Signalman Harry Jestin was a wireless operator in the Royal Signals, serving in the Second World War at Arnhem with 1st Airborne Divisional Signals, and later, Palestine with 1st Para Bde Signals.
He started his wartime service in Belfast with in 12th Anti-Aircraft Division (South-west Scotland, Clyde and Northern Ireland), before transferring to a mobile unit in England, the 16th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (TA). He subsequently worked with them on combined ops preparing for the Sicily invasion. It was during exercises in this period that he first became aware of Parachute troops and he subsequently applied - eventually posted to 1st Coy, 1st Airborne Divisional Signals following a successful Ringway Parachute Course (119/R184).
He dropped at Arnhem on 17th September as part of the first wave, leaving the UK from Barkston Heath airfield. He landed at the DZ near the Asylum and was detailed to spend the night 17-18th by the drop zone to help the soldiers due to arrive the following morning. After a number of days at Divisional HQ, he was detailed to take a radio across to the Polish Airborne troops to ensure direct communication back to Headquarters. The jeep he travelled in was ambushed, destroying both the vehicle and radio set, near Oosterbeek Church. Consequently, he became part of the guard established in this area the remainder of his time in Arnhem.
When the time came for the withdrawal, the confusion of battle ahead led to disorganisation and Harry, among many others with him, was captured as a POW. Harry describes the confusion of the withdrawal:
"On the night of the evacuation I was alone and not informed of what was happening so the next morning the area was full of tanks and troops and no where to go or conceal myself. The problem to me seemed to be that we were such a mixture - Parachute Regiment, Border Regiment, Royal Signals and who knows what other units. We never had time to become acquainted and this possibly is why [we received] no word of [a] withdrawal."
Signalmen Jestin was detained for seven months before finally escaping from captivity as Allied forces advanced on his prison camp in mid-1945, and was home in Dublin when the war in Europe ended. Harry describes his experience as a POW and eventual escape:
"The morning after the Division had withdrawn I was picked up and with others taken to S.S. HQ for interrogation, from there taken a rail siding at a place I believe called Zutphen. We were loaded into cattle cars, [with approximately] 70-80 at least in each car...no room to sit or lie down. We had been given a small amount of sausage and bread before the loading. The journey took a long time as the engine had to take on water, and if there was an air raid or bombing we stopped and the guards headed for safety. The [first] camp we arrived at was Stalag 12A where we were registered, given dog tags and a post card to write home. From there, a number of us were again transported in cattle cars to Stalag 4B.
Stalag 4B mainly housed aircrew and everything was fine until American prisoners from the "Bulge" started arriving in large numbers. I think that the Germans finally decided we were not part of the airforce as apparently their forces were, but should have been sent to army camps. After Christmas [we were] loaded up again and I finished up in a satellite camp of Stalag 4F, which was working on a surface coal mine. We produced small blocks, a dark brown colour, for home heating. In this camp I became friendly with another Signalman who had apparently been with Brigade Signals. His name was William McGee and hailed from the Manchester area, he could communicate with the French and also understood some German.
With the approach of American armour [in the early months of 1945] our camp was emptied of British and Canadian prisoners and started to march further back into German territory.
On our first night out Bill and myself evaded the guards and started to head in the opposite direction. The night was pitch black and I actualy bumped into a guard at a cross road - lucky we were not both shot. We were placed into another bunch of prisoners of some other nationality and later on we were herded into a large farm house to be kept there until the morning. While Bill guarded our Red Cross parcels I had a good look about and found a place where we could hide unless there was a thorough search of the building. After everyone had gone we were about to come out when another German unit moved in, but the next day moved out again.
[Eventually] we came out and discovered American tanks coming past. We stayed about a week with the unit, collecting arms binoculars and anything of a nature that would assist the enemy. One morning there was a truck going back towards France so we hitched a ride. That morning I saw some Dak[ota]s landing not too far from the road, stopped the truck and headed for the strip.The O/Ic [Officer-in-Command] would have nothing to do with us, so we walked back along the strip and assisted a crew to unload drums of gas for tanks. The pilot allowed us plus others, who had come along when we were helping, to board the aircraft. He flew us to Orly [near Paris, then on to a location] west of Le-Havre where there was an American reception camp. After another period of waiting the camp filled up. The R.A.F were supposed to come [to] bring us back to England, but this did not happen and the 'Yanks' flew us home.
The day after landing Bill and I were on our way home. I left him on the station in Crewe and continued to Holyhead. I made enquiries when I returned from leave and was given to understand that he had been killed by a bus when on his re-pat leave."
After a short return to service at No. 1 Crash Camp, in Morpeth, Northumberland, Harry was redeployed to Victoria Barracks, Portsmouth. Here he became part of the (former) Chester Castle Guard duty, taking care of prisoners returned from Europe for trial. He reapplied for Airborne service via Hardwick Hall, and joined 1st Para Brigade, Signals.
The unit was deployed to the Middle East and after a short spell in Egypt, he served from Camp 21, nr Nathanya in Palestine. He was engaged with a variety of service responsibilities during this time including service alongside the border police on beach patrols in anticipation of illegal emigrants, time as Brigade wireless operator and finally a spell doing to dispatch runs to Nablus, Tulkarm and Haifa.
After leaving the Army Harry eventually moved to Canada. He had a spell with the Royal Canadian Signals and is still active in the Canadian Airborne community and has personally acted as host for a number of serving and veteran Airborne personalities over the years. He joined the Canadian Parachute Battalion Association, the Canadian branch (Toronto) of the British Airborne Forces Association and helped established the Canadian Airborne Forces Association (CAFA), still attending meetings whenever possible.
Harry passed away on 20 December 2014.