Sergeant David Hartley

David Hartley was born in 1921 in Basra (then Mesopotamia, now Iraq), David’s father was the Officer Commanding the British Troops, his mother was French, from Le Pas de Calais. He was brought up by-lingual. In 1927 he returned to England and  was put into a Public boarding school at Barnard Castle; next to the Bowes Museum. It was while he was at Barny (that’s what pupils called the school) that his father took him flying in a Tiger Moth at the Leaming Bar Flying Club, it went on to become a very big RAF Fighter Station. This experience gave David inspiration to become a pilot.

In 1938 David joined the Army; as he was under age, his sponsor an ex-soldier would not hear of anything else, so it was the Royal Artillery. His boyhood dreams had to be shelved for the time being, so he went to Woolwich, having signed for 21 years!

Owing to his sporting and gymnastic abilities he was soon picked out by the SMI, PT Corps and sent to the PT School, Aldershot where he stayed for 18 months, leaving as a fully trained Sergeant instructor. He was posted to the 15th/19th Hussars, with whom he went to France with the BEF and returned to the UK via Dunkirk. While he was with the 15th/19th he was put on a charge. David had crashed a tank in the MT compound. After that the Commanding officer said that he was to be given proper instructions on tank driving!

In 1941 the APTS changed to a Corps, all the professional games players were offered jobs as PTI’s in all the services. Sergeants on Monday and Warrant officers on Friday! They took all the promotions. In the PT Corps in those days there was no Staff Sergeant rank, it was straight from Sergeant to Warrant Officer Class III, they all volunteered for Air Crew. David had already applied for a field commission. He passed all ACSB exams with flying colours. Then he was told the lists were now full, BUT, if I was an officer I could go for a spotter pilot, but as an NCO.I could try for the newly formed Glider Pilot Regiment, which he did.

David was posted to Fargo Camp,  about the end of 1943, the Commanding officer was Major JP Royle. He was delighted to have another APTC Instructor on staff. Sergeant ‘Garth’ Brown was glad to get away to his EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School). It was not until later on that David realised what a ‘pawn’ he had become, he was being kept at Fargo by this Major Royle just to suit his needs. David was still there taking the PT, route marches, etc long after the lads he was posted to Fargo with had gone on to their EFTS. So David demanded to see the Chief Glider Pilot. He really stirred it up. David never did find what happened to his application, but in a short time he was off to RAF Booker for my EFTS, and then onto RAF Brize Norton for his HGCC (Heavy Glider Conversion Course), which he easily passed.

David was posted to 2 Flight, ‘C’ Squadron as a second pilot and crewed up with Staff Sergeant Laurie L Minall, DFM. Laurie taught him how to fly  Hamilcar gliders.

David and Laurie took part in  the ‘D’ Day landings, carrying a Tetrarch light tank, they were re-enforcements for the Orne bridge, but  were never called into action, it was a tourist trip.


In between ‘D’ Day and Arnhem many airborne op’s were planned. David volunteered for ‘Operation Dingson’, to go and help the Maquis, simply because he could speak French, but was turned down. That was the 4 August. Then he got the warning about ‘Operation Market’.

Staff Sergeant Laurie Minall and David were again together, they were a little disappointed as they did not fly a Hamilcar, but took a Horsa to Holland instead.

So here is David’s account of Arnhem, David said,  “straight from the start, there is a big gap in the days I was there, how it happened I could not tell you, but it did.”


“We took off in the first wave, soon forming up with the armada. The chalk number of our Horsa was 373 carrying 1st Airborne Recce Squadron. There was some low cloud about, but thanks to our tug pilot from 298 Squadron, Squadron Leader Briggs, flying a Halifax Mk IV, we did not have to go into the low tow position (instrument flying). As we crossed the Dutch coast we got some flak, but we were not hit. We pulled off and landed according to briefing (page 109 of “History of The Glider Pilot Regiment” by Claude Smith, Horsa nearest to the wood, there is also a Hamilcar just off our starboard wing tip). The only ground trouble was the fact that the inmates from the asylum had escaped and were running over the L.Z. We unloaded, I cannot remember even hearing a shot fired, we formed up and marched in the direction of [Wolfheze]. As soon as we were in position, we dug-in. I had the Bren gun which I set up; checking its arc of fire. Harry Puckett and ‘Taffy’ Carter were our neighbours. It was all so peaceful, there was a Fresian cow very near with a huge udder, she had not been milked for quite a while, I very nearly went to help her, good job I did not as there was a nearby. Not long after we had established ourselves the Spandau’s and the 88’s started to welcome us.

I think I was at the bottom of our slit trench making a cuppa when the trench caved in; Larry and ‘Taffy’ pulled me out and I think that it was here that I got the shrapnel in my right shoulder, there was blood all over. Again I am not sure, but I think that a field dressing was applied. Who got me onto a jeep R.A.M.C. ambulance I can’t remember. I was taken to the hospital down by the bridge [St Elizabeth’s Hospital]. I have no idea which day it was, how we spent our nights or what we had to eat. The next thing I knew was the fact that I was on stretcher in a passage with a lot of other wounded. Who had treated my wound I don’t know, there were no labels tied on to me, can’t remember having any food.

I had no idea of how the battle was going. I decided that as I could walk and there was nobody about, I would take a walk and try to get back to my Squadron. This must have been afternoon, but which day, not a clue. I came to a row of terraced houses, with long gardens. I was fully aware that there was a lot of firing going on, so I walked up to the back door of one of these houses. I cannot remember how my entrance was received. I do remember being severely interrogated by two paratroopers, they asked me all sorts of questions, some I simply could not answer. I was getting very worried, I did not want to become a P.O.W., but neither did I want to be shot as a spy and it certainly was beginning to look that way. I can’t remember how it ended.

I helped to provide, with the ‘K’ rations I still had the only meal I remember having. We used the cauldron in the basement of this house. By the way there were two women; one was heavily pregnant. It was during the meal that these two para’s told me we were evacuating that very evening. We were to rip up our blankets and bind our boots so to keep the noise down, then make our way to H.Q. Good job they knew the way, I did not have a clue. I have no idea of the date, but it must have been about 24/25. Soon the crowd of silent marchers grew, we were following the white tapes, every now and again the whole sky would be lit up with parachute flares and the mortars carried on sending their deadly missiles into the black night.

As we approached the Neder Rhine we stood in queues waiting for our assault boats to arrive (these boats were manned by Canadian R.E. very brave men they were too). It was here that I met up with Peter Hill from ‘C’ Squadron, he also happened to come from the same hometown [as me], Darlington. Peter told me that he couldn’t swim and was very frightened of the water. I told him I would look after him, the first thing we did was take off our boots and next was to sit together right on the edge of the boat. We had no sooner started when we received a mortar bomb right in the middle of the assault boat, we were in the water before we knew it. Peter was a very good pupil, I soon got him into the long tow position and he was using his legs quite well and most important we were getting away from the boat crossing area. The current was very strong and our plan was to let it help us all it could. Peter was starting to lag, the other side, what we could see of it, did not seem to be any nearer and I could really feel my shoulder stiffening up. I was having a job to hold Peter and after a brief struggle I lost him. I cannot remember getting out of the water, changing my clothes or being taken to a field hospital where a Doctor took the rest of the shrapnel out of my shoulder.

Next I was in the back of a three tonner on our way to Brussels with a crowd of G.P’s. Here I rejoined Laurie Minall. I was the only one with a razor, it was cut-throat, but the strop was lost. I think I shaved about ten of my best friends before I had to give it up, there was more blood than hairs!!

Then I found myself with some other G.P’s and Major-General Urquart (page 114, plate 23 “History of The Glider Pilot Regiment” by Claude Smith). Where we landed I can’t remember, it might have been R.A.F. Northolt and no doubt there would be some more Mirror Photographers. This was the first news that my wife had that I was in one piece and on the way home.”

Shortly after Arnhem David took his conversion course at RAF Honington. He missed the ‘Operation Varsity’ (24 March 1945). He was posted to ‘D’ Squadron and went to Palestine on RMS  Strathnaver, where again David was given the rank of ships PTI. There were two Squadrons in Palestine, ‘A’ and ‘D’. ‘D’ was at Quastina, while ‘A’ was at Aquir. This RAF Station had a lovely swimming pool. David manged wangled a posting to ‘A’ Squadron, because there he could swim and play water polo!

In 1948 he left Palestine and the Glider Pilot Regiment was disbanded [scaled down], so he returned to the APTC and was made a WO II.

In 1949 David was posted to east Africa as WO II attached to 26th King’s African Rifles, served in all three countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyka and also Mauritius.

In 1961 he took up the post of Chief inspector with the Kenyan Police (finally gaining his commission). However, his job as C/I of Police was rather short, as Kenya declared its independence and Jomo Kenyata asked us European Officers to leave and return to UK.

In 1968 he took up a teaching job with a private prep school. PE to start with, but after three summer courses at Oxford joined the Burnham scale of salaries, extra subjects, French (in lower forms), Geography throughout the whole school and History.

Finally, in September 1982 David retired fully.


Created from an account written by David Hartley, supplied by R Hilton

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