Private Albert Edward Small
Unit : "B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 14217665
The following is a questionnaire which Albert Edward "Rocky" Small completed whilst Cornelius Ryan was researching his book, A Bridge Too Far.
1, Sylvester Avenue,
20th April, 1967.
Dear Mr. Small,
Your name appears in the records of those who may have taken part in the airborne assault on Holland in September, 1944. I am therefore writing to ask for your help with some research that we are doing on behalf of Mr. Cornelius Ryan, author of The Longest Day and, more recently, The Last Battle.
Would you be kind enough to answer the following questions in the spaces provided. Please return this letter to me as soon as possible so that Mr. Ryan may include your experiences in the account of the airborne invasion of Holland which he is planned to write. The book will include a chapter entitled "Where They Are Today", in which your name and occupation will be listed with full acknowledgment. Your assistance will be very much appreciated.
Editor, British Editions
1) Are your name and address on this letter correct? It not, please amend them. A.E. Small (GM)
2) If you can be reached by telephone, please give your number. Bradford 64295
3) What is your present occupation? V/mech [vehicle mechanic]. Now a T.A. CSM Parachute Regt.
4) What was your rank and unit in September 1944? Pte (Batman to Lt Clements) [believed to be Lieutenant Jimmy Cleminson]
5) What was your age in September 1944? 20.
6) Were you engaged or married then? To whom? If married, did you have any children at that time? No.
7) Where were you born? Fulford Barracks, York.
8) What previous action had you seen? North Africa, Sicily, Italy.
9) When did you learn that you were going to take part in the operation in Holland? About 1 week before.
10) What was your reaction? Were you, for example, anxious, resigned or relieved to be going into action? Relieved that at last we were going after having cancellations and being confined to camp for weeks.
11) What was the trip like into Holland? Did you see anything unusual? Do you remember any conversations you had, or how you passed the time on the journey? It was just like a normal Sunday - beautiful day - every one was looking out of the windows at the armada of aircraft including a fighter escort.
12) How did you feel about a daylight operation? Do you recall any conversations with your friends about it? What was said? No feeling as such. Just wondering - and thinking of what was to come - and the folks at home.
13) What were the rumours? Had you heard, for example, that if the invasion of Holland was successful, the war would be over by the coming winter? On our briefing we were told that if the operation was a success it would help to shorten the war.
14) Did you keep a diary or notebook of what happened to you during any part of September, 1944? Do you still have it? Had one. But over years faded. But memories linger.
15) Were any of your friends killed or wounded on the day of the drop or subsequent days? Yes. Best part of my platoon including O.C. Maj Pete Waddy, 2i/c Capt Dorian Smith, P/n Sgt Sgt Davis.
16) Do you remember any conversations you had with them before they became casualties? No. Killed outright.
17) Were you wounded or captured during the period? Can you give details? Wounded crossing the river on the last day. Came to in Nijmegen Hospital. Flown home two days later.
18) Do you remember any significant dealings you may have had with Dutch civilians or members of the Dutch Underground? None. Most of the civilians could hardly believe we had arrived.
19) What do you recall most vividly about the country of Holland? How clean & quiet it was until the fighting started.
20) Do you recall any incidents with the Germans - fights, surrenders, truces or conversations you may have had with them afterwards? The only talking we heard was a loud speaker van which the Germans sent telling us to surrender. A grenade soon put paid to that.
21) Do you know of others who took part in the operation, to whom we might write? Sgt Banwell. Fought with 10 Para. Tac White City, Wood Lane, W.12.
22) Do you recall seeing or hearing anything that seems humorous now, even though it may not have seemed so at the time? Being asked by CSM Callahan if I could handle a six pounder A/T gun. I said "No". He said now is your chance to learn. After 10 mins instruction a King Tiger appeared. Loaded, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened - a quick reload again nothing happened - I was just going to load again when I saw the tank gun swing towards us. We dived into a trench - after a loud explosion we looked for the A/T gun. It was wrecked - on close examination we found that the firing pin had been removed. Very funny but not facing a tank. This happened just after we had been told we were going to withdraw - and to make sure all stores had to be made useless.
23) Do you recall any incident, sad or heroic or simply memorable, which struck you more than anything else? I went to the church that we used as a hospital - on my way I passed a gun crew. Passed the time of day got no answer - on the way back I found the answer - both dead. Their own blood had congealed and stuck them both upright to the gun shield - eyes open - one had no legs.
24) In times of crisis, people generally show great ingenuity or self-reliance; others sometimes do stupid things. Do you recall any examples of either? The only stupid thing was Germany starting the war. My Division lost a lot of good men in 3 operations.
The following second-hand account of Small's experiences was compiled from an interview for A Bridge Too Far on the 6th December 1967.
Pte. Albert Edward Small (Batman to Lt. Clements?)
C Coy, 1st Para Bn, 1st Para Bde, 1st Abn Div. [Small was in "B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion. This information was added to the above questionnaire but not in Small's handwriting.]
Pte. Albert Edward Small went in on the Sunday. He was not at all sure about days, but thinks it was about the 5th day when a grenade was thrown at a German loudspeaker van which was calling out to the British to surrender. Small says the loudspeaker was heard on several occasions, right up to almost the last day. The gist of its message was of the usual kind to break their morale: "If you give yourselves up now you'll be well treated - think of your family and friends..." Small didn't actually see the van which was hit by a grenade - but others who were in slit trenches on the front line saw it. Small himself was in a barn about 200 to 300 yds. from Oosterbeek Church.
One afternoon about mid-week Small and Pte. Chris Crowther also of C Coy were walking up to the church at Oosterbeek for treatment. Small had shrapnel in his left knee-cap and Crowther had been hit in the shoulder. They had set out from the barn of a farm which was about 200 to 300 yds. from the church. On the way to the church they passed a 7.5 Howitzer gun (set back off road - about 100 yds. away from church) with a crew of three standing by it. They passed the time of day to the gun-crew and continued on towards the church. Small had not thought anything odd when the met didn't answer his greeting. After receiving their treatment they returned, this time passing beside the back of the gun. Then they realised that the three men were dead. The blood had congealed and they had been stuck in an upright position, their eyes open - one had no legs.
There were about 20-30 of them in and around the farm towards the end of the week, amongst them Major Cain. Small doesn't remember anything particular in connection with Cain.
Shortly after they had been told to withdraw, Small was by this same farm in Oosterbeek. There was an A/T gun parked in a cabbage patch at the back of the farm. Small recalls CSM Henry Callaghan asking him if he could handle a 6-pounder A/T gun. Small replied "No" and Callaghan answered: "Now's your chance." Small and another fellow, Pte. 'Chalky' White were sent to help one artillery man with the A/T gun. After about 10 minutes instruction on how to handle the gun, a German tiger tank appeared. When it was about 100 yds. away, Small loaded the A/T gun and the artillery fellow squeezed the trigger - but nothing happened. There was a quick reload but again nothing happened. Small was just about to load a 3rd time when he saw the tank gun swing towards them. The 3 of them dived into a trench beside their gun. There was a loud explosion and afterwards when they examined their wrecked A/T gun, they found that the firing pin had been removed. Obviously what had happened was that, on being told of their impending withdrawal, someone had rendered the gun useless but had not told anybody.
On the 15th August 1961, CSM Small, serving with the 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, TA, was awarded the George Medal. His citation reads:
On the 14th May 1961 Sergeant Small was on duty as a despatcher during Parachute Training from a balloon at the RAF Station Hornchurch. Immediately after he had despatched the first of four parachutists the balloon exploded and the cage, with only the collapsed fabric as support, started to free fall. Sergeant Small, with admirable presence of mind succeeded in despatching two more parachutists despite the cage tilting to nearly 45 degrees. These men descended unhurt. Sergeant Small could then have despatched the last man and, as an extremely experienced parachutist, jumped himself with a very reasonable chance of avoiding injury. However he considered that the balloon was now too near the ground for a comparatively inexperienced parachutist to survive a descent, and he therefore retained this man in the cage and remained himself. He then proceeded to give clear and calm instructions as to the best position to adopt to avoid injury. During this period the rate of descent had accelerated rapidly, and the cage was nearly inverted. On impact both occupants suffered only minor injuries; a miraculous escape due to the orders given by Sergeant Small. His companion is on record as saying that he considered that he was about to be killed, and that he undoubtedly would have been but for Sergeant Small.
Throughout the incident Sergeant Small's courage and presence of mind was beyond praise. By despatching two men in the most hazardous conditions, he saved them from serious injury or death, and lightened the cage at a critical period. By remaining with the last man, he undoubtedly saved his life, showing complete disregard for his own safety in the process.
My thanks to Keith Barrett-Small for this account.
See also: Pte Bennett.
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