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Sad Memories: Holland, 1944icon for Recommended story

by George Herbert

Contributed by 
George Herbert
People in story: 
George Herbert
Location of story: 
Ijzendijke, Holland
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1985367
Contributed on: 
07 November 2003

I served in ‘A’ Troop 85 Battery, 11th (Essex) Med Regt, Royal Artillery, during World War Two.

On the 20 October 1944 we were involved in the battle to clear the River Scheldt of the enemy in order that the Allies could get shipping down to the port of Antwerp.

Breskens

We had orders to move to new positions ready in preparation for the battle of Breskens and - because of the weather conditions and very bad flooding - we had to send an advance party forward with the reconnaissance party to lay a platform of railway sleepers on which to stand the guns so that the wheels didn’t get bogged down in the mud.

We arrived at a farm that had been selected as our position. There were already some tanks and an assortment of military vehicles on the site. The tanks were 284 Armoured Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers, who were refuelling their ‘Congas’ (a modified Bren gun carrier with the engine removed and a storage tank to hold Liquid Nitro Glycerine in its place) - these were used in a system for clearing mines. The LNG would be pumped into a pipe or a hose and detonated to explode any mines either side of it.

Devastation

At approximately 13:00 hours there was a massive explosion, which was devastating. We all instinctively hit the deck and lay there until the debris had stopped falling. When I looked up the tanks were badly damaged and burning, and other vehicles were also on fire and exploding - the carnage was terrible.

Returning years later

Exactly 50 years later in 1994, Martin Reagan, who was a Sgt Tank Commander in 284 Squadron at the time of the incident, went back to Holland to retrace the journey to the farm at a place called Ijzendijke. He introduced himself and was made very welcome along with his three sons who made the trip with him.

As a result of his visit, the local people said there should be a memorial set up in honour of the men that died there on that fateful day. There were a total of 41 killed, 16 missing and many wounded.

Raising funds

The Dutch people set up a committee to raise funds locally, and Martin did the same when he returned home to England. After considerable hard work and countless fund-raising letters, a large sum of money was made available with contributions coming from as far as Canada as well as the UK and Holland. The memorial was built and finally unveiled at a ceremony attended by a large number of veterans, relatives of those killed and Dutch people in October 1997.

Court of Enquiry

There was a Court of Enquiry held at the farm on the day following the disastrous event, and both Martin and myself have tried to obtain a copy to see what the official findings were as to the cause of the explosion. Martin explored various avenues within the Royal Engineers and even employed the assistance of a researcher to visit the Public Record Office at Kew but to no avail.

I tried the Royal Artillery Museum, the Imperial War Museum and, as a last resort, I wrote to Professor Richard Holmes at the Security Studies Institute to ask if he could give advice as to where else we could search. In his reply he stated that if there is a copy of the findings of the Court of Enquiry it would almost certainly be at the PRO at Kew, but as we discovered previously it is not.

Congas trial

Martin knows that there had been trials in using the ‘Congas’ about a month before the explosion at Ijzendijke, and the conclusion was that the practice was extremely dangerous and therefore should not be used. This information was never passed on to 284 Assault Sqd, nor was information on the correct handling procedure for such a volatile substance as Liquid Nitro Glycerine, which should never have been transported in ‘Jerry’ cans.

The casualty list at Ijzendijke on the 20th October 1944 was:

Killed: 284 Armoured Assault Sqdn - 27; Royal Canadian Army service Corps - 10; ‘A’ Troop 85 Bty, 11th Essex Med Reg - 3; REME - 1.

Missing: 284 Armoured Assault Sqdn - 9; Royal Canadian Service Corps - 7.

Also a large number of men wounded.

The farmhouse at Ijzendijke was completely demolished along with the barn. The orchard was stripped of all its fruits and trees destroyed.

Two daughters of the family De Doddelaere, who owned the farm, were badly wounded, but thankfully no civilians were killed.

Images from the explosion are etched on my mind forever.

G Herbert, November 2004

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Message 1 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 25 November 2003 by Researcher 232709

Thank you for your memories.My grandfather was in 9 Medium Regiment(part of 9 AGRA as were 11 Medium). I am researching the history of this regiment. In so doing I came across information about the explosion you mention. I visited the memorial at Ijzendijke last year.
Any chance of sharing more of your experiences about serving in a medium battery? I would be very interested in them.

 

Message 2 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 05 January 2004 by George Herbert

Thank you for laeving your message re my fathers contribution to war memoirs.
I will let him know about your correcpondence and ask him if he would like to contributeto your resaerch.
Regards
M. Herbert

 

Message 3 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 05 June 2004 by REAGANM

Hello

I'm writing on behalf of my father, Martin Reagan, who was a sergeant in 284 assault squadron of the Royal Engineers. He wrote an account of the explosion at Ijzendijke to which George Herbert refers in his story. My father has tried many lines of enquiry to try and get more official information on the incident, but with limited success, so when I showed him your reply to Mr Herbert in which you mention that you had come across some information pertaining to the explosion at Ijzendijke he was very interested. Would it be possible for you to share this information you have obtained? It may be that it is something he has already seen, but he is particularly interested in finding a record of the court of enquiry into the incident and any other official references to it. Along with friends he has made in Holland and England since 1994 when he re-traced his wartime journey on the 50th anniversary of the incident, he was heavily involved with the fund-raising for and the building of the monument at Ijzendijke and he was touched to learn that you had visited this monument to remember his colleagues who lost their lives in the explosion. Each year on the anniversary (20th October) there is a ceremony and laying of wreaths at the monument, attended by survivors of the explosion, relatives of those who died, local civilians and representatives from the Dutch Army.
If my father can share any information with you which may help your own research I am sure he would be happy to do so.

Regards

Martin

 

Message 4 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 07 October 2004 by inquiringTrishM

Dear researcher 232709. My dad, George Herbert no longer has internet connections but would welcome hearing from you. Please respond to this email and I will forward it on. If you would like to give him your mailing address I'm sure he will write to you.

T Marney

 

Message 5 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 27 November 2004 by BuffsAnthonyEvans

T. Marney,
Be very interested in reading your Father's memories of serving in 11th Medium Regiment RA.
Not sure about posting e-mail address on the site though (or postal address. Perhaps you could get him to write down his memories and post them on the site yourself? Time consuming I know, but not sure how else to get in touch.
Anthony.

 

Message 6 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 13 December 2004 by inquiringTrishM

Hi Anthony, the following is a message from my father, George Herbert, in response to your reply to my communication.
Anthony, be pleased to help with your research. On 1 January 1943 3 Infantry Battallions became Medium Regiments of the Royal Artillery. The 8th Royal West Kent (TheBuffs) as you know ecame the 9th medium Regt. RA. The 16 Batallion Royal Fusiliers (The City of London Regt) became the 10th Medium Regt RA. The 9th Battallion the Essex Regt. (The Pompadours) became the 11th Medium Regt RA. Each Regt kept its County Title.

Each Regt consisted of Regimental headquarters and 2 Batteries. Each Battery had 2 Troops, each Troop had 4 5.5 guns. The ammunition consisted of a shell weighing 100 pounds, four charges, depending on the range to the target (the charges were sticks of cordite in linen bags) and a firing cartridge. Also we had an 80 pound shell which was fired with a super charge. 9 AGR (Army Group Royal Artillery) was formed in June 1943 comprising of the 9th, 10th and 11th Medium Regts. and were joined by the 16th Medium RA and the 1st Heavy Regt RA both these Regiments were formed from Coast Defence Gunners.

The aim of the AGRA was to be in the 21st Army Group under command of General Montgomery, this was to be the British Invasion force of Europe. We did in fact join 21 Army Group in October 1943. We went to Normany and it would be true to say we were in most of the main battles from Caen in Normandy and the Rhine crossing. For quite a lot of time we were with the Canadian Army. When we were in support of the Falaise Pocket battle, we were unfortunately bombed by the RAF, the Pathfinder dropped his flares in the wrong place and the 9th Med. Regt RA suffered casualties as did the Canadians.

Incidentally, the Royal Artillery do not have colours as other Regiments have, our colours are our Guns. Our Motton UBIQUE (Everywhere) on the (Gun) hat badge (Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt) "Anywhere Divine Right and Glory may Lead".

Oh by the way, there are 10 men in a detachment on a 5.5 gun. The Royal Artillery don't have crews, they hae sub sections or detachments.

We were finally disbanded at the end of 1945, most of us were posted to other regiments. I went to Palestine and was there until December 1946. I went to Aden for three years in a Coast Regiment. It I can be of any further help let me know. At the moment I have to rely on my son or daughter to pass on any correspondence. Our daughter was born in Aden.

Regards

George Herbert
13 Dec 04

 

Message 7 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 24 December 2004 by BuffsAnthonyEvans

George,
Many thanks for your reply. I hope you don't mind if I ask a few questions. If you have time I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the following:

What was your role/job in the regiment? can you describe it.

My Grandfather drove the Troop Leader's truck in D Troop, 9th Medium Regiment. Do you know what a troop leader would do?

I am trying to establish a picture of life on the gun position. Can you describe it? Food, sleeping arrangements, how the guns were positioned, daily routine etc..

Were you ever shelled? Where were you? What happened? Did the Regiment come under shell-fire very often?

Did your Battery get much attention from the Luftwaffe?

Many thanks for your time and patience once again. Shame you can't write to me, but I am reluctant to post any address on this site.
Anyway, I look forward to your reply.
Thanks
Anthony.

 

Message 8 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 11 January 2005 by George Herbert

12th January 2005

Dear Anthony

In answer to your request about the operational workings of a Troop in a Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery, I hope that you find the following interesting.

A Regiment consisted of two Batteries each with two Troops, each Troop had four guns therefore a Regiment had a total of 16 guns. (160 + men).

A Troop consisted of:
The Troop Commander (Captain)
A Gun Position officer (Lieutenant)
Two Section Officers (usually of second Lieutenant rank)

Each gun had a Sergeant in charge and nine other ranks (listed below).
Each Troop also had a Cook Sergeant or Corporal and three or four cooks.

No.1 — The Sergeant
No.2 — The Limber Gunner — He fired the gun and was responsible for the overall maintenance of the gun.
No.3 — The Gun Layer — He set all the information on the gun site.
No’s 4 & 5 — Loaders — They lifted the loading tray with the shell on up to the breach and with the No.1 rammed it home into the breach.
No.6 — Charger — He was responsible for putting the correct charge called for in the breach.
No’s 7, 8 and 9 — were the ammunition numbers who fused up the shells and placed them on the trays.
No 10 — Coverer (Bombardier) — he was second in charge of the gun and took over from the Sergeant at intervals. THIS WAS MY RANK.

The Troop Commander had a personal staff of a Troop Sergeant Major (Warrant Officer 2), and a couple of clerks one of whom was normally of Bombardier rank and his personal driver as was your Grandfather.
In my Troop the driver was also the Trp. Cmdr. Signaller and Radio Operator and he would accompany the Trp. Cmdr. when he had to man an observation post to relay target information back to the guns.

The Gun Position Officer (GPO) was responsible for siting the guns in an area allocated to the troop. He had to take into account a good position for his guns, his Command Post, the Cookhouse and if possible a place where the men can rest from time to time.
The GPO had a Bombardier as an assistant and a driver who was also his signaller and wireless operator.
Target information in the form of map references was calculated by the GPO using different instruments to assess distance and trajectory in yards which was specialist work.
The two Section Officers each keep an eye on two guns, one and two guns are the right section and three and four guns the left section.

In answer to your other questions regarding sleep / rest and receiving enemy and ‘friendly fire’.
It depended on the situation at the time as to how much rest and sleep we got as we could be firing on a long engagement and every man would be in action. The Sergeant would decide if he could let any men rest. At times we would relieve each other for a spell and the same would apply for meals.

Yes we had been on the receiving end of enemy shells but fortunately for the most part we could hear them whistling overhead which was good news as they were the ones that missed!

We were on the receiving end of bombs dropped by our own bombers three times, twice by the Americans and once by the RAF. The latter was the worst incident which was human error by the Pathfinder which was unfortunate as they did not have the technology they have today.

I hope you find this helpful for your research.

Keep in touch

Best regards
George.

 

Message 9 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 29 January 2005 by BuffsAnthonyEvans

Dear George,

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply to my questions. I read them with great interest.
I have just purchased a book entitled The Diary of 85 (Essex) Medium Battery. It has your photo in it! It is a very informative book, and helped with my research into the activities of 9 AGRA.
The book mentions a purple flash worn on the battledress. Do you know anything about this? I know my grandfather wore a blue and buff flash to recall origins in the 8 Buffs. I suppose the purple flash is similar?
I read about Gunner Dawson's award of the MM. Do you recall anything about this?
Anyway, sorry about all these questions. I will close here before I think of another! I would be very interested to hear any more of your memories if you feel like writing.
For now thanks once again
Anthony.

 

Message 10 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 01 February 2005 by George Herbert

Dear Anthony
I have passed on your latest message to my father who will answer your latest questions.
If you would like to correspond with him direct and to eliminate publishing respective addresses over the internet, he has arranged with his local post office for you to send a letter there for his collection. The address is;
Mr G Herbert
c/o The Post Office
63 Newbigin
Hornsea
East Yorkshire
HU18 1AA

Best regards
Malcolm Herbert

 

Message 11 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 04 February 2005 by George Herbert

Dear Anthony

The diary you mentioned sounds like the same one we were presented with; out of interest can I ask where you got it from?

The purple flash that was worn on our sleeves was to signify that we were in the Essex Regiment before we were reformed into a Med. Regt. RA.

The Essex Regiment was known as the Pompadours which was to do with historic battle honours of which I cannot remember. The colour purple was something to do with Madam Pompadour and Louis XV of France. Or walking out hat was purple and blue.

The Military Medal was awarded to L/Bdr Markham not Dawson, for an act he carried out on the landing at Walcheren Island in Holland.

As I mentioned in an earlier message I have arranged for you to send just one letter to my local post office (if you so wish), for me to have your address and we can correspond the normal way via the post. If this is ok with you can you mention it on the BBC website that you have written and I will collect the letter.

Regards
George

 

Message 12 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 06 February 2005 by BuffsAnthonyEvans

Dear George,
I have written you a letter. Will post tomorrow.

Regards
Anthony.

 

Message 13 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 22 February 2005 by MatthewTresidder

Dear Martin

My name is Lt Col Matthew Tresidder from the Royal Engineers and I am currently working at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham. I am in the process of organising a Battlefield tour to Holland for the Staff here and one of the areas I intend to visit is the sight of this tragic explosion that your father was involved in. I have visited there myself and have met the farmer who now owns the farm (totally rebuilt) where the explosion happened. He was 12 at the time and remembers it vividly. I have managed to locate a very detailed account of the events of that day written by your father and I was wondering if I could meet to discuss his detailed recollections and the possibility of his joining us for the visit (20th May). Please let me know as soon as possible; I will give you full contact details as soon as I receive an email.

Many thanks

Matthew

 

Message 14 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 26 February 2005 by REAGANM

Hello Matthew

Thanks for your message - I will pass it on to my father and get back to you as soon as possible.

Regards

Martin

 

Message 15 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 28 February 2005 by REAGANM

Hello Matthew

I've passed on your message to my father, and he would be happy to speak to you and help in any way he can. If you could please let me have your email address I will send you his contact details.

Regards

Martin

 

Message 16 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 01 March 2005 by MatthewTresidder

Martin

That is fantastic - my email address is:

mtresidder.rmcs@da.mod.uk

Phone: 01793 785674

I very much look forward to hearing from your father. Thank you for all you help.

Yours aye

Matthew

 

Message 17 - 9 AGRA

Posted on: 01 March 2005 by REAGANM

Matthew

Thanks. I've emailed my father's contact details to you, and he is looking forward to hearing from you.

Regards

Martin

Message 1 - Sad Memories

Posted on: 21 September 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Greetings George Herbert,
I read your story with much interest. I do hope you will solve the mystery. I have been interested in the Holland story (seeing some of it on TV this week) also in writing my brother-in-law's story about his time in Holland after DDay. I don't know if you would like to read it A2680139.
I look forward to hearing more about your research.
Regards,
Audrey Lewis

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