Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

“Thank you for what you did”

One veteran who took part in the Allied advance through Holland in the months following Operation Market Garden is Ernest Briggs from Peterborough who joined up with the Coldstream Guards aged 17

“I remember seeing our padre walking about amongst the explosions helping the injured men”

After military training, and while awaiting posting to action, Ernest Briggs was deployed for guard duty down at Chartwell in Kent as part of Winston Churchill’s bodyguard.

However, as the Allied invasion stepped up he received his first posting to Normandy, landing at Gold Beach three weeks on from the invasion. From there he joined the Allied advance up through Belgium and into Holland.

Ernest soon found himself in action on 9 March 1945 as his battalion prepared to clear the Rhine bridgehead against fanatical resistance from the German 7th Fallschirmjager, an airborne division of the German military. There was hard fighting, with Ernest’s battalion taking heavy casualties.

“It was known as the Guards’ death parade,” Ernest says. “I was positioned back on the embankment and there was a lot of shelling.

“I remember seeing our padre walking about amongst the explosions helping the injured men – English and German. The attack started at 2.30pm and the fighting went on until midnight.

A couple of weeks later the Allies constructed pontoons over the Rhine, and on Good Friday in 1945 Ernest and his battalion crossed over from Holland into Germany where they took part in the attack and liberation of Enschede.

They fought on up through Germany and into Schleswig-Holstein where the Germans finally surrendered.

“It’s funny when you’re young – you don’t realise things,” he says. “The Guards were like a family. Our officers were marvellous – an inspiration to us all.

Being in the mortar platoon, I was in the support group and always slightly back from the action. It was the infantrymen down at the front who had the hard job.”

Ernest used his Heroes Return funding to take a trip to Enschede in Holland.

“The Dutch people were wonderful and so friendly.

“I was walking down the street when a little girl, no more than 4 years old, suddenly broke away from her mother and came running up to me.

“Shaking my hand, she said, ‘Thank you for what you did’.”

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: