WW II, a British focus  


Cpl. Edwin Booth, Army no. 14404722

Memories of Cpl. Edwin Booth, Army no. 14404722


When I left school I started work with a building Firm in 1938; Just after that, the men were called up to the forces, all other workers were paid off due to shortage of work. So I left and went into an engineering firm working in the machine shop. Shortly, I was moved up to the airfield repairing Hurricane Fighters, building planes that had crashed or shot down, this was in 1940, Battle of Britain time. The pay was no good for the hours that were put in working from 7.30 am. to 9.00 pm., each night seven days a week.

I worked on the framework gang; and the paint shop boys used to wear masks and spray the planes while we got all the fumes and smell. I did not like this so I went to the doctors and got a ticket for my release. I had a friend who was working on a building site he drove a dumper truck and he got me onto the site with his pass and let me learn how to drive a dumper truck.

In the afternoon I went to the boss and got a job driving. It was an ordinance factory that was being built it was 25 miles around it and was divided into 4 sections. I got started on the second one working from 7.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. four days, on Friday it was 7.00 to 5.00 and Saturday 7.00 to 4.00. Sunday was 7.00am to 5,00 p.m., I hadn't had so much money in wages; before or since I worked there until we finished the contract.

I then went to Liverpool where an ordinance factory was built to finish off the firms contract about six weeks in all. Then I moved down to Norfolk and Suffolk working on building airfields which were later used by the Americans. It was 1942 and I was getting fed up so I went and joined the army in Norwich I started my Training in Nelson Barracks. Having completed my training we were posted to a young soldiers battalion the 70th Norfolk regiment where we moved up to Wansford camp. It was there that I did a N.C.O. course for a lance corporal rank.

We then moved down to Leaton Buzzard to do demonstration Platoon. We then moved back to the battalion It was at this time that I was interviewed asking if I would like to go on a officers training course, but I refused as I had put in for the Airborne Regiment and I had already been accepted. About a fortnight later I was transferred to the 9th battalion Parachute Regiment, who was the former 10th battalion Essex regiment as all parachute regiments were original units of the army.

We made up the 3rd parachute brigade that consisted of the 7th battalion and the 8th battalion. We started training and after a while we moved up to Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire for intensive training. After passing some tests, ten altogether we where moved up to Manchester airport, at that time known as Ringway. We now started to learn about parachuting and getting in and out of aircraft. To qualify as a parachutist you do ten jumps altogether the first two are from a balloon Then you start to build up by jumping pairs then five then a stick of ten then with equipment and in between you do a night drop from the balloon; last drop you do a scheme after the drop. Then it's back to your battalion my battalion which was stationed in Wiltshire on the Downs. It was at this time that I reverted to the rank as when all lance ranks revert on joining a new unit.

The Canadian airborne joined us so they moved the 7th battalion out of our brigade and moved them into the fifth brigade whom now consisted of the 7th-12th-and 13th battalions. We now had an air landing Brigade who came in gliders. They were made up from the Oxford and Bucks. The Royal Ulster Rifles and the Devon's. This made up the 6th airborne division. After we had leave of ten days I left a company and moved to Brigade Headquarters, we were know as the third Brigade under the command of Brigadier Hill. There were other lads from the 8th battalion and the Canadian battalion as well.

I got to bunk in the kitchen of the private house which was used by Headquarters with a Canadian his name was George Stanley Martin; it was at this time that we started to get American planes where we learned to go out of the door instead of a hole in the floor. This was more comfortable to sit on seats instead of sliding along on your back side and swinging your legs into a hole and pushing off for if this is not done properly you end up with your face hitting the other side of the hole. This cost you a round of drinks to the rest of the stick.

The first time we went for a jump from the American planes it was with the American Pilots and they worked a jumpmaster who did the control of the dispatch of the men. We were jumping with out equipment and the planes had the door off and any sharp bits were taped up to save anybody catching them self on them. As we were flying along looking out you see the tail of the plane and it looks in the middle of the door, you think you will hit it when you jump. One of the officers who was number one asked if you would hit it and the Canadian, Martin, replied "Just duck under when you go by for the rest of the flight". The officer kept practicing ducking his head.

After a few more jumps in full battle order it was about January 1944. We did a mass drop at Brigade strength that is three battalions plus headquarters about 2000 men in one go. The place was Winterbourne Stoke, I believe it was the first mass drop in England. The Americans flew the planes, we were about fifteen feet between wing tips nine planes across one minute between the next flight. It took about eight minutes all together. There was a big crowd of top brass watching. We asked the American Stick master to give us a five-second red light so we could throw out two folding cycles on parachutes. He said "Ok Buddy", so as we approached the dropping zone he shouted stand in the door five red so it was one throw, two throw, three, four, five, and there was no green light for the next ten minutes so we never saw those cycles again. The wind was round about 25 miles per hour strong, more than we were used to. As it's reckoned that fifteen miles an hour you hit the ground at thirty miles but as the top brass were there it was decided to carry on with the scheme. Some of the boys were in trees some in gardens and some on roofs of houses. I myself hit a wire across a field a part of a fence, which threw me on to my shoulder and head. That left a dent in my helmet that never came out.

Now, using the American Planes we started to jump with a kitbag strapped to the leg the bag had sixty pounds in it. The method was to lower the bag down on a sixteen foot rope after you were airborne. It was this that I cracked my ankle with as I could not get it off, the fastener would not release; I spent three weeks in hospital over it.

It was at this time that Lt. Kippen gave me a rifle that was shorter than our normal one. He asked me to go down to the rifle range and try it out. The weapon had a flash eliminator on the barrel and thick rubber on the butt the bayonet was like a knife not like our normal issue which were like a spike. He said don't tell anybody as it's on the secret list. I tried it at 50yds, then 100yds, then 200yds, and at 300yds, but found it was not as good as the old rifle. It had more of a kick, even with the thick rubber on the butt couldn't cushion the recoil. I reported this to him and that was the last I heard of it.

We now started intensive training with units doing individual training for the tasks ahead. We knew that something was coming up, but not when or where. These schemes and bivouac where in controlled areas. Looking back, it was what we had to do on D-Day, so it helped a lot when the time came.

It was about ten days before the actual day that we went into concentration areas where we were confined to camp where nobody was aloud in or out. It was here that we found that the Division had a very complex job to do. The 3rd Parachute Brigade in Particular.

The 9th Battalion had been practicing storming a gun battery at a place called Inkpen where a mock battery was built. There the unit was divided into different parties, some to clear minefields, some to blow surrounding wire, and some to storm the gun emplacements, which were four in number. Plus a stand by party to help if necessary there was also a party that was going to crash land on the battery from gliders, they would also carry engineers who would help to blow the guns. This brings me to mention other people who were involved, the medical, the signal lads and the engineers service personal vital to a unit. The name of the battery was Merville, it could fire on Sword Beach where the British 3rd Division was to land. It was at this time that we learned that the destination was Normandy and there were five beaches altogether. Two British, two American, and one Canadian, starting with the Americans as the tide came up the channel and finishing with the Canadians on Juno beach.