Testimony: Sgt Frederick Glover. A Company, 9th Parachute Battalion, 6th Airborne Division.
It is mid-May and the unit is informed that they will be involved in what, at that time, was known as the second front but in what role and where, we do not know.
A Company are assembled in the dining hall and volunteers are called for to take part in a special operation. Every man steps forward and it is decided that only those unmarried will be considered. This unit will be commanded by Captain Gordon-Brown and will operate as the GB Force. The task demands that we become familiar with routines associated with glider assaults and we learn that our objective is to be a gun battery and that the three gliders conveying the GB Force will be required to crash land inside the fortifications as the remainder of the battalion launch their attack
A site near the town of Newbury, which closely resembles the terrain where we shall be operating, is used to construct a dummy gun battery. Those of us in the GB Force undergo glider training and are introduced to the crews that will convey us to the target. Rehearsals for the attack are carried out by day and night and we must commit details regarding minefields, defensive positions etc, to memory.
Once in the confines of the transit camp we are fully briefed and at last we know that we will assault and silence the guns of a battery situated near the village of Merville. We are informed that the guns must be silenced by H Hour minus 30 minutes; that is to say 30 minutes before the first of the sea borne troops hit Sword Beach. The briefing closes with the statement to the effect that failure is not an option and with these words imprinted in our minds, we wait for the command to go.
As our encounter with the enemy is expected to be at close quarters, we are armed with automatic weapons, grenades and the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife which is secured in the approved manner at arm’s length on the trouser; will it really come to that?!
Unlike the remainder of the battalion, we shall take off from the RAF airfield named Brize Norton at 02.30 hours on D Day which is intended to be June 5th but due to weather conditions, is postponed 24 hours. These hours seem like a lifetime; we check and re-check weapons, play cards using the French liberation currency issued to us and consume endless mugs of tea.
The time is approaching midnight and we gather our equipment together; there is very little conversation as we climb aboard the trucks that will transport us to the airfield. Myself, I am mentally trying to come to terms with the reality of the situation; it seems that all that has gone before has been some sort of game and I have been playing soldiers.
Arriving at Brize Norton there, standing on the runway are the three Albemarle tugs together with the Horsa gliders in which we shall shortly go to war. We squat on the grass and are given a hot drink; those comrades usually so jocular are strangely silent.
Emplane! The time is at hand and as I take my place in line, I have the strangest feeling; It is as though I am not only moving in line ready to enter the glider, but at the same time not really a participant but viewing what was happening as an observer at a distance. We clamber aboard and make our way to our allotted seats which run the length of the fuselage and arranged so that we sit facing each other; the interior is poorly lit but we can see RAF personnel waiting to cheer us on our way.
The engines begin to tick over and then burst into life as the aircraft starts to move; there is a sudden jerk as the slack of the towrope is taken up and the Horsa becomes airborne, It is now that the point of no return is reached and the full realization of we are about to undertake strikes home.
The flight across the Channel is uneventful; some attempt is made to sing, but is half-hearted and it soon fades away. My own thoughts are centred on how I shall perform during the action and in particular not wanting to let my comrades nor the regiment down. I am sure this feeling is common among servicemen in these circumstances.
We cross the coast of France and run into some flak but it is not heavy and no problem to us. For me there is a moment of panic; my mind has gone blank and the details regarding the objective are not clear to me. But it is only for a few seconds and my head is clear. It is just as well because at that moment there is the sudden loss of speed as the glider pilot jettisons the towrope and a silence broken only by the eerie swishing sound that is made by a glider in free flight, no turning back now; we are going in!
Because the parachute drop had been chaotic and most of the equipment lost, there were not the expected flares to light up the battery; nevertheless, we now had no option but to try to fulfil our task.
The Horsa glides down towards the gun casements and at that moment ack ack fire from the 20mm gun hits the fuselage and several of us are hit. I receive wounds to both legs but as yet I feel no pain. Unsure of the situation on the ground, the pilot, rapidly losing height, just clears the minefield and we crash down on the edge of a small orchard and beside a track that leads up to the battery. The glider begins to smoulder as we tumble out of the wreckage and we are immediately engaged in a fire fight with enemy troops moving from the village of Gonneville to reinforce the defenders of the battery. We have played an unexpected role in the action. With the withdrawal of these German troops we are able to make our way the short distance to the battery; I need assistance as I feel that there is blood inside my boots and the pain is beginning to bother me.
It is all over at the gun site but at a very high cost there being only about 60 of our men still on their feet and it would seem that our intervention was a welcome stroke of fate. My wounds are dressed and I attempt to follow my comrades who have to get to a second objective; after a short distance I can go no further and I am left two wounded Germans one of whom I later administer morphine as he is in a great deal of pain. Now I hopefully await the arrival of British troops.
The day wears on and at some time in the afternoon a figure approaches unarmed and carrying two large haversacks embossed with the insignia of the Red Cross. He is a non-combatant who parachuted in with the division; they refuse to bear arms but tend the wounded whoever they may be. He dresses our wounds and at that moment there are loud voices heard and coming towards us from across the adjacent field is an enemy patrol. I smash the firing pin on my Sten gun and scatter the parts as far as I am able.
They stand looking at me and pointing; too late I realise that I have overlooked the fact that the fighting knife is still with me as is the plastic explosive in which I have pushed 9mm ammunition for added effect. The situation does not look good for me but then the younger of the two wounded Germans says something and points to his comrade to whom I had given morphine. There is a sudden change of mood towards me and as I am lifted onto a stretcher, even a shaking of hands. It may well be that those words from the young German saved my life as I had noted that some of the patrol wore the insignia of the SS.
The first stop is a field dressing station; it is a short stay as it comes within the range of naval gunfire and is evacuated. Then on to a field hospital near Pont-l'Évêque and it is here that I am operated upon to remove metal fragments from my legs. After about two weeks there is another move and this time it is to what I believe had always been known as The American Hospital which was situated in Evreux. I heard it said that there was a possibility of some wounded being sent to a hospital in Paris; it was obvious that if there was to be any chance of escape it would be necessary to hope to be selected for the move and I resolved to do all that I could to make this come about.
On what had become known as 'selection day' I was placed in an ambulance with three other stretcher cases; the vehicle moved off but the destination was unknown. We enter a built up area and continue on and there, suddenly I see the Eiffel Tower; having crossed the Seine and passed under the tower we continue on and then turn into the entrance of the Hopital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière. There were many helpful French hands to carry us into the building and I recall the thumbs up' sign being discretely given by the young man who was ushering us into our allotted ward; all this gives me hope that there may be a chance of avoiding finishing the war in a PoW camp. My first priority will be to convince the medical staff that I am unable to walk any distance and in this I will be aided by the apparent laxity of the German authorities and the assistance of the French nursing staff.
I feel confident that my legs are sufficiently healed for me to make a move to get out of the hospital and as some of the German nursing staff have been moved on my moving between wards aided by a stick did not arouse any suspicion. It was at this time that, in the circumstances something startling occurred. I entered a ward which appeared to have been emptied of occupants and as the cubicles were separate I judged they had been used by officers. As I was about to leave I glanced inside one of the doors and there in a corner was a large type of kit bag; as though guided by some strong instinct I thrust my hand just inside and was staggered to find myself clutching a blood red leather case which held a small (not 9mm) automatic pistol. Without a second thought I thrust it inside my Denison smock and beat a hasty retreat. By this time I have made friends with two young French hospital staff named Marc and Pascal. I voice my intentions to them regarding getting away from the hospital .and I am persuaded to wait as they may be able to assist. Some days pass and they tell me. of the plan that will be put into action at a suitable time as it will demand a dark night with little or no moon. They tell me also that the Allies are approaching the capital, the Germans themselves are in a nervous state; the bad news is that they have started to move some of us out.
The plan is as follows; at a date and time yet to be fixed, the Resistance will stage an incident outside the main gate and it is when I hear the commotion that I have to move. I need to get down to the laundry room which is on the ground floor I am told the door leading out onto a rough narrow track will not be locked, A low wall is on the other side of the track; I need to get over this wall and then jump down into what are the grounds of an old peoples home. From the ward window I can see the track and the wall and this is an advantage as I shall be moving over familiar ground. There was a great deal of activity among the German personnel; some packing and preparing to leave', some of the ward guards already relieved of their duties. Despite this, prisoners were still being evacuated and I realised that any delay could end any thought of escape.
I expressed my fears to Marc and he tells me to be ready and asks how I intend to get down to the ground floor and I explain that it is my intention during the day in question to hang on to a used bedpan suitably covered and will, apparently with some difficulty, make my way down the stairs and if stopped, will indicate that I am going to the incinerator. Once close to the laundry room I will carry on and hopefully step out of the unlocked door into freedom. Marc, despite my protests insists that he will play a part providing me with a white coat and will walk ahead of me carrying a bundle of linen. I agree but on the understanding that should things go wrong then if needs be, I swear that he knows nothing about my escape attempt; he informs me that the door will after all be locked but the windows are not barred and open from the inside. Much hinges on the concerns of the Germans in their fear of being captured and this appears to be the uppermost thought in their minds and is to my advantage.
At the allotted hour in the late evening, I emerge from the toilet at the end of the ward wearing the white coat and carrying the bedpan; Marc is waiting a short distance down the stairway and as we descend I maintain this distance between us. We pass a couple of orderlies who simply brush past us without a word and now we are on the ground floor. I had been informed that the door had been locked but there were two windows that could be easily opened from the inside and once in the laundry room I bid farewell to Marc who helped me through the window. Once outside I wasted no time darting across to the wall that I must jump down. I had been assured that members of the resistance would be waiting to receive me and lead me to safety. Unfortunately the drop was more than I expected and I hit the ground with a force that opened a wound, this meant that I had to be half carried; if I remember correctly the group consisted of myself and three others. Where we went I cannot be sure but it was a workshop of some kind as there were items of machinery dotted around.
The following day I was moved to an apartment which was in a house situated in a mews; bordered on three sides by tall buildings and with a courtyard. Later that same day I was visited by a French doctor who expressed the opinion that really I needed dressings replacing on the wound and perhaps I should return to the hospital as he did not have the necessary facilities but warned me that walking wounded were still being evacuated although in small numbers. As politely as possible I declined to consider this as an option; with this the doctor agreed to do what he could for me and I was grateful.
After a couple of days it is common knowledge that the hospital is now clear of Germans and I decide to go back and take a look around. Walking through the grounds I came upon two elderly German orderlies sitting on a seat and with some difficulty realised that they simply wanted out of the war and were content to be made PoWs. I promised to make a contact for them and continued on my way. It was at this time that I came upon the store which held the uniforms of wounded German officers; it was an Aladdin’s cave, there being various runes and insignia together with badges and decorations. I left the store with my pockets bulging although at the time I had no idea what I would do with them.
Rumours are rife that the Allies are moving swiftly towards the capital and there is excitement in the air; I am determined to be on the street to witness this once in a lifetime opportunity of being present during the liberation of Paris. With this in mind I exercise my leg as much as possible; The Germans are starting to leave the city and I hear that a few of my comrades have also managed to escape evacuation. It is now safe to walk the streets and it is on one of these occasions that I meet up with Terry Jepp, a comrade and we are together to witness the arrival of the Free French Armoured Division.
There are scenes of joy and jubilation that I shall never forget and an incident that is worth the telling. As Terry and I are standing in the throng of cheering citizens, shots are fired at the French troops from a window on the third floor of a building just behind us and everyone crouches down. Both Terry and I are wearing our red berets and so are easily identified. Having acquired a pistol I was the only armed person there and felt I must do something. Terry insists on following me into the building and we climb the stairs with some difficulty. As we enter the corridor, an elderly lady rushes towards us and points to a room. The door is ajar, I push it fully open and we take a pace forward. There is a curtain hanging across the far corner of the room and just as I squeeze the trigger on the pistol, a heavy calibre gun opens up from below and the window and frame disintegrate and the ceiling falls into the room. Sufficient to say we did not hang around and made our way down and into the street. It was fortunate that we had not arrived a minute earlier.
Terry and I decide to go our separate ways and Marc finds an American liaison officer who provides transport to an evacuation hospital on an airstrip near the coast. My stay is for only a few days and then I am taken by ambulance to a nearby airstrip and then flown to England thence to an American military hospital near the town called Blandford.
I receive first class treatment during my stay but I am then transferred to the British hospital in Shaftesbury; things here are rather more formal and I am glad when I finally go for a period of convalescence. It is late October when I arrive back at Bulford camp to re-join my battalion and come to terms with the loss of so many good comrades.
I never forget the debt of gratitude I owe to Marc and all those who aided me and endangered themselves on my behalf and without whose help this testimony would never have been written.
by Fred GloverRead More