Signalman Luis Di Marcos

05 May 2021

On the 19 February 1942, aged just 19 I was conscripted to join the Army.

I was sent for 3 months basic training to the Duke of Cornwall’s training centre on Bodmin Moor. All conscripts were given an intelligence test and after one month I was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals, Signal Training Centre in Catterick, North Yorkshire.

Although I excelled in my training I was surprised to learn that I was to be sent back to Bodmin Moor - it was explained to me that I could be deemed a security risk due to my parents being of Italian descent. Little did I know at the time but the training certificates I received at the Signals Training Centre stood me in good stead for the Army service ahead of me.

On my return to Bodmin Moor I was told the only placements remaining were with the infantry and I ended up joining the Duke of Wellington’s regiment in Llandrindod Wells, Mid Wales. I stayed there for several months, assigned as a company clerk to one of the Duke of Wellington's company commanders. Still hoping to find another placement I volunteered to attend a course to train as an Infantry Signaller. It was during this time the Army were asking for volunteers to join the Paras.

My application was accepted and I attended a 3 month period of intense training starting at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. On the 2 April 1943 I joined the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment as a signaller and joined the tail-end of the Torch landings in Algiers, North Africa under Lt. Col. Alistair Pearson. After about 3 months in North Africa it was around July time our next assignment was to drop at Sicily to capture the Primosole Bridge, Catania, but en route to Sicily, due to our (American) aircraft developing engine trouble we couldn’t continue and we ended up flying back to North Africa.

Not having dropped in Sicily we remained in North Africa for what seemed several weeks later sailing to Taranto Italy, moving on to Foggia and finally ending up in Barletta. From Italy the 1st Battalion sailed back to England where we returned to Grimsthorpe Castle Bourne, Lincolnshire.

Whilst station at Grimsthorpe Castle I helped set up a telephone line connection between Grimsthorpe Castle and Bourne. During the months that followed we were briefed for a drop in Rambouillet near Paris but that was cancelled.

It was in the September 1944 after ‘several cancellations’, Operation Market Garden was eventually given the go-ahead and on the 17 December I parachuted into Arnhem. My position Signalman to Lt. Col. Dobie. After 9 days in Arnhem, just before dawn, I was lucky to escape across the Rhine ferried by one of the last Canadian Motor boats to cross, in Operation Berlin. On returning from Arnhem, after a period of leave, we returned to Bourne, Lincolnshire.

I flew to Denmark for VE Day finishing my war service in Palestine. After the war, with remaining service many of us were redeployed to peace keeping duties in Palestine. However prior going to Palestine I was promoted to Sergeant and attended a 3 months Tutor Training Course at the Royal Corps of Signals to train up Signallers both in the UK and Palestine.

I left the UK for Palestine in March 1946 and as we hadn’t been assigned a Signal Officer I ended up being in charge of the Signal Platoon until my demob in February 1947.I have been asked how my time in Arnhem affected me on my return. The period of time directly after Arnhem has always been a bit of a blank. On my return my family told me that I suffered nightmares. I wasn’t aware of being anxious. Being young, aged just 21 at the time, it was something you accepted, you had been assigned to do a job. The fact we had failed and so many people had died and suffered and continued to suffer as a consequence was however very depressing.

The war was still on and I had to return to my Battalion billeted in Bourne, Lincolnshire to continue my war service. When eventually demobbed as far as I can remember the ravages of war hadn’t affected me too much but I can now put this down to still being young and having to accept what I and all those who served had experienced.

My main aim after the war was to find suitable employment and I was lucky as I ended up finding a job in quality control that I enjoyed, staying with the same company for over 30 years or more. Now much older and having read detailed information, watched documentaries and films associated with the battle of Arnhem I’ve felt more and realised more what we had to go through and many memories of my time at Arnhem ‘have’ come back to me.

 In more recent years, accompanied by my daughter, I managed to return to Arnhem to attend a few of the Operation Market Garden commemorations putting a few of my demons to rest but not all, yet! On these visits we have met and made friends with several Dutch people who have taken us under their wing. More recently we befriended some young Dutch teenage school children who later made the trip to visit us in England. On all of my return visits to Arnhem I have never ceased to feel humbled or overwhelmed by the unconditional welcome and generosity shown to me by the Dutch.

Written by Luis Di Marcos

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