1st Airborne Division Workshops REME was established shortly after the formation of the Royal and Electrical Mechanical Engineering Corps in the Second World War.
All REME airborne troops were committed to travel by glider into battle, but specialists, who could be required to parachute into action, were selected from trained volunteers within the unit.
Major Jack Carrick was Officer Commanding the workshops from 26 February 1943 until its disbandment in late 1945. His second in command for most of this time was Captain George Deadman, who left shortly before the unit’s disbandment to take up his own command. Captain Hal Snow is believed to have been the only other officer to have joined the unit in its infancy (May 1943) and remained until its disbandment. He is present in the group photograph taken in October 1945.
The three brigades of the 1st Airborne Division were self-contained units with divisional troops providing full back-up resources including REME workshops. In early 1943, these workshops were located near Mascara in Algeria.
Later in 1943, the workshops moved to M’saken, near Sousse, in Tunisia, where the founder members of the Airborne REME did their parachute and glider training.
While in North Africa the workshops also supported the Long Range Desert Group, the SAS and ‘Popsky’s’ Private Army, adapting and disguising their vehicles, many of which had been acquired by unorthodox methods! In Captain Harry Roberts’ view this close association between the division and these Special Forces induced a unique esprit de corps in 1st Airborne.
After the North African campaign, 1st Airborne Division led the invasion of Sicily although REME support was confined to the provision of specialist armourers. The main workshop party went across to the subsequent invasion of Italy by sea, where it remained until the division was recalled to the UK in December 1943 to prepare for the invasion of Europe.
On return to the UK the workshop was located at Sleaford in Lincolnshire. A frustrating period ensued during the Summer of 1944, following the Normandy landings, with a series of cancelled operations.
An Advance Workshop Detachment (AWD) was deployed for the 1st Airborne Division’s assault to capture the Rhine crossings at Arnhem, as part of Operation Market Garden. Four Horsa gliders were allocated, two carrying a jeep and trailer each and the others carrying troops with Matchless motorcycles, hand trailers and folding bikes. The AWD was not the only REME representation: 75 REME men fought at Arnhem including 35 with the AWD, 27 on permanent attachment to the fighting units and a further 13 men from the Divisional Workshops.
Following Arnhem, the workshops deployed to Norway, sited close to Oslo in a former Luftwaffe Barracks.
In October 1945, the decision to disband 1st Airborne Division, including the workshops, was communicated. On receiving this news, Major Jack Carrick arranged for a group photograph to be taken shortly before the unit disbanded, although it should be noted that most of the younger members of the workshops had been replaced by men from the 6th Airborne Division and it is therefore not a true representation of the unit in its 1944 heyday.
Source: Capture At Arnhem by Captain Harry Roberts ( a former officer of 1st Airborne Division Workshops). Published by Windrush Press 1999.
Major Jack Carrick 1943-1945Read More
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