seen since my infancy before tarred roads. As you sat waiting, with engine idling, to go forward, motor-cyclists riding the other way would flash up out of the dust and be gone three feet from your elbow.

It was one wet nightfall somewhere short of Ath, on 2 September, when John Gifford told me that the reserves of canned petrol we were carrying with us had grown very low. The advance had been so hectic that we had outrun any close source of supply. Every unit around was short of petrol. The nearest place where Airborne Forces were holding any quantity was in the neighbourhood of Doullens. Doullens lies between Arras and Abbeville, about sixty miles from where we were. John asked me to take ‘C’ Platoon, go to Doullens and bring back as much petrol as possible.

We set out, the men driving the jeeps, the N.C.O.s on their motor-bikes. It was pitch-black - no moon - and of course we could use no lights. The wind was blowing hard and the rain was like a monsoon. There were many other groping vehicles on the roads. I was the only person in the platoon who had a map. It was all that could be done to keep our convoy together. At each road junction, either Sergeant Smith or Sergeant Potter would wait to direct the jeeps and count them all past. Every half-hour I halted the column for the section commanders to report to me that all their men and vehicles were in order. If this sounds over-zealous, you might try it one night: forty light vehicles, each with two trailers, no lights and no guide, in rain and darkness along roads you don’t know, in a foreign country. I had never before felt so helpless as a platoon commander. You couldn’t get to the blokes to talk to them, the N.C.O.s were soaked through and chilled to the bone and you couldn’t share it with them because somebody had to drive in front and read the map. It seemed to go on for ever, and the blackness was full of strangers and tumult. We heard rushings to and fro, so that sometimes we thought we should be trodden down like mire in the streets. And coming to a place where we thought we heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet us, we stopped, and began to muse what we had best to do. Well, Christian made it all right, but God alone knows how all those jeeps contrived to suffer not a single accident or breakdown. (If there had been one, of course, we’d have had to leave the driver with his vehicle.)

It took us a little less than three hours to get to Doullens; pretty good, I thought. Then we had to find out where the petrol dump was, for John had been unable to get a map reference. Farley and I were obliged to leave the platoon closed up and halted, and set off to find someone to ask. I wondered bleakly whether I ought, like Theseus, to be trailing a thread behind me. Would we ever be able to get back to them again? After a few minutes, however, we had the luck to spot a Pegasus directional sign beside the road, and not far away was the dump.

The platoon drove onto the heavy wire mesh doing duty for tracks surrounding the dump. Those who weren’t wet through already were able to put it right now, for we had to get out and load up. We all had army groundsheets, of course, but anyone who has worn one in a steady downpour knows how little comfort they really were. The blokes loaded, the N.C.O.s loaded, I loaded. We crammed every jeep and every trailer as full as possible with petrol. (By this stage of the war they were British jerricans.) The corporal in charge of the dump asked me into his tent to sign the necessary papers, although he said it didn’t matter how much we took. At length we were ready to return.

Going back was much the same, except that everyone was very tired, and hungry as well. We reached the company location - a field much like any other - and the platoon off-loaded the cans while I went to report to John Gifford. I felt we’d done rather well. “How much did you get altogether?” asked John. I told him. “It’s not enough.” “Sir, every jeep and trailer was bung full.” “Well.” John paused. “You’d better go back and get some more.” “Now, sir?” “Yes, please.” I went back and gathered the N.C.O.s. They took it very well. They were a fine platoon but, setting that aside, I was beginning to wonder how much more they could, physically and mentally, do. Mere endurance was not enough. To drive a jeep and trailer in convoy you had to be reasonably alert, and more than reasonably in these conditions. Well, we would find out. I was clear about two things. To read the map and find the way was my responsibility and I dared not delegate it. It couldn’t be done properly on a motorbike. But, secondly, I didn’t think the N.C.O.s could go on safely riding motor-bikes much further. We might perhaps be able to manage with fewer, but some motor-bikes there obviously had to be. How few? Sergeant Smith thought five. I reckoned six. I asked the assembled platoon whether anyone thought he had the know-how to ride a bike in these conditions. One man volunteered. He was very young, a boy named Driver Sutton. I want to put it down here that Driver Sutton did everything a sheep-dog motor-cyclist ought to do throughout the whole of that nasty journey. He was excellent.

That left five other motor-bikes and a total of nine N.C.O.s. Sergeant Smith worked out some sort of turn-and-turn-about system to give everyone a stand-down during the trip, and off we set again.

It would be tedious to prolong this account; but we got there, loaded up and started back without accident. I was beginning to feel a sort of affinity with Captain Cook. That was the whole point - that he didn’t have an accident - or only one, anyway. He must have had some first-class subordinates, don’t you think? I recall two things about our return journey.

During the first run, we had all perceived along one length of the very dark road a vile smell - the smell of corruption. As we were coming back from the petrol dump for the second time, the rain gradually stopped and light came into the sky. We were now able to see what it was that was nauseating us. The adjacent fields were full of dead horses; cart-horses, most of them. Our Typhoons had destroyed all the Germans’ motorized transport, and in their retreat they had commandeered horses and carts for their gear. But the Typhoons had got them, too. They looked so pathetic and pitiable, those great, innocent beasts, their legs sticking stiffly up at all unnatural angles and foul white bubbles blown from every orifice of their bodies.

We were just getting over this when suddenly Driver Farley said (just like a policeman) “’Ullo, ‘ullo, what’s this?” He had seen quicker than I. Three figures in uniform were approaching us down the slope of a field. They were Germans, evidently bent on surrender. We pulled up and I gestured to them to come up to me. One was Luftwaffe. He looked like a veteran and turned out to be one, for I found in his pocket an Iron Cross (made of plastic) which bore the date ‘1939’. He also had a picquet pack which I’ve still got. The second was an infantry officer in jackboots, a mere child who looked about seventeen. The third was a Korporal, black-haired and dour. I motioned them into the jeep and, when we came to the next small town, handed them over to the Maquis, in accordance with standing orders. That was the last we saw of them.

When we finally got back, the company had already up and gone. John had left someone behind to tell us where. The going was easier that day, even though we were all so sleepless; there seemed to be less on the roads. We caught up and that morning were among the first Allied troops to enter Brussels. Guards Armoured Division, the spearhead of the Allied pursuit, reached Brussels on 3 September. Hard on their heels followed the ‘seaborne tail’ of 1st Airborne Division, ready to go forward as soon as the airborne attack on Holland should begin.” [8]


The Divisional Seaborne Echelon now halted in the area near Brussels and awaited further orders:

“It was all too short a rest and refit in the autumn sunshine. John, who was now acting C. R. A. S. C. of the seaborne tail (Colonel Packe being in England with Jack Cranmer-Byng, Paddy Kavanagh and the rest of the airborne element), was often summoned to conferences in Brussels. Returning one afternoon he sent for me. “Dick, three of your glider-borne jeep sections are to go back to England today, as soon as they can be got ready. Will you see to it now, please?” “Am I to go too, sir?” “No.” “Does it matter which sections go?” “You can decide that yourself.” “Is it for . . .” John looked at his watch, looked away and then at the papers in his hand. I saluted and set off for ‘C’ Platoon lines.

There was no section of the seven in the platoon with which one would seize the opportunity to part. Sergeant Smith, Sergeant Potter and I decided to put seven bits of paper into a beret and draw three out. The three names which came out were Corporal Bater, Corporal Pickering and Corporal Hollis. Level-headed and cool, they got their men together and were off within the hour. I was not to see them again until well after the end of the war. A few days later we found ourselves once more on the road, in and out of the company of Guards Armoured Division, each of whose vehicles bore their cognizance of an open eye. We were getting to know the sight of that eye. Slowly, we moved about forty miles north-eastward, towards the border with Holland. Around and ahead of us were heavy concentrations of troops and armour - that much we could tell. Most of us passed that night dozing in our jeeps, though some were lucky enough to be invited, subject to instant call by their mates, into their homes by the friendly Dutch. We were in Limburg, a little south of what was then called the Escaut Canal, but which I see is now called (in The Times Atlas) the Kempisch Canal, and about thirty miles south of Eindhoven in Holland.

The following morning, 17 September 1944, John Gifford told his officers what was going to happen. We were on the threshold of a major operation code-named Market Garden. ‘Market’ was the airborne part and ‘Garden’ was the land offensive. The intention was to get the Allied 2nd Army, in one blow, across the Rhine and into northern Holland. This was expected to finish the war before the end of the year. The operation would begin early that same afternoon, soon after one o’clock (1300 hours), when the first lift of parachute and glider-borne troops would arrive from England.” [9]

“This was heady stuff. This was what airborne soldiering was all about; a swift, dramatic blow to finish the enemy for good and all. The Allies had total air supremacy - not a Jerry plane in the sky. The Germans had already been smashed to pieces in Normandy and had retreated to Holland without offering further resistance. Their morale was plainly shattered. 1st Airborne was now to play a major part in the Allies’ triumph: it would be a gateau promenade of appropriate distinction.

I passed this information on to the four-sevenths of my platoon who were still around. I have never known morale higher. The men were excited and eager to go. About mid-day the company had a hot dinner and then waited about in the fine, slightly hazy autumn weather.

It was Tuesday afternoon - a nasty, wet day - before we went into what had become known as ‘The Corridor’. We had seen great numbers of tanks and lorried infantry go past us, and no end of sappers with loads of bridging materials; and we had watched grubby bands of German prisoners being shepherded to the rear. More gliders and parachute aircraft - the second lift - had flown over us during the previous day. We had no least idea that anything might be wrong. Very likely, we supposed, XXX Corps were even now making whoopee at Arnhem with General Urquhart and the boys. All the time there was gunfire and throughout the nights there had been continuous noise and movement of vehicles. We were all sleepless. Still, that didn’t matter: now we were on the way.

I have only vague recollections of our journey up the Corridor to Nijmegen: about sixty to seventy miles. The extraordinary thing is that all the way we never saw a German and never came under fire. It was slow going, as usual. Along the road were signs, put up by the Sappers, warning against leaving the road, the verges not yet having been cleared of mines. We met with groups of American 101st, exhausted but glad to be alive. I recall a huge American signaller, using wire and pliers at the top of a tall telegraph pole and singing at the top of his voice “This is the G.I. jive - Man alive – “. In the little town of Veghel we waited a long time in the dark and the men quite rightly went to sleep. There were rumours of a German counter-attack and of The Corridor having been cut, but nothing happened. At length we were told to get moving again, and the whole place came to life with a great deal of noise - shouting and movement - in the midst of which an outraged voice yelled “Here, cut it out, all the damn’ row! We’ve got to stay here!”

I suppose it must have been very early on Wednesday morning that we crossed the Maas on the captured bridge at Grave. It was all high girders, and stuck between two ribs thereof was an unexploded shell. That shell looked distinctly wobbly. From Grave it was only about seven or eight miles to Nijmegen, where fighting was going on near the bridge and along the south bank of the 400 yard-wide river.

By this time we had all become more or less aware that the original scheme couldn’t have gone according to schedule; nevertheless, we were still in no doubt that we would soon get to Arnhem, where the 1st Division would be in possession of the bridge. 250 Company was ordered to camp in a field on the southern outskirts of Nijmegen, right next to two batteries of 25-pounder guns which were firing in support of the troops advancing northwards from Nijmegen. I’d never felt so tired or sleepless in my life. And still it rained and rained.

By the Wednesday afternoon, soon after we had arrived in Nijmegen, the Grenadier Guards and the American 82nd had fought their way to the southern end of the huge bridge, below which the river was running at eight knots. The Americans, whose skill and courage throughout this dreadful week were beyond all praise, then crossed about a mile below the bridge in light assault craft. In the face of heavy German fire, only about half of them got across. Many were hit; many drowned. Yet those who got over routed the Germans on the other side, while meantime our troops had driven the enemy out of Nijmegen altogether - back over the bridge.

Four Guards Armoured tanks followed across and still the bridge wasn’t blown. Two of those tanks were hit, but the other two demolished the German anti-tank guns. By nightfall the Guards and the Yanks had joined up at a village called Lent, just north of the bridge, and the bridge and the Waal crossing were safely in Allied hands.

That night, we in 250 Company were all waiting for the order to join the advance to Arnhem and the bridge. As we waited, John Gifford characteristically sat his officers down to a four of bridge. I’m afraid I didn’t play very well. “But, Dick, we could have made four spades.” (Bang!) “Sorry, sir.” (Bang!)

The order never came. It wasn’t until about eleven o’clock on Thursday morning that Guards Armoured got orders to press on up the Arnhem road. During the night the Germans had rallied: they were now ready and waiting. The tanks, of course, couldn’t get off the road.

Meanwhile, what had been happening to Paddy Kavanagh and Sergeant McDowell, to Jack Cranmer-Byng, to Captain Gell (commanding our third parachute platoon), and to my three sections of glider-borne jeeps? By Friday we at least knew how desperate the general situation was, for on the Thursday night two senior officers of 1st Airborne, Lt.-Col. MacKenzie and Lt.-Col. Myers, acting on General Urquhart’s orders, had escaped from north of the Neder Rijn and reported to the headquarters of XXX Corps details of what was happening at Oosterbeek.

Corporals Bater, Pickering and Hollis, their blokes and their jeeps all fell into the hands of the Germans. One soldier, a nice chap called Driver Eggleton, a Newbury man, escaped with the help of the Dutch Resistance after the glider he was in had force-landed in Holland short of the true landing zone.

Jack Cranmer-Byng (hit in the hand) and his platoon were among those shut into the Oosterbeek box. So were Paddy Kavanagh and Sergeant McDowell. I will now relate what happened to Paddy.

During the week, despite the adverse weather, planes were flown from England to drop supplies to 1st Airborne. They had a bad time from German flak and many were lost. There was no ground-to-air communication (a bad fault, surely?) On account of this and also because the situation on the ground was so confused and in the rain visibility was so bad, most of the panniers fell outside the Oosterbeek perimeter. Colonel Packe asked Paddy to take his platoon and try to collect what he could of the nearer ones.

Paddy and Sergeant McDowell, their blokes and their jeeps set out from the 1st Airborne lines and drove down a narrow, empty lane bordered by fairly thick woodland. As they were coming over a little hump-backed bridge they were caught in German small-arms fire. Corporal Wiggins and several more died instantly. Several jeeps were smashed up.

Paddy grabbed a Bren gun and leapt into the ditch beside the verge, whence he returned the German fire. Sergeant McDowell joined him. “Take the blokes, sergeant!” yelled Paddy. “Get them out of here - back through the woods. I’ll cover you.” “You sure of that, sir?” asked McDowell. “Yes,” answered Paddy. “Get out! That’s an order!”

Somehow or other Sergeant McDowell got most of the platoon together inside the edge of the wood. Three or four lay writhing and screaming on the road. There was blood everywhere. Paddy, who had several magazines, continued firing. The platoon retreated on foot. After a minute or two they stopped to listen. Sergeant McDowell told me how you could hear the rrrrip, rrrrip of the German Schmeissers against the slower rat-tat-tat of the Bren - a dreadful counterpoint. Suddenly there was an explosion, and then nothing more.

Paddy lies among the others in the divisional cemetery at Oosterbeek.

Throughout all this the ‘seaborne tail’ of 250 Company had nothing to do but to wait, uselessly, at Nijmegen. We might as well not have been there. It was on Sunday evening, the 24th, that John Gifford said to me “Apparently, if it’s no better by tomorrow night they’re going to pull the division out, back over the river.” “Pull them out, sir? You mean, the whole thing’s off? We’re not going to Arnhem at all?” “Looks like it.” And as everyone knows, that is what happened. Of the 10,000 men who had landed at Arnhem, about 2,160 got back during the Monday - Tuesday night, the 25-26 September. Among them was Jack Cranmer-Byng, with a handful of our lot, including Sergeant McDowell. Jack subsequently got the M.C.

At some time in the early evening of Tuesday, the 26th, I was sent down to the centre of Nijmegen to ask the Divisional Camp Commandant, Major Newton-Dunn (generally known in 1st Airborne as Hoo Flung Dung), about certain arrangements made for 250 Company. I asked him whether, as the survivors had come in during the night, he had happened to see Jack Cranmer-Byng. Hoo Flung replied that he hadn’t been able to notice any one particular person more than another. Then he said “And if you like I’ll show you why.” He guided me a short distance to a huge building - I think it must have been a gymnasium - with a wooden floor and no tables, chairs or any other furniture in it at all. That’s all I can recall about it. It was all in twilight, so you couldn’t see much anyway. As we approached the open door, Hoo Flung laid a finger to his lips.

Inside, those who had got back from Oosterbeek were lying on the floor, huddled asleep under grey army blankets. The majority had not slept for a week. At Driel, during the previous night, they had been given a light, hot meal (they had been starving for about five days) and then, having got to Nijmegen, been put in the gym to sleep.

On account of the dim light in the big building, visibility was limited. The grey rows of unconscious, motionless shapes stretched away until they blurred and you couldn’t make out the far end. As well as Paddy, we had lost two other officers killed: Lt. Daniels, the big chap whose blokes ‘C’ Platoon had succeeded at Edale: and Thompson, who had been subaltern in one of the other para. platoons.

We were flown back to England and in due course returned to our old location at Lincoln. Here John Gifford told a friend of mine, Peter Allsop, and myself that we were both promoted to Captain. We still had no reliable news about any of my missing N.C.O.s and men, and one of my first jobs was to write - as best I could - to the next of kin. Thank God all ‘C’ Platoon’s missing eventually turned out to be prisoners.

It transpired that Paddy had no next of kin: no one in the world; or no one known to 250 Company, anyway. So an auction was held of his things. Paddy had a well-known duffle-coat, fawn in colour and fastening at the front with loops of rope. He had often worn it on duty, over his uniform, when strictly speaking he shouldn’t have: but John had winked at it. The duffle-coat was part of him, like Mr Churchill and his cigar. I bought it for a memento: I’ve still got it somewhere.

In the event I was to serve another fifteen months in Airborne Forces. I can’t say I really enjoyed them, or enjoyed being a captain. I missed ‘C’ Platoon very much - they never re-formed, anyway - and I shared the general feeling of disappointment and reduced spirits. As far as I was concerned, the odds was gone, and there was nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.” [10]


Captain Adams completed parachute course 147, at R.A.F. Ringway, 30th December 1944 to 23rd January 1945:

“Now, at last, there was time and opportunity to send me on a parachuting course at Ringway. Jumping I found frightening - most people do - but I was fortunate in having a first-class stick commander, John Warwick-Pengelly of the Devons - the Bloody Eleventh. Our despatcher, Jimmy Blyth, was also first-rate. John Warwick-Pengelly joked and clowned and set us all an example we couldn’t not follow. Jumping is really a matter of group morale. You feel you can’t let the others down. How people jump alone I’ve never understood. The Ringway training people found me out all right. When I got back to Lincoln, John Gifford - who, like Gallio, cared for none of these things - gave me my confidential report to keep. “This officer was of a nervous disposition, although he assumed a pose which suggested confidence. He was always bright and cheerful, and kept the spirits of his stick high by being “the life of the party”. Rather nervous but jumped without hesitation.’” [11]

The rest of Captain Adams wartime service can be told in brief. He was chosen by Major Gifford to be the new B.R.A.S.C.O. (Brigade Royal Army Service Corps Officer) at 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters and in this capacity he took part in the liberation of Denmark in May 1945.

Upon his return to the UK he was posted to the 5th Parachute Brigade as the B.R.A.S.C.O. and went with them to India, in preparation for the war against Japan. The dropping of the atomic bombs meant that they were no longer needed for the assault on mainland Japan, but they were still used for other tasks in Singapore, Malaya and Java, where Captain Adams finished his military career.

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10] and [11] ‘The Day Gone By’, Richard Adams. 1990.

[5a] T/150775. Driver. John William BEAL was killed on the 21st July 1944, aged 31. He is buried at Yorktown (St. Michael) Churchyard in Surrey.

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