Pictures

King George VI passes a mysterious Horsa glider in the film, "Memphis Belle"

A letter from Field Marshal Montgomery

Staff-Sergeant Herbert George Harget

 

Unit : No.25 Flight, "E" Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Army No. : 7367500

 

Bert Harget was born in Aberystwyth in 1918, and was employed at a shoe firm from 1934. Three years later this work took him to London, where he was still working when the war began. Called to register for service in 1939, Bert requested to join the RAF, but ended up in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In March 1940 he was married to Gladys at the church in the Royal Naval Hospital, at Haslar, Gosport, where she was cook to the Surgeon Rear Admiral. Shortly after, Bert was posted to the British Expeditionary Force and was in Belgium when the Germans invaded, returning to England on a boat, via Dunkirk.

 

In 1941, the RAF asked for Army volunteers to train as pilots, and Bert applied and was accepted. However, while they were awaiting this transition, the Army cancelled the transfers and asked the men if they would like to join the newly formed Glider Pilot Regiment instead. After receiving his initial training, Bert went to flying school where he flew powered aircraft in the form of Tiger Moths and Magisters, before moving on to gliders and being awarded his Wings in the early part of 1943. The 26th May of that year proved to be a memorable day.

 

Sgt. Brian Vincent had to do a "Cross Country" (called exercise 12) and I, as his friend, went as second pilot. We took off and flew east at about 3000 ft. After about 45 minutes, over Cambridgeshire, the tugs engines developed a fault and we were told we had to part company. A hasty look around revealed three aerodromes within gliding distance, so Brian chose one and we made an approach. It was only when we were nearly on the runway that we noticed a line of large aircraft around one side of the perimeter track. When we stopped, about a dozen jeeps and a crowd of figures ran towards us. On opening the doors we were amazed to see they were YANKS - we had landed at Bassingbourne, an American operational base and the line of aircraft were B17 "Flying Fortresses". The Yanks had never seen a glider before and a lot of excited conversations developed until their C.O. arrived. He was very impressed and then said that King George VI was due to arrive at any moment for an inspection and could he put our glider at the end of line of "Forts". We agreed and so we found ourselves standing to attention in front of our glider as the King and his entourage approached, talking to each American crew as they progressed up the line. When they reached us there was some discussion between the C.O. and the King and then he came over to us. He wanted to know the whole story and then walked off in what appeared to be a very good mood. When it was all over we were taken to the mess, where the hospitality was overwhelming. We 'phoned Brize Norton with explanations but had to stay at Bassingbourne, still being entertained and treated as V.I.Ps, until a tug arrived in the evening to pick us up. Truly a DAY TO REMEMBER.

 

The above account was, a few years ago, submitted to the Eagle, the magazine of the Glider Pilot Regimental Association, and after it was published Bert was contacted by another ex-pilot who for a long time had been puzzled by a scene from the original wartime film of the Memphis Belle, where the King is inspecting the American airmen after their tour of duty. At the start of the sequence, the King is shown arriving in his car and, for a few frames, passes a Horsa glider. The mystery is solved. A picture of the car passing the Horsa is attached above.

 

Shortly after, Bert's squadron was shipped to North Africa where they were due to take part in the Sicily campaign but, perhaps fortunately, arrived too late to participate. Back in England in 1944, Bert was transferred to "E" Squadron where training began in earnest for D-Day. On the night of the 5th June, flying a Horsa and being towed by a Dakota, he transported a platoon of the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles to Normandy. Hurried back to England at the earliest opportunity, Bert was to take part in another airborne operation but this was cancelled, as were so many others over the coming months. Eventually, Market Garden was announced. The task of Harget and his co-pilot, Sergeant L. Shell, was to fly a Horsa glider, Chalk Number 849, on the Second Lift, carrying ten pushbikes, three motorcycles, two handcarts, and fourteen men of the Divisional Workshops.

 

I flew over to Arnhem from Down Ampney on the second day as 1st Pilot of a Horsa glider towed by a Dakota. As we had heard that the previous day's landings had been successful we were in confident mood. I remember passing over the coast near Walcheren Island, which was flooded with only the odd house sticking up through the water. After releasing from my tug, I flew over the southern edge of Deelen Aerodrome without a shot being fired at my glider and landed safely on Landing Zone 'S', the most northerly of the L.Z.'s. I recall walking right across the open heath land (hearing the sound of gun fire in the distance) but it was not until we reached the railway crossing near Wolfhezen that we encountered the first enemy activity. Someone was firing up the railway line. Safely negotiating this action we reached our rendezvous point where we were dispersed to form a defensive line around the village and for the next two days we were continually digging in, then moving to a new position and then digging in again.

On the fourth day I had a trench on the edge of a wood facing the German position about 250 metres away. I was told that I was wanted at Divisional Headquarters at the Park Hotel (later renamed the Hartenstein Hotel) and I made my way there leaving my rucksack at the side of my trench. That was the last I saw of it, as when I returned later on I found that a German mortar bomb had landed on it and I had lost all my rations including several bars of chocolate that I had hoarded over the previous weeks. At Div. H.Q. I was asked to take a patrol to a forward area to try to locate the German mortar positions. We found a suitable house for observation and were able to send back messages indicating where the mortars were. The next morning we were all standing outside the rear of the house in a small courtyard, discussing the move back to Div. H.Q. when a mortar bomb came over the roof of the house and exploded right amongst us. Of the eight men who were there I was the only one not hit by shrapnel. The others were all hit in various degrees and my friend Archie Harris was the worst, with nine wounds in his legs. He must have been in a lot of pain; he was talking but weak. I managed to get stretcher bearers to the others and helped carry one of my Glider Pilot colleagues to a dressing station. It was a long pull, and two more men came and helped us for the last bit. At the aid station Archie was laid, by chance, next to another glider pilot I knew - Bill Smallwood. He had been hit in the eye." Both Staff-Sergeants Smallwood and Harris died of their wounds. Smallwood on the 24th September, Harris on the 16th November.


Then for the next few days it was back to the perimeter defence, moving back continuously and digging in. I had no food of my own, only what I could scrounge from the houses. Then, on what turned out to be the last day of the battle, came the news that we were to retreat across the river that night. Later that day I went to the dressing station to see the Glider Pilot whom I had carried in there some days before. While there I was asked to help take the walking wounded to the river, as the medical staff were staying behind. It was a terrible night, pouring with rain and pitch black when we set off in a line, a fit man at the front and myself bringing up the rear. We all held onto the smock of the man in front. At one point we passed within a few metres of a German position - we could hear them talking - but the heavy rain deadened any noise we made and we were not seen. After about 15 minutes I slipped on a muddy bank, lost my grip on the man in front and by the time I had regained my feet the column had disappeared. I was completely alone, so I walk in the general direction of the river and finally made contact with others near the river bank. Early in the morning I was lucky enough to get in a "DUCK'' and was taken over to the other side. Then I had another walk to an aid post where I was given half a loaf and a large tot of rum. Later at Nijmegen we were given a meal and I slept for almost 24 hours.

 

On the 3rd March 1945, Bert Harget was congratulated for his distinguished service by Field Marshal Montgomery, a scan of which is attached above. Three weeks later he returned to Europe with the 6th Airborne Division for the final major airborne operation of the war.

 

After Arnhem I was in England until the Rhine crossing, Operation Varsity, at Wesel. This time I flew the larger Hamilcar carrying a 17 pounder gun and crew of the Royal Artillery. Due to the dense smoke I was unable to see the ground until the last moment and found that I had landed in the wrong place and was surrounded by Germans. I was captured on the 25th March, my fifth Wedding Anniversary. I was only a prisoner for seven weeks but during that time I walked North through what was left of Germany and ended up at Rostock on the Baltic Sea. The war in Europe ended and I came back to England, rejoined my Regiment where we were put on standby for the invasion of Japan. Luckily, the Atomic bomb made that fight unnecessary and we were spared an undoubted slaughter. All that was left now was to wait until May 1946 for DEMOB.

 

Bert Harget passed away on the 12th March 2015. The following obituary was printed in the Leicester Mercury on the 17th March:

 

A veteran of Dunkirk who flew heroic missions in wooden gliders at the Normandy landings, Arnhem and the Rhine Crossing in the Second World War has died. The wartime exploits of 96-year-old Bert Harget, 96, of Oadby, reads like a Boys' Own story, punctuated with unassuming bravery and a string near misses which left his family wondering who was looking after him.

 

Bert, a Staff Sergeant with E Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment, flew Horsa gliders carrying reinforcements on the Normandy landings, in June, 1944. After landing his payload of 32 men he walked miles back to the beach to catch a boat home ready for another mission in the one-use-only gliders.

 

On September 18 that year - day two of Operation Market Garden - he flew a jeep, trailer and six men into a landing site, near Arnhem. Heading on foot with his comrades towards the fighting, he survived a strafing run by a German fighter in which a friend died. He was also the only survivor among eight comrades killed by a German mortar as they tried to locate enemy positions.

 

In July, 1943, he missed out on an ill-fated mission flying gliders in the Sicily landings because he developed malaria. Many of his comrades perished, ditching into the sea after being released too soon by their tow planes.

 

Captured during Operation Varsity, the Rhine Crossing operation in March, 1945, he was forced to march hundreds of miles to Rostock on the Baltic coast before escaping in an abandoned German staff car loaded with millions of Reichmarks.

 

The walls of the Oadby home of 96-year-old Bert Harget bore testimony to his bravery. On March 3, 1945, Bert was congratulated for his distinguished service by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Taking pride of place on a cabinet at his home was a letter from Prince Harry, congratulating him on his 95th birthday. The prince wrote: "It was fantastic to hear of your incredible wartime exploits as a glider pilot. You should be immensely proud of all that you and your comrades-in-arms achieved and the great service you performed for your country and the cause of freedom."

 

Born in Aberystwyth, Wales, on April 17, 1918, he moved to Oadby in 1957 where he worked in stock control in the shoe and handbag industries. He also served as assistant county commissioner for Scouts in the 1960s. He was married to Gladys for almost 68 years before she died in 2007. Daughter Anita Muchall said: "I don't know who was guiding him, he was in so many situations where those around him were killed or injured and he escaped with a few cuts. He saved a comrade from drowning at Dunkirk, survived a mortar attack at Arnhem as well as surviving many dangerous missions flying the gliders. He was the most unassuming man, people couldn't believe some of the things he had done. He was a brave man." Bert also leaves a son, Bob, three grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His funeral will take place at 1.30pm on April 15 at Gilroes crematorium.

After landing near Arnhem, on September 18, 1944, Bert was asked to take a patrol to locate German positions, when a mortar landed among them. He recalled: "Of the eight men who were there, I was the only one not hit by shrapnel. The others were hit in various degrees and my friend, Archie Harris, was the worst, with nine wounds in his legs. At the aid station Archie was laid, by chance, next to another glider pilot I knew who had been hit in the eye. Both died of their wounds." He added: "I felt that right through the war, luck had been with me."

 

Thanks to Bert Harget and his son, Bob, for this story and their assistance.

 

See also: S/Sgt Isaacs.

 

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