Private Peter F Charlton

22 Mar 1922 - 17 Dec 1991

Peter Frazer Charlton enlisted in the Territorial Army on 21 April 1939, and served in the Royal Artillery (RA). He was embodied into the Regular Army on 2 September 1939 and served with 516 (Thames and Medway) Coast Regiment RA (TA),  which had been formed from the Thames and Medway Heavy Regiment RA, at Sheerness until late 1941 when he volunteered for airborne forces.

He qualified as a military parachutist on course 13 which ran at RAF Ringway in May 1942. Peter was posted to No 5 Platoon, A Company, 4th Parachute Battalion on completion of the course and spent the next nine months at Bulford Barracks becoming battle ready. The battalion was initially part of the 1st Parachute Brigade but was transferred to form the nucleus of the 2nd Parachute Brigade on its formation in July 1942.

The training was very intensive and came to an end the following April when the battalion was inspected by HM King George VI. He left Britain on 12 April 1943, and landed in North Africa on 22 April. After completion of several weeks gruelling training at Mascara, the battalion moved to Sousse in readiness for the invasion of Sicily. In the event the 2nd Para Brigade's operation in and around Augusta was cancelled, as 13 Corps were able to secure the objectives unaided.

Peter recounts his platoon's last day in North Africa before embarkation on HMS Sirius for Italy (Operation Slapstick): "Kit-bags and sleeping bags were left behind to be transported later, (never seen again, as the transport ship was sunk in Bari Harbour) and double ammunition was issued, so bets were on that 'something significant was up'".

He landed at Taranto on 9 September and the battalion was engaged in securing the town and advancing to Foggia. The 4th Battalion, as part of the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, fought as Infantry in the Italian campaign. Peter recalled a hard winter/spring on the Cassino front, brightened up by the delicious curries the Gurkhas made from the rations our troops gave them (mostly tinned fish).

After several weeks of hard training at Salerno, Peter jumped into France on 15 August 1944 as part of Operation Anvil (Dragoon), and left France 10 days later after a successful operation. He sailed back to Italy from France on the SS Florence Nightingale. On 12 October 1944, the 4th  Para Bn left Brindisi airfield in Italy and jumped onto Megara during Operation Manna. He recalled that it was a difficult landing, with a 40 mph ground wind blowing. "After dropping, then marching, then a short cut by fishing boats, then lorry, then finally marching again, 4th Battalion reached Athens two hours later after dropping 20 miles away."

They marched into Athens - “The reception from the civilians was great to say the least, though it did impede the leading platoons who had hoped to engage any enemy renegades”. He recalled that a vicious campaign with street fighting followed, and that trying to provide food for the inhabitants of Athens, who were starving, was a high priority.

He arrived back in Italy on 2 February 1945 and spent time in Rome before preparing to jump into the Po Valley. As part of the 4th Battalion's Intelligence Section, he helped construct the sand table and made the aircraft models (a lifelong hobby) to demonstrate the drop zone and objectives. This operation was overtaken by events, as Germany capitulated.

After returning to England for disembarkation leave on the SS Almanzora, the 4th Battalion departed for Palestine on the SS Cameronia on 12 October 1945, where as well as keeping peace, he played in the battalion's football team in the 6th Airborne Division Cup Final against the 1st Bn Royal Ulster Rifles in December 1945.

He returned to Britain via the Cedars of Lebanon Rest Camp, sailing from Alexandria on the SS Princess Kathleen.

Peter was demobbed on 17 August 1946. His Testimonial states that he was in the Intelligence Section and I can recall that he often talked about being a Pathfinder.

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Service History

Decorations

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    Italy Star
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    France & German Star
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    Africa Star
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    General Efficiency Medal, Palestine
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    Commemorative Medal, Greek Campaign
Peter F Charlton

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