- Contributed by
- CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire
- People in story:
- Ron Hampshire
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 September 2005
Once we got past the Falaise area we enjoyed the sun and the long drives across Flanders, places like Argentan, without too much activity or distress, as there was no action from the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht were in headlong retreat.
I remember we stayed for a few days near Amiens where the Padre, John White, celebrated Holy Communion on the site, and where a very elderly couple took me into their cottage and garden and gave me one of two peaches on their tree. I did not really want to take it, and sadly I did not go back as I thought they might want me to have the other one. When we left I stopped the G.T.V. and handed over a 4lb tin of jam, which probably lasted them and their family for quite some time!
Also in the area was a large bunker which the Germans had used and which we went to see, but the peculiar smell of German soldiers was a bit off-putting. I'm not sure what it was, but wherever we followed Germans the smell was there - probably their talcum powder!
Our motorcade carried on passing through Brussels just after the Guards Armoured Division had liberated the city but we did not stay to enjoy its attractions, going on until we got to Diest. Here the enemy decided to stand for a while, and we had to send some men to man the canal. Fortunately there was no great counter attack.
Somebody wrote that war is 90% boredom, 5% excitement and 5% bloody frightening and we were about to see the last portion of the ratio when Operation Market Garden got under way. This was Monty's masterstroke with the idea of getting into Germany before the winter and without waiting for the Antwerp area to be cleared. British and American paratroops were dropped adjacent to all the main river crossings to secure the route and all went very well except the final hurdle at Arnhem where our paras. found an S.S. armoured division refitting but in spite of this unexpected opposition they fought well as history tells. It was also the subject of a film “A Bridge Too Far”.
We assembled on the Escaut-Albert canal near the Dutch border quite adjacent to trenches used in the 1914-18 War, and Gerry must have known something was being planned as we got a lot of night time reconnaissance flights flying over the area.
After a dawn start we had not gone far before the column was halted near the Dutch border, and as we slowly inched our way forward we came across 8 Sherman tanks of the Irish Guards that had been shot up by two guns, one an 88mm on one side of the road and a 75mm on the other. These gunners had, we were told, let the recce. party through and then took their toll on the main column. Looking through a shell hole in the side of a Sherman is not a pretty sight when the shell has exploded inside. The effect of blast was also to be seen in the form of a Sgt. lying in his turret just as he had fallen. He was quite unmarked, but quite dead.
We laagered outside the large Philips factory at Eindhoven and went on towards Nijmegen but came to a halt outside a village or town called Veghel where we met the troops of the 82nd U.S.Airborne Division. They had dropped and secured their bridges but were having a little local difficulty. The Allied corridor was not very wide, probably 3-400 yards either side of the road, which itself was raised above the low-lying fields - so we were not surprised when we later found bullets in the radar equipment. However at the time we were in the roadside ditches for the rest of the day, and remained held up in the area for about 36 hours. During this time Dave Berry, my best man at our wedding received a chest wound and was evacuated back down the line. One of the gun Sgts., Dick Stringer was also wounded and sent home. It was here that I spoke to a US Sgt. and noticed a hole in his helmet and thought what a load of bull but when he took it off to wipe his face, his head was well bandaged and quite blood stained. He had obviously been very close to a body bag.
Bad as this was for us, it was worse for the other units of the Regimental Column, as in front of us the L.A.A.Regt. was attacked by tiger tanks and behind, 317 Battery had to provide troops as infantry to go in with tanks to clear a pocket, and lost several men in the process.
On the second night we got on the move again, going towards Graves and eventually Nigmegen, where we deployed near the two bridges. Normally the battery deployed in 2 troops of 4 guns but this time we had all 8 guns on one site for the first and last time. Just as we were lining up the radar with the guns we were amazed to see several hundred German planes overhead. I was on top of the P.F. doing the orientation when one gun blasted off over open sights - without any authority and with no chance of hitting them. We had to take cover quickly and I remember it was a big jump down to the ground and into the slit trench. Sadly once we were properly organised the planes never came back en masse.
Another interesting episode or two happened here. First and sadly, one of the radar operators, Charlie Hamilton - a man of about 45-50 - found it all too much, his hair going from grey to white overnight and he had to be evacuated. The second showed up some of the deficiencies in staff work. Having deployed my radar with the guns - the other troop's radar was idle - I was surprised to find myself asked to report with equipment, i.e.radar, plotting room etc. to some H.Q. in the city, probably it was Brigade H.Q., but I am not sure. On the way a lone M.E.262 -at that time the first jet fighter to go into action- decided to bomb that part of the city and we found a very large vegetable on the canopy of the jeep. This was only frightening thinking about it afterwards because it happened and was over so quickly. As they say if you hear it you're safe!
Arriving at Brigade H.Q. I was given a map reference where I had to go and deploy once again doing radial zone barrages with a L.A.A.Bty. On locating the new position on the map I was amazed to find it was within half a mile of the site we had just left. On pointing this out in some anger to the officer concerned who seemed more amazed than I was. It was obvious that he was just a "gofer" as he could not have known where the first site was in relation to the new map reference and he certainly didn't know much about our role. The task could have been done on our original site with just an extra plotting team.
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