WW II, a British focus



Memories of Mr Edwin Booth, Army no. 14404722


The battalion then moved to Holland where we took over from an American unit to give them a rest and re-organise for their next operation. It was at a place called Rommund where the Germans had flooded the river Mass by opening valves on the dam. We stayed there about a fortnight then got transport to Ostend then over to Tilbury Docks then lorries down to Bulford Camp this was about the beginning of March, 1945. The usual kit check then home on leave for ten days. When we got back and being brought up to strength with men and equipment we moved to airfields in the home counties and started to get briefed for the crossing of the Rhine river at a place called Wessel the part where the army was going to attack. This operation was called Varsity. It meant that we were going to drop right on top the Germans. The army was attacking across the Rhine and we were going to drop about a mile in. The air-landing brigade was to take bridges over the next river about five miles inland, the 8th battalion had the job of clearing the dropping zone and our task was to take the high ground and clear the way for the armies coming into meet us.

The drop was timed to go in at 10.00 am on the morning of March 24th 1945. There was two divisions going in at the same time. Us, the 6th British Airborne, and the American 19th Airborne Division all dropping at one time some 10,000 paratroopers and about 5,000 glider troops all in one go. As we crossed the Rhine the big guns of the British stopped firing and the last few minutes we were on our own and the Germans started to fire at us ack-ack then small arms as we were jumping out and following us down. Thatís where Lt. Kippen was killed he had been promoted to Major and lead A company of the 8th battalion who was the first to go down in the drop he died leading an attack on a farm house that was firing at us. It was at this time that I carried a Bren gun as my gunner was on the small size and I liked the heavier weapon it weight 23lbs so you got a good feeling when you had to use it. The person in front of me in the plane was a Sgt. Evans of our platoon I believe he was a regular soldier out of the East Yorkshire regt. before transferring to the Airborne. I was number 13 in the plane and he was number 12, he was a lighter man than me and I had a heavier weapon than he had. As we were standing up ready to jump I kept saying number 12A to be on the safe side. When we jumped I went through his chute and as I let the gun down on the rope we were entangled together. To save his chute from collapsing I wrapped my feet around his chute and did my best to keep mine open and away from him that's how we came down. About 300 hundred feet from the ground ran we into one of the lads that was carrying a 68 wireless set that is carried on the back when the unit is on the move. At this time I could not see where we were going as Sgt. Evans titch was his bye name his chute blocked my view as I am sitting in a piece of it. But titch shouts itís all right as we will get the trees so we landed he went down to the floor and I was halfway down hanging upside down in the second line of trees but the poor signal lad was over the top of the tree on the other side. Titch threw up his knife and I just cut the lines and dropped to the ground on opening the valise to get the gun out I found that the gun would not stand up properly as one leg of the tripod was bent. While I was trying to get it straight as possible titch helped the other lad down but I could not wait as it was my job to get into the assembly area with as much fire power as we could muster. At this time Parachutes were still coming down, some with men on, some with containers with extra supplies for us. Plus Gliders were landing and they come in at 90 miles per hour, loaded with jeeps and guns and in some there was small tanks about one and a half tons in weight. You donít have much time to look around as the gliders have not a lot of room to manoeuvre or dodge out of the way. Reaching the assembly point that was on the outskirts of a wood and taking defence positions and waiting to gather the rest of the unit as they came in.

Gathering sufficient strength we moved off to take our objective with C Company leading then A company and us bringing up the rear. The high ground at the other side of the wood; this ground gave the view over the area that the British army was coming in from even the town of Wessel. The army had been shelling the area that we landed on all morning our time to drop was 10.00am March 25th 1945. Just before we came in they stopped firing. The troops who were waiting to cross said it was a beautiful sight to see all the planes and parachutes going down. But during the time that the Germans had come out of their shelters and started to fire at us as we came down. But as soon as we landed they started to give themselves up. Sorry to say it was our turn to get our own back, some lads enjoyed it.

The other two companies having taken their objectives it was our turn and coming down the hill still in the wood we came across a road that ran through the middle of our objective and there was a tank trap down on the road built out of the wood and camouflaged. Our platoon crossed the road and moved to the right to allow our other platoon to come over when the shout went up "tanks", we moved very quickly into the wood for concealment. One of the boys in the other platoon took him out with a Gammon bomb not now stopping the other platoon came over and we carried on with our advance. It was now that the Krauts started to give up, there was that many you could have filled the Albert Hall. We had come in behind them and over ran their positions running out of the wood there was a farm house about 200 yards away and a little way from that were four big guns. They were facing the other way towards the river Rhine. We now awaited the army to link up with us which they did in the late afternoon.

The following night we set off to advance eastwards, our company leading. We travelled through the glider battalions and set off but stopping when we caught up with our scouts checking that the road was clear, then off again. We had now left the battalion and walking about six miles when a small village came in sight, the scouts reported that the Germans had sentries out so we took up positions to attack our platoon on the left and ten platoon on the right. There was a building on our front so we said number one section go left down the side of the building and our platoon down the right we then moved up to attack. Just as we started to get near the buildings the church clock started to chime six oíclock, it must have disturbed the Germans as they must have seen us. They started to run down the side of a building that was at the back of the one we were going down so I opened fire with the Bren from the hip some dodged into a door that was at the side of this building so giving a burst of fire I shouted for somebody to throw a grenade which was thrown. It hit the door and bounced back towards us making us to dive for cover. This was a cobbled road and on the other side was a big pond taking up the centre of the village, so into that we went. Soon as the bang went off, to get the initiative back my number threw a grenade into the building but it turned out to be a Phosphorus one and it set fire to the building. It turned out to be a Cattle Barn and there was beasts and a lot of straw inside. The Germans surrendered but we could not stop as we had other houses to clear as fire was coming from that area. After things died down and we started to dig in for protection. To our front we looked out over about 300 yds and then it was the top of trees as there was a large wood down in the valley so I asked our sniper L/Cpl. Etches to cover an area that was a blind spot for us where he left with the usual method of concealment. Our platoon that had come down on our right and had to go round the other side of the pond came across a German field hospital. After checking out that its occupants were genuine they left them to carry on with their work. We then waited for our battalion to catch up with us, they being late as they had run into the Germans who had been retreating, some how we had missed them. This left us in a tricky position as there was a lot of firing coming from our rear and down in the woods to our front.

Our sniper came back to report that there was a big retreat on about 500-600yds away heading away from us. Then we found out where all of the firing was coming from it was the Americans advancing through the wood. After the Americans had passed us our own Battalion came through so we went into reserve company and set off east where we sometimes had opposition and sometimes it was light or they retreated as we caught up with them. A lot of the time it was delaying tactics by sniper or bridges blown, it was not very often that the enemy caused us to delay our advance. We were still going east when we got word that the 11th armoured division had come across a camp of human skeletons and they were in need of warm clothing is it possible to get what we could spare, we was just 3 miles south of them. As we were in rest at the time our other units going through us we gathered up our blankets as we never had overcoats just a light blanket coloured green and set off to deliver them and the sight we saw turned your stomach and made your blood boil.

Then we set off again east but this time we got a lift on tanks of the Guards Armoured Division them to help us with the enemy machine guns and us helping with them against anti-tank guns. It worked perfectly as that day we cover 75 miles and got out of wireless control; the places we took and went through are to many to remember. Only a few places that I recall such as Craven; Minden. I remember the crossing of the Dormand-elms canal where we got to this town. The bridge was blown just in front of us, coming under fire from the other side the houses where we were was below the embankment as there was this bank then down to the river, the first three houses back was sheltered but you had to move very quick between the houses and it was from this position in the attic of the first house that we made a hole in the roof and this let us see what was what.

So when it came down dark we moved out and went down the road for about a half a mile and cross the river no bother. Then we worked inland for about another half mile before turning to come in the back of the enemy taking them completely by surprise. While this was going on the other units in the brigade had crossed and carried on going east we had only just finished when the engineers had a bridge over but we did not get the chance to use it as we set off to catch up with our battalion, then taking up the position of reserve but back walking. Now we started to come across displaced persons and ex-prisoners of war who liked the fags and chocolate or sweets that we were giving them anything to help them back.

We were still keeping the Americans on our right and the 2nd army on our left making North east heading for the river Elbe which was the stopping point for the British and Americans. As we closed to the river word came to cross and make as far as possible to cut off Denmark from Germany as our first Airborne was flying in to Denmark thus keeping the Russians out. We crossed during the night, we had a little opposition, in fact that was the last man to be killed from our unit. We had just started to advance after getting across. The engineers threw a pontoon bridge across and the transport caught up with us and we set off hell for leather for the Baltic coast. We travelled along heading north east, there was large columns of German soldiers heading west on the same road not wanting to be taken prisoner by the Russians all throwing down their arms. We only stopped now and again to check and remove any loot. Back on the trucks and away we went heading for the town of Wismar right on the coast. Just as we were leaving the town we met the Russians so stopped and started to celebrate joining up with our allies. For at this time for us the war was over.

We had control of the town of Wismar and took over the strategic positions for our Defence. One of the companies that had to guard the Bank Buildings that night after curfew found a man came creeping up and when challenged he drew a pistol and shot one of the sentries in the neck but the other sentry shot him between the eyes. He was left lying on the pavement for a few days and all the towns folk were made to parade round him to let them know what to expect if any thing like this happened again.

Then the word came through that the war was over. We now established two camps on the outskirts of the town one for east and one for west who was mostly ex-prisoners on their way home.

We now waited to see what was going to happen next. But a few days later we were relieved by the 5th division. We made our way back to Lunenburg Heath where we embarked on American Planes to fly back to England but as the weather over the channel and as the planes did not have radar we stopped off in Brussels airport and spent the night in barracks run by the Canadian army. We all got a sub of our pay and spent the night on the town. The following morning we left on British planes that had radar on board and flew into Netherhaven airfield just out side of our camp at Bulford in Wiltshire; there a big dinner awaited us and after a kit check and pay we left on fourteen days leave. We had missed the Victory Parades so we missed the free beer that was going around.

Returning to camp we started to get new kit, which was green jungle colour, we knew where we was going next. No holiday camp at this time; but at this time some of the lads who had demob numbers under 25 left us and we got brought up to strength by fellows from the 1st Airborne Division and new lads who had just joined the Parachute Regiment. We now got embarkation leave of fourteen days then we were off to Southampton to board a ship for the Far East. The 5th Brigade had all ready left for the East before us.