The Paratrooper and his Dog by Laurie Goldstraw

What happened in the early hours of D-Day was this. The men of the 9th Para Bn were carried into action in Dakota (C 47) aircraft. These were fine aeroplanes but due to the solid nose, visibility forwards and downwards was restricted, making identification of the designated dropping zones very difficult for the aircrew. In addition, at the time of the drop there was a wind blowing at about 28-32 mph from the west north- west; far stronger than was desirable for an accurate drop. This wind blew both the aircraft and the falling parachutists well to the east of the target area. To make matters worse, the Germans had opened the sluice gates on the river Dives, flooding much of the area into which the parachutists were due to drop.

As a result many men fell far from the planned landing site, and sadly a lot of these landed in the flood waters. So bad were the conditions that the 9th Bn, which had been given the hazardous job of storming the Merville battery, lost 192 men, mostly drowned in the flood waters. In addition, many more men, although on dry land, were scattered over a wide area; and out of an original total of over 700 the Battalion was left with only about 150 men to attack the battery which, if left intact could seriously hamper the left flank of the seaborne invasion, which was due to begin in a few hours time.

In spite of their small numbers and the loss of most of their equipment the remnants of the 9th Para Bn were able to storm and silence the battery during the early hours before the seaborne landings. Half of the pitifully small force became casualties as a result, as did about 200 German defenders.

Emile Corteil and Glen had landed safe and dry, but several miles away from their rendezvous area. The Brigadier of 3 Para Bde, of which the 9th Para Bn was part, also landed nearby, but up to his chest in water (luckily he was a tall man). Brigadier Hill then collected as many of his men as he could and marched them towards where he knew his Brigade should be fighting, some seven or eight miles away. Eventually he had about forty men with him, including Private Corteil and Glen. Tragically, whilst on this march the party received the full weight of an Allied aerial bombardment, meant for the Germans defending the beaches. Such disasters as this are not uncommon during the early and confused phases of hazardous operations on so large a scale as was D-Day. Nearly all the Brigadier's party were killed including, alas, Emile and Glen. Brigadier Hill was wounded, but pushed on with two or three others who were still on their feet, to see what was happening to his Brigade.

Airborne soldiers, like other elite formations of the British army have a tradition of "looking after their own' - alive or dead - so, when the pace of the fighting had eased some days later, a party from the now extremely depleted 9th Battalion, led by a chaplain, went out to find and bury their dead. They discovered Emile and Glen in a bomb crater, still linked by the dog lead, and took them to Ranville where there were buried together in the grave I saw, forty four years later.

One of the several astonishing facts about these 'paradogs' is that they were trained to jump by themselves, before their handler, but on the word of the handler, and on his word alone. One RAF crewman tried to get a dog to jump but had to take refuge in the aircraft's gun turret to escape the aggrieved dog! However, the dogs were apparently, with very few exceptions, always eager to jump. Here are a few extracts from letters I received from 6th Airborne veterans in response to my queries:

"I served with A Coy, 9th Para Bn, and in 1943 when training hard for D-Day we were told that the Coy was to have a war dog. He was a beautiful Alsatian and everybody's pet; but as training began we were told to leave him to his handler, Emile. He slept by the side of Emile's bed and was with him most of the day. I can give some details of his parachute training, as I jumped from the same balloon with Glen a couple of times. He was fitted with a parachute which was normally used to drop folding bicycles, and was of course, much smaller than ours. His harness was made so that he was held with the rear lens lower than the front (so that the stronger rear legs would take the shock of landing). I well remember when we were in the cage under the balloon, on our way up to 800 feet, Emile had to restrain Glen from leaping out before we got there. When he was given the order to go he gave a yelp and jumped straight through the hole in the basket.

"Of course, his 'chute was opened by static line, and as I floated down I could see him below me. When he landed he had been trained to run around and lie on his parachute to prevent being dragged along by the wind. This he did, and waited till Emile released his harness."

Private Corteil and Glen, his dog, used to be together on pre D Day exercises; and all knew the dog, who was in superb condition and was, more or less 'one of us'. Glen had his own parachute and harness, and attached to the harness was a little red light. He jumped on own, and often seemed more eager to do so than us. Once on the Dropping Zone Glen would await his handler, who would release him. Then off they would go as pals and comrades, ready to carry out any task assigned to them. Often on exercises I would try to imitate the dog's handler, but to no avail. There was no ill-treatment; as I say, the dog was in superb condition and inseparable from Emile. Unfortunately there were killed together, but I am sure that if it had to be death, then no one would have wanted it to be different.”

So that is the story of the nineteen year-old paratrooper and his dog Glen. It is a story of faith and affection, and of a mutual trust between dog and man so strong that the dog would willingly jump out of an aeroplane hundreds of feet up at night, and having reached the ground would sit and wait in the strange darkness, confident that his handler - his master and friend – would come to join him and take him along. The story of the paradogs of the 6th AB Div in Normandy is a tiny part of the whole massive undertaking that was D- Day and after; but of all the many stories that came out of that marvellous enterprise none could be more touching than that of Glen and Bing and the other dogs who dropped with their human comrades on that morning of great adventure.

From Pegasus Journal,  December 1989 with correction.

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