Corporal Bill McMahon

Bill McMahon reunited with his gas mask in 1991

Bill McMahon at Arnhem, 1991

Bill McMahon and Jimmy Swanston at Arnhem, 1991

Bill McMahon with Jimmy Swanston at the Arnhem Memorial

Bill McMahon at Arnhem with Robert Sigmond, 1991

Bill McMahon and Jimmy Swanston inspecting graves at the Airborne Cemetery

Bill McMahon's Mentioned in Despatches certificate

Corporal William G. McMahon


Unit : No.13 Platoon, "D" Company, 7th (Galloway) Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers

Army No. : 14211478

Awards : Mentioned in Despatches


Corporal McMahon was Mentioned in Despatches for his bravery at Arnhem; the citation has sadly been lost but it was awarded for single-handedly knocking out a German machine-gun emplacement. During a difficult part in the withdrawal to the river bank during the night of the 25th September, some of the men in the remnants of his Platoon reportedly wanted to surrender, but McMahon insisted that he would lead them across the river and shoot any man who refused. He safely crossed the river that night, later serving in Norway, and also being called upon to appear as an extra in the film about Arnhem, Theirs is the Glory.


The following is an article printed in an unknown newspaper in 1946, to mark the release of the film.


Saw Arnhem Again From Cinema Seat

Kirkcaldy man, ex-Sergeant William McMahon, 78 Winifred Street, took the day off on Wednesday to go to Edinburgh. He went to the pictures, but it was no ordinary visit to the flicks.


This slim, dark-haired, smiling man of 37 was one of the chosen audience for the preview of the film "Their's is the Glory", the epic story of Arnhem.


He lived again through two visits he has paid to the now historic village in Holland - the first "the real thing" in September of '44, when he was lucky to escape with his life; the second, last year when he was one of the military personnel taking part in the making of the film.


Demobbed now, Sgt. McMahon has settled down again in civvy street. He left the army at the end of last year, just after the film was completed. He has returned to his pre-war job as foreman with the Kirkcaldy house furnishing firm of M. Spears & Co.


On the subject of Arnhem, he has little to say, even though he was mentioned in despatches and afterwards paraded at Buckingham Palace before the King.


"I wouldn't have missed the film for anything," said Mr McMahon. "Not that I took much part in it - an occasional crowd scene, and sometimes moving off, as a section commander."


Called up in '42, Sgt McMahon did his primary training at Aberdeen, was transferred to the K.O.S.B.s and later found himself in the 1st Airborne Division. He was a corporal at the time of Arnhem, which he recalls as the worst nine days he ever spent. He was one of three survivors of his whole company to return.


Later he went to Norway, and it was while serving there that he was recalled to England, as one of the K.O.S.B. section chosen to take part in the film. "The three months of that were a picnic," he said.


"But you could never forget what had happened at the place before. I used to go round looking for the spots where I had been in a jam. There was one hole where I had thought my number was up. I said my prayer's a few times that day."



The following is an article from the Courier and Advertiser, 2nd October 1991.


Back to Scene of Battle After Chance Find

A chance find in a Dutch field has led to an ex-soldier from Newport travelling to the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the second world war for the first time in over 45 years.


Bill McMahon was a corporal in the King's Own Scottish Borderers when he, along with thousands of other allied troops, was flown by glider to Arnhem in September 1944 with the task of capturing vital bridges inside German-held territory.


During the short campaign, which lasted from September 17 to 25, Bill saw many of his comrades killed and injured and suffered damage to his hearing from the blast of an exploding rocket.


Not long after the end of hostilities Bill returned to the area from his posting in Norway to act as an extra in the film "Theirs Was The Glory" about Arnhem and the men who fought there.


Until earlier this year Bill, now aged 82, thought he would never go back again, but a letter he received in February led to an extraordinary return to the past.


The letter was from Dutchman Robert Sigmond, of Utrecht, who has spent years collecting information and memorabilia connected with Arnhem.


He explained that a friend of his, searching a former battlefield with a metal detector, had come across a buried piece of gas mask pouch.


This fragment bore an official number which Mr Sigmond traced using his extensive computer records of personnel involved in the campaign and the pouch turned out to belong to Corporal W. G. McMahon, of D Company, 7th Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers. A regimental veterans association then put the pair in touch.


Bill, now living in retirement in Robert Street, Newport, was surprised and delighted to be contacted by Mr Sigmond and after corresponding for some time it was decided that he would visit the area on the anniversary of the campaign.


Consequently he flew over to Holland last month, accompanied by the former sergeant major of D Company, Jimmy Swanston.


They were met by Mr Sigmond, who was born six years after the battle took place, and they stayed at his home during their visit.


"He took us everywhere there had been fighting and we visited all the cemeteries." Bill explained.


"He even drove us miles to visit a spot where just one King's Own Scottish Borderer was buried."


Bill was also impressed by the "museum" Mr Sigmond had created at his home with a wide array of documents, photographs and pieces of equipment dating back to the campaign, including a dummy wearing army uniform.


"He is trying to complete a dummy piper, too, but he is having trouble getting hold of a set of bagpipes and I am trying to help him locate a set."


The trip brought back many memories for Bill, both of the drama and excitement of battle and the sadness of losing comrades.


His company had a tough time during the campaign and in particular he remembers being told of a message to fight to the last man and last bullet shortly before his company were subjected to a mortar attack while moving through a wood.


"It was a very heavy bombardment and several men were killed. I dived behind a dead cow for cover."


Afterwards Bill helped a wounded man to the company's river crossing point but he failed to get him on the first crowded boat going over. In a twist of fate this actually saved the man's life as within a couple of minutes the boat capsized.


Once safely over the river the troops were taken by truck to the town of Nijmegen, near Arnhem.


The company were later flown back to their base in Lincolnshire for some well deserved leave and Bill, who still has a certificate to mark his being mentioned in despatches, was subsequently posted to Norway, where the German occupation troops had surrendered.


Bill was selected as one of the many troops involved in the "Theirs Was The Glory" film, which was made to mark the heroic actions of the allied forces.


He visited the famous Elstree Studios and went back to the Arnhem area for filming, although ironically the river crossing scenes in the picture were shot in England.


To ensure realism in the battle scenes, live ammunition was used in some instances, which according to Bill made the exercise almost as dangerous as actual battle.


Now back home in Newport, Bill said he was glad to have visited the battlefield after so many years and he hopes he may be able to return again in the future.



My thanks to Stephen Young, Bill McMahon's son-in-law, for this account.


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