Filed under: Heroes Return | Tags: Big Lottery Fund, Germany, Heroes Return, Market Garden, Parachute Regiment, The Netherlands
Young paratrooper Harold Herbert waited to jump. Below, a mass of blazing fields, crippling shell fire, and the sight of comrades being cut down as they fell from the sky. As bullets ripped through the fuselage of the Horsa glider the plucky 20-year old summoned his courage and leapt into the abyss.
Now 68 years on veteran Harold will return to the scene of Operation Market Garden, one of the most audacious, though ultimately ill-fated allied offensives of the Second World War, and the largest airborne operation in history.
Harold, 88, was part of a force of over 86,000 men comprising paratroopers, air and ground units involved in the daring operation to seize control of bridges and river crossings in Germany and the Netherlands.
The Allied assault (17-25 September 1944) was initially successful, but ultimately ended in defeat with thousands killed and many more injured or taken prisoner.
Had the operation succeeded it is possible that the war would have ended in 1944 and the map of post-war Europe would have been very different.
He recalls: “I worked at the Chatham dockyard building torpedo tubes. I wanted to join up but they wouldn’t let me. I wanted to see some action. I wanted to prove myself. Anyway in the end they had to let me go.”
Joining the army, 18 year old Harold trained as a gunner and in 1944 volunteered for the 10th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. A crack regiment destined for the Normandy Landings, the Paras were held back in reserve for Market Garden and on September 18th as part of the second lift 20-year old Harold undertook the hazardous drop into heavily defended countryside near Oosterbeek, a village west of Arnhem.
He remembers: “The Germans were waiting for us. We were all scared but we still jumped. We wanted to get out as tracer bullets were tearing through the plane. As I jumped my main thought was to land and then get away as quickly as possible. But as I looked down I saw all the fields below were on fire and I was going to have land in the middle of it.”
He continued: “I hit the ground and ran for my life into some woods. It was then I found out that out of the 120 of us that jumped just 60 had survived.”
With the battalion depleted, Harold and his comrades came under severe attack from crack German troops supported by heavy artillery, Panzer tanks and flame-throwers. But despite fierce fighting, Harold’s troop managed to reach Oosterbeek in the early afternoon only to find that they were being surrounded by superior German forces.
He remembers: “For three days we held our position. We launched mortar attacks on the German 88 gun emplacements until we ran out of ammo, so I volunteered to slip back and get some. But by the time I returned with a trolley of ammo the troop had taken a direct hit, and I was on my own. The Germans were all around me and I had nowhere to go so I just kept firing shells at them until I ran out. In the end I was so exhausted I fell asleep.
“I must have been talking in my sleep when I was awakened by a sharp prodding in the back. There were German soldiers standing round me. One of them wanted to shoot me but an officer appeared and stopped him. They had respect for British soldiers.”
Harold was duly marched off with a gun in his back. On the way the Germans picked up a badly wounded British soldier and Harold pushed him along on the empty bomb trolley as they headed for a German Field hospital.
He recalls: “The two guards kept butting me in the back with their rifles making me take the lead. I knew what they were up to. They wanted us at the front line in case we came across any allied troops.
“In the end I got fed up and refused to go on. So one of the guards took the lead and as were coming out of some woods he got shot in the leg. He was very angry.
“I quickly took out my field dressing and bandaged his leg. I knew not to panic. If you panicked you were finished. You were scared but you stayed scared.”
Once they reached the Field hospital Harold was herded into a box car crammed with other PoW’s, and shunted off to a railway yard and placed right next to an anti aircraft battery.
He remembers: “We were left there so that if the RAF or Americans bombed we would get it. We were there for ten days. You can imagine what it was like, all those people and no toilets, just buckets.”
While Harold was in captivity, his widowed mother received a telegram saying her son was missing in action. For many months she had thought he was dead but a relative who worked for the Red Cross managed to trace him and to her great relief she discovered that he was a PoW.
Finally sent to a PoW camp in Harra, Germany, he recalls: “We were very heavily guarded. I thought about escape. But you couldn’t just escape. Every camp had an escape committee and I had to hand in my silk map. You couldn’t get far without that, and anyway we knew we would soon be liberated.
Harold was finally liberated in May 1945. Since then he has returned to Arnhem and has even made three commemorative parachute jumps over Oosterbeck in honour of his fallen comrades.
He recalls: “My last jump was at the 60th anniversary when I was 80. I wanted to keep jumping but my doctor refused to sign me off.”
Harold will travel to Arnhem on a Heroes Return grant with his daughter and granddaughter.
For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn
Filed under: France, Germany, Heroes Return, RAF | Tags: Belfast, Belgium, Big Lottery Fund, Dublin, France, Germany, Heroes Return, Holland, North Down, RAF
World War Two veterans from across Ireland are making emotional journeys to the places where they fought thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme.
George Lemon, 88, from Belfast, George Hopley, 91, from North Down and Ted Jones, 89, from Dublin will revisit their wartime postings across the world, from Florida to the Bahamas and Europe.
George Lemon, from Newtownbreda in Belfast, is travelling to battlefields in France, Germany, Belgium and Holland later this year but was just 18 and in sixth year at Larne Grammar School when he signed up with the RAF in 1941.
“You don’t think much about the dangers at that age – you just want adventure. Things were going quite badly at that stage in the war with Dunkirk and so on, so I suppose I had these romantic notions of taking to the hills to defend the country,” he explained.
George began his training at Lords Cricket Ground which was the receiving centre for the RAF and progressed through various courses before being designated as a bomb aimer flying operational missions over France and Germany.
“At the time you don’t really feel afraid – before we’d take off I sometimes felt anxious, but once you’re airborne the training takes over. When you’re flying though you’re quite divorced from what’s going on below so this trip will be an experience and help me appreciate the full story of what I was involved in,” said George.
“This trip will be a chance to think again about the role I played in those days and I really appreciate the opportunity.”
George Hopley, from North Down, is travelling to Nassau in the Bahamas later this year where he was stationed as RAF ground crew after joining up at just 18 with the RAF’s 502 Ulster Squadron.
“I was sent to the RAF’s base in the Bahamas in 1944 to train on American aircraft, chiefly the Liberators,” he said. “The Big Lottery Fund has given me a wonderful opportunity to go back later this year to a place I never thought I’d see again because it’s so far away. It’s given me a chance to think back and reminisce.”
Ted Jones, from Dublin, is travelling to Pensacola in Florida where he completed his pilot’s training at the RAF base there. Ted trained on Catalina seaplanes and gained his wings on April 29, 1942, as well as being recommended for a commission and made a Captain with the 190 Squadron in March 1943.
Ted said: “I was fortunate enough to fly with a great bunch of blokes during the war and that makes all the difference. Travelling back to Florida is a great opportunity to re-visit old sites and memories, a chance to remember those years.”
To find out more about the Heroes Return programme visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn or call the the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return advice line on 0845 00 00 121.
Filed under: Germany, RAF | Tags: Australian Squadron, Dresden, Germany, Italy, Lancasters, POW, RAF
One veteran making the most of the scheme is Reg White from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire. Joining up in the RAF aged 19, Reg underwent training in Stafford and Crewe before embarking on operational training on Wellington bombers, and then on to Lancasters as a Flight Sergeant Rear Gunner in Australian Squadron, 460 based at Binbrook, Lincolnshire.
Flying hazardous night operations over Germany, Italy and German-occupied Europe, Reg, recalls the fateful evening of Jan 27th 1944, on a mission over the heavily defended Berlin.
He recalls: “We were approaching the target when we were suddenly attacked and very badly hit. At first I didn’t realise what was happening as I was in the rear turret and had no phone communication. Then as we started to jump I remember hearing someone shout ‘For god’s sake Skipper, bail out!’ I don’t remember what happened after that till I hit the ground and looked up at the black parachute above me. Everything was so quiet. I found out after that only three of us had survived, the other four were killed and later buried in Posen.”
Escaping the jump with no more than a burst eardrum Reg quickly hid his parachute and decided to try and head for home. He recalls: “I wanted to set off for Switzerland. I travelled at night and during the day hid in trees. But one day I decided to chance it and as I was coming out of a clearing I suddenly saw a German soldier. He saw me, raised his gun and shouted ‘Englander? Americano?’ I told him I was English and then he seemed quite friendly. I remember wondering what he would have done if I had said Americano.”
He continued: “He took me to a nearby farm and handed me over to a German sergeant who told me he had fought in the First World War and had been taken prisoner by the English. I asked him how he was treated and he said, ‘very well’, and then offered me something to eat.”
He was then taken to an air base in Guben, where he met up with the other two survivors of his aircrew, and from there to Berlin where he was put on a flight to Frankfurt to undergo interrogation. He recalls: “The interrogation wasn’t so bad, being a rear gunner I wasn’t expected to know too much. It was the navigators who knew all about the flight routes and plotting.”
Reg was then transported to Stalag Luft 6 a Luftwaffe controlled camp at Hydekrug, on the Baltic Coast. He recalls with irony: “It wasn’t a holiday camp and we were not ill-treated, but all we had to live on was watery swede and potato soup and a bit of black bread. At the beginning of the war the POW rations were quite good but of course it was our own boys shooting everything up that caused the shortage.”
Later when the Russians started to advance into Germany Reg and his compatriots were loaded into cattle trucks and transported to an army camp in Torun, Poland and then onto Fallingbostel in Central Germany where they were liberated. Reg was eventually flown home in a Lancaster arriving in England on VE Day. He recalls: “I know I was very lucky. Things that happened to me always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”
Now 87, Reg will travel on a Heroes Return 2 grant to Germany where he will visit aircrew war graves in Berlin, travel to the Ruhr Valley, Mohne Dam, Colditz, Dresden, and visit the museum at the famous Stalag Luft III, site of the great escape.