Trooper Gerard J Fergus.

{ Gerry }

12 Dec 1923 - 18 Jun 2011

Gerard ‘Gerry’ Fergus was born on the 12 December 1923 and came from Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was a Steel Dresser by civilian trade. He enlisted on the 17 September 1942 and after the completion of his training volunteered for Airborne Forces and was posted to the 1st Air Landing Recce Company. He was assigned to 7 Section, ‘C’ Troop and went with them to North Africa in May 1943.

He took part in ‘Operation Market-Garden’, September 1943, the landings at the Italian port of Taranto.

Upon return to the UK in December 1943 the Squadron was billeted in Lincolnshire. ‘C’ Troop was eventually settled in the village of Helpringham, where he was moved from 7 Section to 9 Section.

He did parachute course 112, at RAF Ringway on the 16 – 29 April 1944. His instructors comments: “Very proficient. Quiet and steady. No hesitation”.

He was in 9 Section, at Arnhem and part of Lieutenant CB ‘Sam’ Bowles jeep crew, where he survived two ambushes, the first on Sunday, 17 September and the second on Tuesday, 19 September 1944. He was at large for several days before he became a prisoner.

Although he wasn’t wounded he was injured when thrown from the Jeep (during the second ambush), and was suffering with trench foot by the time he was taken prisoner, and was virtually unable to walk. He was first taken to the St Elizabeth’s Hospital, and then to Apeldoorn, arriving there on the 29 September, and remained there until the 13 October. He was then transported to Germany, where he ended up in a series of POW and Working Camps (one of them a salt mine), between the 17 October 1944 and the 4 April 1945.

This is his personal account: “I joined the Squadron in January [1942] along with Troopers Mann [14282186. Tpr F Mann.], Keith [14282253. Tpr N Keith], Hutton and others. We had just finished our first three months training at Lockerbie. The Squadron was at Bulford on Salisbury Plain. After two months of intensive training and glider flying we sailed for North Africa. When the Sicily operation took place the nearest we got to action was towing the gliders into position for the take-off.

At this time Lieutenant Payne was the section officer and I was the 2nd driver and Bren gunner. Troopers Keith and Hutton were also in the section. We were having grenade throwing practice one day and Trooper Hutton threw a phosphorous one and it didn’t explode. He went out to check it and it exploded burning him badly on the chest and face. I didn’t see him again until we came back to England.

I think we were very lucky when the Italian invasion took place. We sailed on HMS Penelope and half way to Taranto we met the Italian Navy. They were sailing to Malta to surrender. Some way from Taranto we transferred to landing craft and landed in the dark. We settled down until day-break then headed out. The main German Army had retreated, but some units were putting up resistance between towns. When we reached Bari the Germans had gone and the whole population were in the streets cheering and trying to touch us, and they had been our enemy. Eventually we reached Foggia and that was as far as we went.

I don’t remember the crew of the jeep at this time. I do remember going on a patrol in the jeeps. Frank Southwell drove, Reg Garwood and Sergeant Christie were also on the jeep.

We returned to Bari and one day our Red Berets and all other signs of Airborne were taken from us and we were issued with ordinary army gear. Then we returned to Taranto and boarded a small corvette type boat and sailed back to North Africa.

When we returned to England we were billeted in Spalding and our Airborne gear was re-issued. Then we moved to Ruskington and Helpringham. Lieutenant Payne transferred out of the Squadron and Lieutenant ‘Sam’ Bowles replaced him. The rest of the section was now as you have it.

We moved into a large Manor [house] at Ruskington [Bloxham Hall], I think it was in August, and were briefed for a number of operations, but all were cancelled until Arnhem.

[Sunday, 17 September 1944]

The jump went as planned for ‘C’ Troop. We found Lt. Bowles and the jeep quickly. I don’t remember things to clearly until that first ambush, I recall [that] scene clearly.

We could see the jeeps ahead of us, there were two woods and the jeeps ahead were approaching the second as we were approaching the first. We saw them come under heavy fire, so we left our jeep and entered the wood. We started to advance toward the second wood (through the fields), when we came under fire from the wood and from snipers away to our left. Troopers Chandler and Miles were hit. We started to withdraw back into the wood. The tracer bullets from the snipers were whizzing past us. ‘Jock’ Edmond was hit as he rose to head back. I spoke to ‘Jock’ before he was taken away. He was smiling and said he had a 'Blighty' wound. We tried again to reach the second wood. This time we advanced along the side of the track, we had a bit of cover there. Before we reached the wood we found ‘Dick’ Minns badly wounded. As the stretcher bearers took him away he gave me his revolver (I think he had taken it from a German in Italy). I did not know Sergeant ‘Bill’ Stacey had been killed until Lieutenant Bowles detailed Alan Baker and myself to bury him. We buried ‘Bill’ by the side of the track at the first wood.

My memory of events after [that] are not to clear. We went back to Oosterbeek [Wolfheze] and I remember seeing a long line of para’s bodies laid out with their berets covering their faces.

[Monday, 18 September 1944]

Then we went to an area where a supply drop was taking place. I think the Germans got more of them than we did.

[Tuesday, 19 September 1944]

The next thing I clearly remember is the second ambush. We had been moving through the woods and had taken some prisoners, I think they could have been snipers, because I think that was the area they were firing from. It was then discovered we were surrounded. We drove onto the main road and made a run for it. We had not gone far when we ran into the Germans. They were in the woods on each side of the road, Lieutenant Bowles was driving, ‘Freddie’ Brawn was on the twin [Vickers ‘K’] guns on the front of the jeep. I was in the back with the Bren and Alan Baker was with me.

The jeep behind us started to overtake, I turned to look at Lieutenant Bowles and that was the last I remember. Frank Southwell was driving the jeep which was overtaking us.

[Wednesday, 20 September 1944]

I came to in the ditch 14 or 15 hours later. I was lying on my face and was very wet. I could hear the Germans singing. Someone turned me over and said “Pistoli” and took the revolver from my belt and went away. He must have thought I was dead. Alan [Baker] had a very distinctive voice and I could hear him saying “Don’t, don’t”. Then I could hear shots. I thought about what happened in the first ambush where the bodies were found lined up. When I tried to stand up I couldn’t manage it, so I dragged myself across the road away from the singing (this was all happening in the dark), I dragged myself deep into the wood.

[Thursday, 21 September 1944 onwards]

I lay there for a number of days, then a group of Dutch people found me. They said if I could have walked they could have got me away, but I needed hospital treatment. They carried me to the road, stopped a truck and handed me over to two Germans, who stripped the wet clothes off me. Someone said I was going to the Queen Wilhemina Hospital, Lieutenant Marshall was there. It may have been St Maragaret’s, I don’t know. [My note: The hospital was the St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Arnhem]

After some days I was taken to Appeldoorn on a hospital train. Lieutenant Marshall was the only member of the Squadron I met in all my time in Germany.

[December 1944]

Just before Christmas I was moved to a Convalescent Hospital. My feet had been very badly swollen and the nails had gone black and come off.

[January 1945]

In January I was moved to a salt mine at Stalag 9C.

[March – April 1945]

When the Rhine was finally crossed and the Armies started advancing we were taken out of the camp and marched in the opposite direction. The displaced people from the Concentration Camps were also being marched in the same direction. There were hundreds of them and when they fell out with exhaustion they were shot. Their bodies were piled up at the side of the road.

I had made a friend in Stalag 9C, he was ‘Tommy’ Barker from one of the Para Battalions, I think he came from Bolton. My feet were getting into a terrible state with all the walking. We stopped at a barn one night and we decided we would go no further, so we buried ourselves in the hay. When morning came we listened to the guards shouting and counting our mates. Eventually they moved off. The farmer must have known we were in his barn, because we raided his hen house and took the eggs. We pierced them and sucked them dry. He never came near the barn.

[April – May 1945]

One morning the doors were opened and two Yanks came in. They took us back to the nearest town, where their mates had a large fire going and were cooking chickens and drinking beer. They fed us and then got us a top floor flat in the main street. All the transport was going forward, so we had to settle down and wait.

One day I was looking out of the window when I heard Tommy screaming for me to get down quickly. He was standing at a small truck. I dashed down, but the driver drove off. I have never seen or heard from Tommy again. (Maybe you could find something in the battalion records about him). [My note: Unfortunately with so little to go on there was no trace of a ‘Tommy’ Barker in Stalag 9C.]


Maybe I was wrong thinking the Germans were shooting prisoners at the two ambushes at Arnhem. Other lads were wounded and captured and survived okay.

P.S: The photo was taken in Bari, Italy in October 1943.

It had Italy 1943 on the bottom right hand corner, but this has faded. No need to return it.

In the centre is Jimmy Pearce. On his right is Frank Mann. On his left is Gerry Fergus.

Jimmy and Frank have both died in recent years”. [1]

‘Gerry’ Fergus transferred to the Royal Engineers on the 1st August 1945.

John Gerrard Fergus died on the 18 June 2011.

LAST POST. 1st Airborne Recce squadron Newsletter, No 71, January 2012.

JOHN GERRARD FERGUS (Known as ‘GERRY’) Date of Death, 18 JULY 2011.

Gerry joined the army in September 1942 and joined the Squadron early in 1943. He travelled with the Squadron to NORTH AFRICA, ITALY and in 1944 to the battle of ARNHEM where he served in C Troop and where he was knocked unconscious in an ambush and two others in his jeep were killed. After two days semi conscious, wounded and wet he was discovered by Dutch folk who realized how poorly he was and did the only sensible thing and handed him over to the German Medics. They too realized how poorly he was and kindly stripped him of his sodden clothing, covered him with a dry greatcoat and took him to a German medical centre, where he was cared for. On his release from being a POW he returned to the UK and after being declared fit enough he was demobbed in April 1946.

He started work for British Steel and by the time he retired was a foundry foreman. His main hobbies were walking and gardening.

He leaves a son and three daughters, together with five grandchildren. We have lost another brave comrade and friend. His profile photo was taken in Bari, Italy 1943.


[1] Letter to Bob Hilton from ‘Gerry’ Fergus 29 November 1999.

Created with research conducted by R Hilton

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OS Tpr G.Fergus in Bari. Italy 1943

Group photos_1

  • Tpr's F Mann, J Pearce & G Fergus in Bari, Italy 1943

    Tpr's F Mann, J Pearce & G Fergus in Bari, Italy 1943

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