Brief account of Army Service of Lance Bombardier David King, 15 April 1943 to 5 November 1946.
After 18 months deferment, Christmas 1942, I went to Gloucester and tried to volunteer, but was turned down when they saw my registration card. I crossed the road to RAF Recruiting Centre, and volunteered for Air Crew. But I had to forego my visit to Oxford, where one had to take tests etc. to qualify for flying, owing to been laid up in Lydney Hospital having a Hernia operation. A few days after recovering from the operation I had to go to Gloucester for my Army medical. I passed A1.
I was very pleased to discover that Eric Gerrish from Aylburton Common had to report to Colchester Barracks the same day as me, April 15 1943. We set off from Lydney Station on the mail train, crossed London to Liverpool St. and arrived at Colchester Station early on April 15, much to our surprise we were allocated different barracks; Eric I believe to Hyderabad Barracks, and me to Goojerat Barracks. We never saw each other again until we were demobbed, and back in Aylburton!
I was given a bed next to Private Ken Lamzed. We became friends until October 1995 when sadly Ken died. My over-riding memory of those six weeks doing my initial training was the awful food. Ken and I went out a couple of times, but by the time you were considered smartly dressed enough to go, and got past the Regimental Police on the gate you began to think, is it worth it? If they found one speck of dust on your boots, you were sent back to your barrack room to remove it!
After six weeks I was posted to 35 Signal Training Regiment RA at Rhyl in North Wales. Luckily Ken and a few more of my mates were posted there also. Ken shared a chalet with me. The Regiment was situated in a holiday camp, very nice. So Private King now became Gunner King.
After seven weeks I went home on leave, by then I had learned the Morse code and how to operate a 21 set. On going back from leave I started learning Royal Artillery radio procedure. I also had 4 weeks learning to drive 4 wheel vehicles and 1 week on motor bikes, plus maintenance. Plenty of square bashing, PT and guard duty. I felt very proud the day I was passed as a Signaller RA. An extra nine pence a day and crossed flags to wear on your sleeve.
My time spent at 35 Signal Regt RA was very enjoyable, good food, good billets, and very nice to be by the seaside. I was fortunate to be there during the summer, I think the chalets would be very cold in winter.
About mid October 1943, several of us were told that we had been posted to a very special Regiment, but were told nothing else. Off we went by rail with a Bombardier as escort. After passing through Salisbury Station we arrived at Bulford Halt. We were met by a soldier wearing a red beret, the three ton truck we boarded had a Pegasus division sign displayed, we realised then that we had become AIRBORNE.
Our Regiment was the 53 (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regt RA. Before they joined 6 Airborne Division, they were anti-tank. Quite a lot more signallers were needed to bring the Regt up to strength for their new role in the field, we were the boys to do it!
Ken and I were put in F Troop, 212 Battery. We were billeted in warm brick barracks, Bulford Camp, about 9 miles from Salisbury. We were pleased to exchange our forage caps to 'cherry berets' and sew a Pegasus and 'Airborne' on our sleeves, plus an extra shilling a day, and a weekend pass every fortnight. It was good for us young soldiers being billeted with old sweats, most of them had been with the British Expeditionary Force and evacuated from Dunkirk.
Training was hard but enjoyable. It was a great feeling to be part of 6 Airborne knowing that we would be in the forefront of the invasion that everyone was expecting.
Sometime in December 1943 a notice was displayed, asking for volunteers to take a parachute course, to become forward observation officers' signallers. Ken and I had already decided to try and be paratroopers. He put my name down, and I put his!
We weren't allowed to go all together on a parachute course, owing to the Division being on standby. Ken went on his course before me, and was enjoying his jumping leave when I left for my course, mid-January 1944.
The first part of a parachute course was spent in Derbyshire, at Hardwick Hall. This entailed toughening you up, in readiness for parachute jumping. Everything was done at the double, even during the morning NAAFI break you were kept doubling up in the queue! Every morning it was a 7 mile run before breakfast, then assault courses, rock climbing, rope climbing etc. There was a series of tests you had to pass, all in full equipment, e.g. 14ft long jump, run a mile in 6 minutes, and a ten mile forced march in two hours, that wouldn't have been too bad, but each Platoon Sergeant tried to get his squad home first, we completed our march in 1 hour and 50 minutes.
When we left Hardwick Hall for Ringway, which is now Manchester Airport, it entailed marching to Chesterfield Station, about 9 miles away. It was no problem to me, our little gang had twice walked back from Chesterfield, having missed the last bus! In a quarry at Hardwick, which was drained years after the war, 600 bikes were discovered, having been ridden back from either Chesterfield or Mansfield!
Life at Ringway was quite a contrast from Hardwick, good barracks, top class food, and no early morning runs! We learnt how to land properly, forward and backward rolls, side rolls, feet and knees together at all times. We jumped from a tower about 40 feet high, in parachute harness, an attached fan slowed your descent, landing at about the same speed as you would from a real jump.
After four or five days we were ready for our first jump proper, this was to be done from a cage under a barrage balloon, about 800 feet in the air. Tatton Park was the venue, 4 of us ascended, plus our Sergeant instructor. The ground looked a long way down, there was a round cut out of the bottom of the cage, the same size as the hole in a Whitley bomber.
Our instructor tapped us on the shoulder and shouted “GO”. It was such a feeling of relief looking up and seeing your canopy was open, you soon came back to reality though. An instructor on the ground was shouting "watch your lines, keep your feet together".
A parachute course in those days, consisted of 8 jumps, 2 from a balloon and 6 from a Whitley, one being a night jump. When you landed you rolled up your chute, had a cup of tea from the very kind WVS ladies, who must have been fed up with tales of parachute jumps! The ride back from Tatton Park to Ringway was the dangerous bit, the RAF bus drivers had bets with each other as to who could be back in camp first!
What a proud moment it was, when the CO Ringway, presented us with our wings. I felt on top of the world as I made my way to Dingestow on my 7 day leave. The extra shilling a day would be handy too!
Back at Bulford, training was very intense. I was attached to the 3rd Para Brigade, taking part in exercises with 1st Canadian Para Battalion, 9th Para Battalion, and 8th Para Battalion, the 3 Battalions that formed the 3rd Para Brigade.
I did 5 or 6 jumps with one or other of the Battalions, carrying a radio set in a kitbag attached to your right leg, when your chute opened you pulled a quick release pin and lowered the kitbag on a twenty foot rope.
These exercises included schemes called Buzz 1, and Buzz 2. These were full Divisional exercises, on one night drop we landed miles from our Drop Zone (DZ), I came down to earth and found I had landed in the garden of a pub somewhere in Southern England! After a lot of shouting we all found each other, and spent an enjoyable hour or two at the bar, eventually we were picked up and taken back to Bulford.
On May 25 1944, we were taken in closed trucks to our transit camp, under canvas, surrounded by a high barbed wire fence, (after the war - 1953 in fact - when we were living at Coin St Aldwyns, I recognised the site as I was passing, the field was adjoining a Co-op dairy, a mile or so out of Cricklade). The first few days were spent playing football and softball with some of the Canadians we were sharing the camp with. The weather was glorious. Ken and myself were the signallers accompanying Lt. Ayrton (who I was pleased to meet on our 1990 reunion). We were to be the Forward Observation Officer’s (FOO) party to accompany the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. On June 3rd we were given our briefing. We were told our DZ was partly flooded, and that only fools would try to land there! The Battalion's task was to clear the DZ, and proceed via Varaville to Le Mesnil, however this was not to be for me. 24 hours before zero hour the powers that be decided to split Ken and me up; Ken stopped with Lt. Ayrton, and I was replaced with ‘Blondie’ Webster. I was to go with Capt. Harrington and Frank McGinley, dropping in with 3rd Parachute Brigade H.Q. Company, our DZ and objective, Le Mesnil Chateau, were the same, .
We left the transit camp during the evening of June 5th in closed trucks and headed for RAF Down Ampney. Where we picked up our parachutes, and boarded a Dakota aircraft, taking off at about ten. After a considerable time getting in formation we headed for the coast of Normandy.
We were met with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire and must have been an easy target flying at such a low altitude. Several planes were shot down. We stood up and hooked our static lines to the overhead strong point. I found it very difficult to stand owing to turbulence etc. On went the red light then green and out I went in a very disorderly fashion, nothing like the smooth exits of practice jumps! Shuffling up to the door was like going up a 2 in 1 gradient, as I hit the slipstream up in the air went my right leg and off flew my Kitbag complete with my radio and small pack.
I landed in about a foot of water, on trying to get out of my parachute harness and keeping my head above water, I lost my Sten Gun, which was under my harness. I tried feeling for it, but was dragged along by the canopy. I was getting accustomed to the light by now, and managed to wade to dry land.
There I was well behind enemy lines, soaked to the skin, eight magazines of Sten Gun ammunition in my pouches, no gun, no radio, no small pack, which would have contained my shaving gear, mess tins and two packs of 24 hour rations, and not a soul in sight!
I could hear gunfire which I presumed was coming from the coastal area the 9th Para Battalion would have been attacking, so I began to head south west which I hoped would take me to Le Mesnil where 3rd Parachute Brigade HQ were to be entrenched.
After what seemed like hours to me, but was probably only minutes, I saw a figure approaching. I was so relieved when I heard "PUNCH", I quickly replied "JUDY", that was our password. The man I encountered was an officer, either from Brigade HQ or 3 Para Squadron RE. He was carrying a Sten Gun and a revolver, so he kindly gave me his Sten. After a while we met more Paras. They were mostly from 1st Canadian Para Battalion, also making for Le Mesnil. Another bit of luck I had was finding a small pack, it was lying by more water nobody anywhere to be seen, so I gratefully slung it on my back! When I opened it later, I discovered it had belonged to a Sapper, whose name has escaped me. it contained all the correct articles, 2 twenty four hour ration packs, mess tins, knife and fork, shaving kit, and a spare pair of socks. Weeks later, after the Normandy campaign was over I tried to find him but failed, so I never knew whether he was alive or dead.
When I arrived at 3rd Para Brigade HQ first light was approaching, just a handful of chaps were there. There was no sign of Captain Harrington or Frank McGinley. I was put as a number 2 on a Bren Gun positioned to cover the approach road to the chateau. In the early afternoon I was very pleased to see Captain Harrington arrive, and a few hours later on Frank McGinley. He wasn't too pleased to hear that I'd lost the radio; the poor chap had been carrying the 2 accumulators for well over 12 hours! However a supply drop on the evening of D-Day replaced the radio, and by 7th June we were directing gunfire from our own Regiment and Sea Landing Regts, as soon as they got in position. Brigadier Hill had been injured by our own bombs, I was led to believe. He turned up on June the 7th badly wounded but refusing to go to hospital. We dug ourselves a slit trench and one close by, for Capt Harrington (that was to be our home for the next 10 weeks!). All the water we had was a mess tin full, and had to wash and shave in that, we also managed to get enough to brew our dried tea. To go to the latrines we had a white tape to follow to a small wood. At first we had to balance over a thin plank of wood, but after a few days when a few 14 man ration packs had been emptied, some ingenious fellow cut holes in the bottom of them and placed them over the trench. However it didn't pay to linger too long chatting to your neighbour, owing to regular mortar fire!
Frank and myself did 2 hours on and 2 hours off every night, that was on top of daylight, when we worked continuously at various observation posts (Ops). After we had been doing this for 2 or 3 weeks, we were sent to a rest camp at Leon-Sur-Mer. We slept the whole 36 hours we were there, apart from a couple of meals.
A couple of days after D-Day, Capt Harrington and I were called to go to Chateau St Come, where the 9th Battalion were doing battle (at that time I had no idea where we were, but discovered it was St Come on one of the pilgrimages). When we first arrived, we were lying in a ditch, withshells landing only a couple of hundred yards ahead of us, but were forced to withdraw to a house, a short distance to our rear. There were two or three Paras and four dead Germans on the floor of the room we were in. We were still trying to pick targets through the window when a Tiger tank passed by only a few yards away, either it was an anti tank gun firing at the tank, or the 88mm gun on the tank firing, whatever it was it blew valves in my radio! We were ordered out of the house and took shelter in a ditch with a lot more Paras. We were being shelled continuously, at this point Brigadier Hill walked the length of the ditch saying, "Don't worry chaps, tanks are on the way to help us." Such courage certainly made me feel better. A short while later a few Shermans arrived and we were able to return to Le Mesnil. At this point I realised what war was all about!
Life after this consisted of firing at troop movements, mainly in the direction of Troan. Every morning Frank or myself had to ride a 125cc motorbike to Div HQ at Ranville to pick up the day's frequencies and call signs. There was an open spot of about 100 yards, where you put your head down and rode like hell. Jerry was constantly sniping on that stretch of road. Although the frequencies and call times when Div HQ called us to report signal strength every morning were changed daily there was always a Jerry who came on air!
On about August 18th, we started to advance. What happened to Capt Harrington at this point is a mystery to me, but Frank and myself found ourselves with Capt Peter Jones and Reg Silverton, with a Jeep to boot. Our Jeep broke down after crossing a Bailey bridge, eventually we made it to Deauville, and found a place to bed down in a luxury Hotel. What a treat to have a bath after all that time, and to be able to undress and sleep in a comfortable bed, after all those weeks in a slit trench, not even able to take one's boots off, and constantly under mortar shelling. After 'roughing it' for a day or two Frank and I hitch hiked back and found a REME depot, they 'lent' us a Jeep. When we caught up with 3rd Para Brigade HQ in Honfleur we were told that was as far as 6th Airborne were going, so it was back over Pegasus Bridge (first time for me) and home to England.
Summary of the Normandy Campaign, and my thoughts of the Battle 55 years later.
I was extremely disappointed when I was told that Ken and me were to be in different OP parties, but I wonder if I would be writing this story if I had jumped with Ken and Lt. Ayrton. Their plane somehow was miles off course, they were dropped at least 20 miles east from our DZ. The whole stick of 20 men located each other, and they managed to get within 10 miles of their true destination, when they were ambushed by a troop of Germans, who had been tipped off by a French farmer. Several of the Canadians were killed, Ken had half of his ankle missing, and was taken to a German hospital near Paris. Lt. Ayrton and ‘Blondie’ Webster were taken prisoner along with the rest of the Canadians. We heard in a few days that Lt Ayrton and Blondie were safe, but it was August before Mr & Mrs Lamzed heard that Ken was still alive. I dread to think how Mother would have been if she had found herself in Mrs Lamzed's position.
One of my closest friends; Bombardier "Nobby" Hall, is buried in Ranville Churchyard. The date on his tombstone is June 5th 1944. I have tried to find out how he was killed on the 5th as far as I know, nobody was dropped before midnight. I also consider myself very fortunate to have come through the battle without a scratch. Out of a divisional strength of 6,500 to 7,000 nearly 4,500 men either killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.
The official figures are as follows:
The majority in the 'Missing' column were taken prisoner, but a few were never accounted for.
At our briefing before D-Day, Brigadier Hill told us that chaos would rule the day, how right he was. Out of the four FOO parties to go with 3rd Para Brigade, only our little party was intact. Ken Ayrton's party I've told you about. Captain Whitney and his two Signallers were taken prisoner. Captain Hastings, was wounded and got a blighty. I don't know what the fate of his two signallers was.
Of the chaps referred to in my story, Capt. 'Badger' Harrington was awarded the Military Cross, for his part in the St. Come affair. He died in the eighties. Lt. Ken Ayrton I was pleased to see at one of our reunions.
Unfortunately, I've never met or heard from Frank McGinley since then. I saw ‘Blondie’ Webster in Palestine Sept 1946. I have never heard from, or seen, Capt. Whitney since. Capt. Peter Jones is a regular member at our reunions, also his wife Betty. Reg Silverton is also a regular attender at our gatherings, along with his wife Jackie. Captain Pat Hastings died quite a while back.
My best Army pal of all, Ken Lamzed, made a good recovery, forcing himself to play rugby and golf etc. His ankle bone was half missing, and he always had a limp. We met on lots of occasions, either in his home town of Exeter, or when he visited us. Sadly he died in the autumn of 1996.
For a more detailed account of my experiences on D-Day see 'WE REMEMBER D-DAY' Compiled by Frank and Joan Shaw (page 193).
While I was in Normandy, 2nd Forward Observer Unit RA was formed. I was given a choice of stopping in 53rd Light Regiment RA or joining 2 Forward Observation Unit (FOU) as we were known. Freddie Barker. Frank, Reg, and myself and all of the FOO Officers who survived Normandy decided that 2nd Forward Observer Unit was the best bet, if we wished to remain forward observation bods.
2nd Observer Unit was probably the most unusual mob in the British Army HQ and 3 Section were British, 5 and 6 Section were Canadian. Major Rice was Commanding Officer (CO) of 18 officers, each holding the rank of Captain, and 60 or so other ranks. Each OP Party now consisted of 4 men, a Captain, 2 Signallers RA and a Jeep driver, come Signallers if needed, and both Signallers had to be able to drive if required. Number 3 Section provided OP parties for 3rd Parachute Brigade. Number 5 Section for 5th Parachute Brigade, and 6 Section to do likewise with 6th Air Landing Brigade (The Glider Section). Once again I was attached to 3 Para Bde, also having Capt Harrington as boss, Frank as my fellow Signaller, and Freddie Barker as our driver. As Captain Harrington was the senior Captain we were still attached to 3 Brigade HQ Company.
What a different time I had, compared with barrack days pre Normandy. No guard duties, cookhouse fatigues, or fire watch. We were billeted in 'Spider' huts at Winterbourne Gunner, 4 miles from Salisbury. We spent a considerable time on schemes on Salisbury Plain and a couple of parachute jumps with kitbags from Netheravon.
Christmas 1944, we had been told was to be spent on leave, but no such luck. On December 23rd we found ourselves at Tilbury Docks, bound for Ostend!
From the Ardennes to the Maas, late December 1944 to late February 1945.
After a very rough Channel crossing, we docked in Ostend and travelled by Jeep, up through Belgium to our destination close to Dinant, and later Marche. It was bitterly cold, we were burning any wood we could lay our hands on. Some of the OP parties I believe did some Gunnery spotting, but our party with 3rd Para HQ spent most of our time changing radio batteries and keeping the Jeeps in working order. It was so cold that with a fully charged battery it was difficult to start up, the engine oil was more or less solid. We never removed an article of clothing, not even to shave, you boiled a mess tin full of snow, and before you were halfway through shaving it was starting to freeze!
About three weeks after we arrived, we were visited by a mobile laundry van. It was heaven to be able to have a lovely warm bath, and to be issued with steaming hot vest, pants, and shirt.
Early February found us on the road to Holland. The thaw was beginning to set in then, and travelling was easier, apart from high ground where the snow was still deep. We were billeted in houses in a village somewhere near to Venlo, about a mile from the River Maas. The Dutch people treated us wonderfully well, we had our own food of course, but they insisted on doing our washing, and sewing if needed.
We manned an OP on the river bank, occasionally firing a few shells over, the river was in flood, carrying very little shipping. Captain Boss and George Halewood crossed over one night in a small boat with a section of Paras and captured a German soldier for information on troop movement. Ken Boss won a Military Cross and George later won a Military Medal.
I have no official casualty figures for this operation. I know that 12th Parachute Battalion lost a lot of men in a battle near Bure. In 2 FOU RA I think we got away scot free, as far as fatal casualties went. On the whole 6th Airborne Division's losses were very few.
The latter end of February we were withdrawn from the front, and sailed back to England, and home for a very welcome leave.
Back in Winterbourne Gunner, I was honoured to receive a Montgomery Certificate for my contributions during the Normandy Campaign. Over the years Lord Montgomery's signature faded, so in January 1969 I wrote to him enclosing my certificate and he kindly resigned it for me.
In early March 1944 the unit was very busy preparing for the final push over the Rhine and dropping in on Jerry at last!
From the Rhine to the Baltic. Operation Varsity
The third week in March 1945, I found myself in a transit camp somewhere in East Anglia. The only excitement was laid on by Jerry. He fired a few Doodle Bugs in our direction, the noise when they exploded was terrific, and we thought we would be safer in Germany!
Early on the morning of March 24 1945, we were driven to an aerodrome very near to our camp, eleven aerodromes were used, I've no idea which ours was. This was to be the biggest airborne operation of them all, the American Divisions, and our 6th Airborne Division, all in one airlift.
Once again our little gang was Capt. Harrington, Frank McGinley and me, dropping in again with 3rd Parachute Brigade HQ Company. Freddie Barker was somewhere in Holland waiting to cross the Rhine with our Jeep as soon as possible. (He had remained in Holland with the Jeep drivers from the two Parachute Brigades, the Airlanding Brigades would go by glider, along with their guns etc.)
We took off at about 0700 hours. After flying for three hours or so, we stood up and hooked up our static lines. I saw the Rhine below and on came the red light so I knew we must be close to the DZ. I could see flak and tracer bullets and one plane was on fire. On came the green light and out we went. I had no trouble lowering my kitbag this time. After the Normandy farce, when hundreds of kitbags were lost, the quick release pins had been strengthened. As I floated down I could see tracers and exploding Mortar bombs, I hoped none of them had my name on!
3rd Parachute Brigade was the first to land, which was a blessing for us. When 5th Parachute Brigade arrived at their DZ which was ten minutes later. (They should have jumped the same time as us, but as is often the case something went awry.) Jerry was waiting for them, they had a lot heavier casualties than us. When the 6 Airlanding boys landed they were sitting ducks and suffered tremendous losses.
I made a good landing and took no time to free my parachute harness and get my radio from the kitbag and on my back. I headed for the blue smoke which was always 8th Para Battalion's and 3rd Para Brigade HQ's colour. On reaching the edge of the wood, I dropped down by a Paratrooper who was firing his rifle "What are you firing at mate?" I asked. "Jerry is over in those trees shooting at our boys still coming down" he said, so I loaded my Sten Gun and joined in.
A few minutes later, my newly found friend said, "Is there anything amiss with my eye?" On looking I couldn't see his eye at all and a minute later he became unconscious. I managed to attract one of our wonderful medics, and he was quickly stretchered away. I never heard whether the poor chap survived. I hope he did. I met up with Captain Harrington and Frank, and we made our way to 3 Para Brigade HQ. We did no OP work that day, and very little on the 25th. Freddie Barker joined us, and a couple of days later found us in full pursuit of a fast retreating enemy. No sooner had we set up an OP and established contact with the guns, when we were on the move again. Day after day we advanced, crossing many pontoon bridges. We saw whole towns and cities that had been virtually flattened by our bombers. Hundreds and hundreds of prisoners giving themselves up, mostly older men and young boys 15 to 17 years of age. We were very fortunate to be in our Jeep, the poor old Paras had to walk all the way, 300 to 400 miles. Six or seven weeks later we reached Wismar, on the Baltic Sea, meeting the Russians there. The war in Europe was over. We travelled back to Luneberg Heath where we celebrated Victory in Europe Day. I flew back to England, sitting on the floor of a Stirling Bomber.
At this point it was goodbye to the Canadians, for them the war was over. I had enjoyed their company. It was also time to say goodbye to Captain "Badger" Harrington, Frank "Mac" McGinley, and Freddie Barker. All the older men, and non-Parachutists, were sent to Norway and other occupied countries. The rest of our unit, one section only, joined 5th Parachute Brigade.
Summary of Operation Varsity.
This operation proved to be the end of the use of Gliderborne troops, only Parachutists to be used in future, Jeeps, guns, etc. to be dropped by multi parachutes. The casualties were terrible, 90% or more occurred on the landing, for instance. My old Regiment lost all their Battery Commanders, one being Major Knox Peebles, with whom I spent many hours in the Normandy Campaign. He was a big sheep farmer in New Zealand, and offered me the chance to work for him as his Head Gardener!
As in Normandy, one of my favourite drinking pals, Gnr ‘Jock’ Jarvie, was killed as soon as he jumped, his body was never found so that he could have a proper burial. His name with hundreds of other poor souls, who never had a grave is engraved on a memorial at Groesbeek Cemetery. Another death I was so sad over was Captain Ken Boss, easily the most popular officer in 2 FOU RA
Official Casualties for OPERATION VARSITY.
Missing. 400. Most of those marked “Missing” were PoWs
Back to Winterbourne Gunner for a few days, then home on 28 days leave. During this leave I travelled to Exeter to see Ken, he was limping, but his usual chirpy self, we managed to sink a few pints!
During the last few weeks of the battle, the Germans forced marched the PoWs further and further back into Germany. A couple of days before Germany surrendered Ken said they woke up in the barn they had been sleeping in to find that all the guards had vanished, and a short while later they were greeting some of our leading troops. What joy for them.
SOUTH EAST ASIA COMMAND.
Back in camp at Winterboume Gunner after a very enjoyable leave I found that 2 Forward Observer Unit RA was reduced to one section, and formed a part of 5th Parachute Brigade. We were to go to India to train in the jungle in readiness for the invasion of Singapore. I was to be on the advance party and flying to India, the bulk of the unit to travel by sea. Major Rice, another whose name I can’t remember and myself, were taken by truck to Oxford, slept there and flew from Abingdon the next day. This must have been about the middle of July 1945. We flew in a Dakota. It was comforting to realise that we wouldn't be descending by parachute!
First stop was Sardinia, I've never forgotten the glorious sunset I saw there. Next day we flew to El Adam. After a night there we flew over mile after mile of desert, and landed at Bahrain. The heat I remember to this day, we were still dressed in our thick Khaki battledress. One night there then on to Karachi, which is now in Pakistan. We should have flown to Bombay the next day, but owing to the monsoon or something, we couldn't fly so we had to travel by rail, instead of taking four or five hours by air, we were on the train over a week!
We were stationed at Kalyan Camp, about 30 miles from Bombay. A few days later the main party turned up. We were kitted out in Jungle Green uniforms and commenced our jungle training. The proposed landing on the Malay Peninsular was to be named Operation ZIPPER.
Fortunately for all concerned the Americans dropped Atom bombs on Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese capitulated, how pleased we all were. We had been told to prepare ourselves for at least three more years of warfare winkling the Japanese from the hundreds of islands they occupied.
Major Rice left us at this point, and Captain Bamford took command. I imagine that our little unit didn't qualify for a Major as Officer Commanding.
The whole of 5th Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Poett - later to become General Sir Nigel Poett, sailed from Bombay on board S. S. Chitral, a Dutch troopship, arriving off the Malayan coast a few days later. 7th Battalion and 12th Battalion boarded landing craft and made for the shore,wading through waist high water and knee deep mud. Luckily they met with no resistance, so came back on board and we all carried on to Singapore.
2 Forward Observer Unit RA had the task of taking over the Police School which was a little way out of Singapore City. The Police Force in Singapore consisted of mainly Sikhs. Our job was to try and sort out the bad guys from the good boys! In other words, trying to find out which Sikhs had collaborated with the Japanese, and which ones had remained loyal. At this time I was given a stripe and put in charge of NAAFI rations and post orderly. Life was grand, plenty of football and cricket, and lots of free time to explore the city and island.
Early in December 1945, we boarded a series of small ships, and headed for Java. Lord Louis Mountbatten (Commander of all troops in South East Asia) spoke to us on board ship and told us that terrorism was rife, with small pockets of Japanese giving trouble, and the Javanese people were determined to break away from Dutch rule.
We landed at Batavia, the capital of Java (now named Djakarta). I was appalled by the filth - much worse than India. As in all of the Eastern Countries I visited most of the shops were owned by the Chinese. From Batavia we moved to Semarang, which as far as I was concerned, was a much nicer place to live. We had good billets in a large bank, we had to stand by a few times, but nothing came of it, some of the Para boys had a skirmish or two I believe.
On the 24th March 1946, the whole of 5 Parachute Brigade marched through Semarang to commemorate the First Anniversary of the Rhine Crossing, and to remember the hundreds of boys from 6th Airborne Division who died. By this time Brigadier Poett had said goodbye to us, returning to England to take up another post. Colonel Darling was promoted to Brigadier, and took command of the Brigade. He also became General Sir Kenneth Darling at a later date.
Shortly after this time we left Java for Malaya. We were stationed in a small village called Gemas, in a large bungalow, about 150 miles from Singapore. Life here was perfect, every morning, I and a Jeep driver (usually ‘Jock’ Campbell) went to a small town called Tampin, 30 to 40 miles north of Gemas. I took all the mail to post, picking up the incoming letters for the lads, and bought what NAAFI rations we needed. Once a week we went south over the Jahore Causeway to pick up our beer ration! We always stopped the night in Singapore, enjoying the night life.
During this period a lot of the lads left for England for De-Mob. Jim Christie was in this group. Jim had been a good friend of mine. Also about this time Jim Purser went home on compassionate grounds - his Father was on his death bed (Jim was the man who began our reunions. I wouldn't have met so many old mates if Jim hadn't run them).
In July 1946 we returned to Singapore in readiness to sail to Palestine, once again I was on the advance party. We sailed on the S.S. Mauritania, apart from 5th Parachute Brigades advance party, which was only 20 or so chaps, all the other thousands were ‘Blighty bound’. Imagine how we felt as we boarded a landing craft at Port Trufix. (Port Trufix is the opposite end of the Suez Canal from Port Said).
As soon as we reached our allocated quarters in Palestine, Major Rice - who was Officer Commanding 211 Battery of the 53rd. Airlanding Light Regt. RA claimed me for his Signaller, so I found myself back in the old Regiment. Most of our time in Palestine, was spent either on road block duty, guard duty, or fire patrol. We had one big exercise, most of that I spent bouncing about in the back of Major Rice's jeep trying to keep my radio on net while driving down Wadi's (dried up river beds), but most of the time life was one long drag. I was pleased to meet ‘Blondie’ Webster, he was back in the Regiment having been released from a Prison of War camp.
As I remarked earlier, gliders were now obsolete and everything was to be dropped by parachute. I was sent on a "Crating" course, which entailed loading equipment into aircraft, and into bomb bays. For example, 4 large parachutes to drop a Jeep, although a lot of the Jeeps had a split cylinder head when we came to start them! It was an enjoyable 2 weeks, we had plenty of spare time, I found a couple of nice lads to knock around with.
When I re-joined the Regiment I was told that my Class B release had come through (Class B release was for Food Producers and other essential jobs). This would have been about mid October 1946. I called on my old mates in 212 Battery and 2 Forward Observer Unit. Lance Bombardier King D. was on his way home!
I travelled back to England by what was known as the "Medlock" route. I sailed from Alexandria on the Durham Castle to Toulouse, then boarded a train to Calais, everything was so well organised, the train would stop at some remote siding, out we would get straight onto benches, where food would be served in an instant and we would be back on the train and away in less than an hour.
At Calais we sailed to Dover, a night in Dover Castle, then train to Woolwich Arsenal. A trip to Guildford to pick up a demob suit. Goodbye and farewell and I was on my way to Dingestow! The date was 5th November 1946. My career was only short, but I had plenty of excitement, good companionship, and lots of good mates and memories.
A short summary of the men I have mentioned in my story -
Captain Harrington died in the 80's. Never heard of Frank McGinley, Ken Lamzed sadly died in 1996. Haven't seen ‘Blondie’ Webster since Palestine. Brigadier Hill is still going strong. Lt. Ayrton I saw at one of our reunions, General Poett died 1996. General Darling died 1999. Jim Purser sadly died Dec. 1998, Colonel Rice I met at Jim's Funeral. Jim Christie died mid 80's.
By David King
Rosamund GoddenRead More