Sergeant George Currie

 

Unit : "J" Section, 1st Airborne Divisional Signals

Army No. : 2331699

Awards : British Empire Medal, Mentioned in Despatches

 

In early 1942, Corporal George Currie was a trained signaller in the Royal Corps of Signals and volunteered for the Airborne Forces. He completed parachute course 13 at Ringway, which was run from the 4th to 21st May 1942, and was posted to the 1st Parachute Brigade Signals Section, later renamed "J" Section. Currie went to North Africa with them and, in November 1942, carried out a parachute operation attached to one of the battalions of the Brigade, and he served throughout the remainder of the North African campaign.

 

Promoted to Lance-Sergeant and attached to Headquarters, 3rd Parachute Battalion, he took part in the 1st Parachute Brigade's action at Primosole Bridge, in Sicily, on the 13th July 1943. Flying in aircraft No.53, alongside Lieutenant-Colonel Yeldham, the Battalion Commander, he landed 3,000 yards East of DZ-4 and did not manage to link up with the other signallers from his aircraft. He did, however, fall in with some other men and made his way to Primosole Bridge. The following is his report of the operation:

 

Sir,

On the night 13/14 July 1943 I took part in the Brigade operation on the bridge south of Catania. I was attached to 3rd Battalion with one 22 set and charging engine and petrol etc in 2 baskets, and my crew were Sgm Cooper, Sgm Serious and Sgm Abbott. We emplaned in plane no 52 which was the C.O's plane and took off about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled time and had an uneventful flight until the coast of Sicily was reached. I was jumper No 1, and the remainder of my crew Nos 4, 5, and 6, and I had a good view of what was happening on the land from the doorway. There was a good deal of flak coming up as we crossed the coast line, and numerous parachute flares lit up the scene. The pilot flew in and suddenly banked steeply and flew out to sea again, and followed the coast for a while and then banked and went inland again. Once more he turned out to sea again and appeared to be having difficulty in locating the correct river, but after flying a few miles along the coast once more he came to the correct river mouth. We followed the river inland and the plane was rocking quite violently owing to the flak when the signal to jump came on. I pushed the baskets out but had to pause for a few moments because the wireless operator seemed to have forgotten that he was to remove the rollers, and by the time they were removed and I had jumped I was a good way behind the containers etc and could see nothing of them, also I was held on a searchlight and machine gunned continuously while descending so I was unable to concentrate fully on the position of any other chute. I had a heavy landing due to the speed at which we were dropped and lay where I landed for about 10 minutes to clear my head and to wait until the searchlights and machine guns had finished raking the area. I could not see anyone of my stick in the vicinity so I waited for about a further 20 minutes in a shallow ditch in the hope that they would come along to look for the containers and when no-one appeared I set off to search on my own. Whilst doing this two more planes came over and dropped their sticks on the same DZ so I went up to the first person I saw on the ground and it turned out to be Colonel Pearson of 1st Battalion. One of his men said he had seen a Signals basket on the DZ so I went off with this man and although we searched as far as the main road we found nothing and returned to Col. Pearson's group again. L/Sgt Pugh had also joined this group after losing his set and crew, so I remained with them and we all made our way towards the objective. We took up a position in a dyke near the bridge and various isolated groups of men kept joining us - we had also collected about 30 Italian prisoners by this time too so I remained there to assist in guarding the prisoners and to defend the position if necessary. At approximately first light I found Sgm Smith J.S. (a member of Cpl Clayton's crew), he had lost the remainder of his stick but had found a 68 set complete and had carried it around with him all the night. We set up the 68 set and endeavoured to get through to Brigade but without any success. The remainder of 3rd Battalion then joined us but all my crew were still missing, and then L/Cpl Ballamy joined us with his 22 set. A general move to the bridge was started and as soon as I arrived there I saw Capt Rowland and reported the wireless situation. He ordered me to set up the two sets at Bde H.Q. and remain there because these were the only sets that had shown up. I set up the 68 set in the small plantation SW of the bridge and although I called and searched for a long time I could not contact the relieving force. I then discovered another group working lower down the frequency band and tried to contact them in the hope of getting a message relayed. I did contact them once but they did not know my code sign and I lost them again probably because the distance was too great for the set. I reported to Capt Rowland and he instructed the 22 set to get on to this group. They did so and after a while were successful and were able to pass on our situation to the 8th Army. After this I handed over the 68 set to L/Cpl Ballamy while I commenced to dig a slit trench. I had only just got started when two enemy aircraft began strafing the area, and the sets were moved to a culvert near the railway. I remained in the plantation with Sgm Smith J.S. and we took up positions so that we could watch the river and also the left flank in case of an enemy counter attack. One Italian was captured after crossing the river here and another shot whilst trying to run away. We remained here until about 1500 hrs and then we saw some of the 1st Battalion men retiring across the bridge, and a little later I saw Col Pearson crossing the field towards the railway line. Nobody seemed to know what the true position was and there had been no orders given by anyone in our sector, so I went across to the Bde H.Q. culvert with Sgm Smith to try to find out what was happening. The only officers when we arrived there were Capt Perrin-Brown and the M.O. [Medical Officer] and a little further along the line was Col Pearson. A bombardment of fragmentation shells started about this time and the M.O. told me there was another culvert further up the road so Smith and I took shelter in here, and remained there for about an hour while we had a meal and rested. A number of paratroops began running past this culvert at the end of that and so I went outside and saw S/Sgt Swaine of Bde H.Q. and asked him what was happening.

 

He told me that the order had been given to split up into small groups and make for the coast. There was some doubt about the authenticity of this order although it was supposed to have originated from the Bde Commander, but there were no officers left to verify this for me so I made for the ADS [Advanced Dressing Station] post because I had seen Capt Perrin-Brown and a small party head in that direction. When we arrived at the ADS Padre Watkins said he had heard the order and he believed that 1st Bn. had already left and he pointed out the best way for us to follow. Our party now consisted of myself, S/Sgt Swaine and Smith J.S. and we made our way to within sight of the coast, and because we had not seen any of our own men and were still uncertain of the enemy positions we decided to hide up for the remainder of the night under a hedge at the side of a secondary road. Next morning we could hear Italians talking in a nearby farm and occasionally a few came along the road so we decided to wait until dark before moving out again. At about 1700 hrs, much to our surprise we saw a soldier who turned out to be one of the D.L.I. [Durham Light Infantry]] who had got lost. We showed him a map and he took us to an R.A. H.Q. and they told us where to find some more of our men. These were RAMC and were taking wounded to Lentini so we went along with them and stayed the night at the hospital there. Next morning we were told to make our way to Syracuse and when we saw several lorries of our own Battalion people going that way, we also started getting lifts until we finally reached the port and rejoined the remainder of the Bde on the boat.

 

Nearly everyone I met on this operation seemed to be completely in the dark as to what was happening, and it was extremely difficult to know just how to act. I did my best to find out all I could about the situation, but information was very scarce and orders seemed to be non-existent so there I was little I could do but wait for developments, and I have never felt so useless on active service before.

 

Sir,

G. Currie L/Sgt

21/7/43

 

Currie returned to England with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division in November / December 1943, and "J" Section were billeted in Syston Old Hall, just outside Grantham in Lincolnshire.

 

For Operation Market Garden, Sergeant Currie was put in command of "J" Section's glider party, and took off from Keevil on Sunday 17th September 1944 in Horsa glider 474. The tow rope soon broke, however, and the glider came down as Gosfield in Essex. Returning to Keevil, they took off with the Second Lift on the following day and made a safe landing on LZ-Z near Renkum. By this time 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters were at Arnhem Bridge, and it was quite impossible for Currie, with another signaller and two Jeeps, to get through to them. Instead he went to Oosterbeek and took part in the defence of the evolving Perimeter. He was safely evacuated across the Rhine when the Division withdrew on the 25/26th September; one of just two men from the 70-strong "J" Section to return.

 

Back in England, the 1st Airborne Division was reorganised and Sergeant Currie was posted to "P" Section, the small signals detachment with the 21st Independent Parachute Company. With them he went to Norway in May 1945, to oversee the surrender of the German forces there.

 

For his actions in either North Africa or Sicily, Currie was Mentioned in Despatches on the 23rd September 1943. On the 6th January 1946, it was announced in the London Gazette that he had been awarded the British Empire Medal. His citation reads:

 

Serjeant Currie has already completed three operational parachute jumps, namely, in November 1942 in North Africa, in August 1943 at Catania and in September 1944 at Arnhem. He invariably showed a very high standard of efficiency and as a result of his conduct in North Africa was awarded a Mention in Despatches.

 

He is at present section serjeant of the Signal Section attached to the 21st Independent Parachute Company and as such went to Norway on 9th May 1945 with the advanced party. He took charge of the only wireless set to arrive and which, for the first 48 hours, provided the sole link back to England. In addition he assisted the Royal Air Force with their communications in the early stages and he organised communications at the airfield in a most efficient manner and without the supervision of a Royal Signals officer.

 

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