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Harold Padfield after being taken prisoner at Arnhem Bridge

Harold Padfield after being taken prisoner at Arnhem Bridge

Lance-Sergeant Harold Padfield

 

Unit : "B" Troop, 1st Parachute Squadron

Army No. : 1873564 

 

We arrived in Donington {after returning from Italy, late 1943}, a small village in Lincolnshire, with Grantham twenty miles to the North and Spalding and Boston 10 miles in the opposite direction. The camp was of Nissen huts at the back of Komani House, which was to be the HQ office. The cookhouse was a mile away. We had to walk to the village then turn down a long lane with shrubbery on either side. We had a hot meal and went to bed. We sorted out stores in the few days before going on leave for Christmas and New Year and generally getting the camp in some sort of order. We also made ourselves known in the village, and the village square was our parade ground.

 

Life was hectic during our time at Donington, we worked hard in training and we played hard during our time off. Long route marches, exercises and night drops were the main themes. The local teashop became our NAAFI until NAAFI itself could provide a place for us, but tea and buns at the shop were favourite. It was always crowded at break times but the service was second to none.

 

We had some very good moments and the camaraderie amongst the Squadron was of the finest to be had anywhere, and yet the rivalry between Troops was always competitive. Monday's always stood for twenty-mile route marches in full battle order, just to knock the weekend cobwebs away. We used to march out of the village at attention, which is with rifles in the sloped arms position, and again when we arrived back in the late afternoon.

 

On some of these occasions, a young officer in 'A' Troop, would take his bagpipes and play us bag into the village, and naturally we would get onlookers. On one of these days, Dave Thomas, a corporal in the Troop gave a little boy sixpence to "give to the man playing the bagpipes" the officers neck went so red you could have lit a cigarette from the glow. On another occasion, Joe Malley, who was a friend of mine, had gone home to Glasgow for the weekend. He missed the 'passion wagon' at Grantham Station at 3am to bring him back to Donington. He still hadn't arrived by the time we went to breakfast, so we cleaned his webbing etc, and took it with us, as we went straight from there to the parade ground. As we left breakfast there was still no sign of Joe, then, just as we were about to form up for parade he appeared, we got him dressed and had put bread and sausages in his pack. He had walked the 20 miles from Grantham, and was now about to start a 20-mile route march. At the end of each 10-minute break, Joe would be arriving. He didn't forget that march in hurry.

 

At this time parachute training took on a different tack. Previously we would jump with a sten gun fixed between our harness, and a magazine in our pouch ready for instant action if need be, on landing. Our rifles and Bren guns were packed in containers and were dropped from the bomb racks of the plane. When we landed we would rendezvous on the containers and get our weapons. The policy was now to put your rifle in a valise and attach a 20ft cord to your harness, hold this across your body and when your 'chute opened, push the valise away and it would dangle below you while you did what you had to do in preparation for a landing. Bren guns and wireless sets were put in special kit bags, the cord was the same but it entailed a special drill for each. The kit bags were held in the right hand and rested on the right foot, and as you moved forward you brought the right foot up to the left each time. Once you got to the door, you swung your right foot out as you pushed off from the side of the fuselage with your left hand. As your 'chute opened you dropped the kit bag as you did the valise.

 

Another piece of equipment had come into being, the pushbike. This had a container 'chute fitted to it which was connected to a strap in the plane, the same way we were hooked up. This had to be carried by No.1 who stood in the doorway with it, and as the green light came on he threw it out and downwards and followed after it. The first time I did it, the bike came back at me, well, if you delay, the rest of the stick will miss the dropping zone, so I through it away as I jumped, which made for a bad exit and I had a lot of twists to kick out for my 'chute to fully open, but it all made for experience.

 

One other experience I feel I should relate. We were on a night exercise and the plane was doing a bit of unstable flying, when all of a sudden the red light came on for us to stand by. We were just about to hook up when the green light came on and we were out like greased lightning. I was number 10 in the middle of the stick, I looked up and saw that I had a lot of twists and started kicking them out, I was still in twists when I landed. Luckily it was a newly ploughed field and I sunk in to the top of my boots, and could make no roll. It was quite a frightening jump. When we rendezvoused we found that the first five out were casualties, and others quite shaken from heavy landing.

 

Unbeknown to us the Brigade Commander was on the DZ and came across in a hell of a temper. He had watched the jump and was appalled at the low height and the high speed of the plane when we had been dropped. He congratulated us on the speed of our exit; otherwise some would have been killed. Apparently the American pilot had mistaken some RAF fighter planes for Jerries, and had promptly panicked. A few weeks after this I was promoted to Lance Sergeant.

 

During all this time, we were standing by for operations, going to the airfield and loading our containers, only to have them cancelled because our troops were advancing too fast. On one occasion we were supposed to have dropped on Caen, but at the time we should have dropped, Jerry was on the DZ. All in all we had 17 operations cancelled before we took off for Arnhem, which was 60 miles behind enemy lines.

 

We had stood by to drop the week before, which would have been very adventurous, using the three Brigades to take the three bridges, Maas, Waal and Neder Rijn. This was cancelled owing to the 2nd Army meeting fierce resistance at the Albert Canal, so the mission would have been suicidal. General Montgomery decided that more planes and more parachute troops were needed. Hence the American 82nd and 101st paras were to take the lower bridges, and British 1st Airborne were to take the bridge at Arnhem, on Sunday 17th September 1944.

 

We had loaded the containers on the Friday, and set off on the early hours of Sunday morning to Barkstone Heath Airfield.

 

My stick commander and myself checked straps and hooks on the plane, also that the door opening was taped and that the bomb rack switches worked, before getting the stick to fit up the containers. It was a lovely sunny day and we laid around until we were told to enplane at around eleven o'clock. The plane eventually taxied into position at the head of the runway, lining up for take-off, which in our case was around midday. The flight was quite smooth and we had plenty of fighter escort. When we had crossed the North Sea we heard gunfire, but nothing to worry about. When we saw the dykes and windmills of Holland, we knew that time was getting close. The butterflies had risen from their slumbers and were playing havoc with my stomach. Lt. Simpson told us to hook up, and it was then, Red On, "Action Stations", Green On, "Go", time 1407 hours, or to the uninitiated, seven minutes past two.

 

A good exit, no twists, not a lot of oscillation, but there was a tree in my way, I could see I wasn't going to miss it, so I took evasive action to cover my face. The 'chute was caught was caught in the branches and I just hung there. I hit my release box, pulled out the leg straps, and lowered myself onto a branch and climbed down. The scene was bewildering, gliders were coming in thick and fast, many with a horrible 'crunch' and there were hundreds of parachutists, at any other time it would have been a sight to behold. I spotted blue smoke for my rendezvous, and ran over to join the rest of my stick. We collected our weapons and stores and moved off in the direction of Wolfheze. In battle we carried our explosives and grenades on our person, so you made sure that the detonators were stored where you wouldn't fall on them.

 

As we moved off the dropping zone, we came across a German vehicle and a German General, and his driver who had been killed, which brought you to the reality of the situation we were in. We marched in single file with our rifles at alert, but it was all quiet. Then we were welcomed by the Dutch people like conquering heroes. As we left Wolfheze, and came to the outskirts of Oosterbeck, we saw a lot of men dressed in white, they were quite strange looking and eerie, they were apparently from an asylum down the road.

 

In Oosterbeck we were once again greeted by hundreds of Dutch, with flags and bunting, it was like a victory parade, when all of a sudden the action came to life. We quickly dispersed, went into back gardens, took up defensive positions and local skirmishes developed. The railway bridge was across the fields from these back gardens, and we knew that 9 Field Company, who had come in by glider, were to take the bridge and demolish it. As we were having our little battles they were making their way across the field to the bridge. As they arrived at the bridge, about 20 in number, the Germans blew it up. These were the first casualties that we saw.

 

As the afternoon wore on the battles were beginning to rage around Oosterbeck and we had to get to the bridge at Arnhem, which was quite a few miles ahead. It was, I suppose, about 9pm when we got into Arnhem, and things were pretty lively, with fires lighting up the place. I had to get down to the river, find the pontoon bridge and check its suitability for use at a later stage; I took Danny Neville and Frank Navin with me. We found it about a mile downstream minus its centre section. We carried on for a further half mile and found the centre section. On inspection we found that it had explosive charges fixed to it, so we cut them away and dumped them in the river. We then made our way back to the main section, which also had explosive charges fixed, so we did the same with those. As we were coming away a German soldier must have mistaken us for one of his own, poor chap.

 

We made our way back to the bridge area and hoped to find the rest of them there. As luck would have it they weren't very far from where we had left them. They had just finished being briefed on the situation. Our stick was detailed to go under the bridge and take up a position on its North end. There seemed to be all hell let loose at the bridge itself, apparently a shed at the side of the bridge containing ammunition and explosives had been hit and this was causing the fireworks.

 

We managed to get round and under with no bother, and came to a building which Lt. Simpson told me to break into and search. It didn't need a lot to break in; I just broke the glass in the door and turned the handle from the inside. I asked Joe Malley and Arthur Hendy to give me covering fire as I searched around. I went upstairs and realised it was a school. I now know it was the Limburg Stirum school. There were tables, chairs and a blackboard and blasted great picture windows on one side of the main classroom and porthole windows on the opposite side, but other rooms weren't too bad. There was a good view of the bridge from the room at the end of the passage. I went out and reported and we then took over the building. This must have been around 10.30pm.

 

Everyone was told to be as quiet as possible whilst we moved the desks to make barricades etc. We had the advantage of fires around the place to see what we were doing, and then we settled down to watch. I positioned myself on the stairway, so that I was available for any occurrence. I sent Arthur Hendy to have a scout around the basement to see if there was anything of use in the way of clothing that we could use to muffle the sound of our boots, and just as important to see if there was any food. Our luck was in as he came back with pullovers, slips and skirts, obviously a girl's school. We passed them around and Arthur cleared off again as he said, "There were some vegetables down there". After a while he came back with some hot soup, which went down well.

 

Sometime later we heard movement down below and it was some of A Troop, how they came to be in the area I don't know, anyway we could do with some extra hands up top to cover the area properly. Daylight came and I went round and sorted out the arcs of fire I wanted each man to cover.

 

I went to Sid Gueran and set him up on a desk so that he could comfortably sit and cover a vital area to the West through his porthole window. I was telling him the area I wanted him to cover and couldn't understand why I wasn't getting a response, when I turned towards him he was sat upright, and my first loss. He had been shot through the mouth; it must have been a stray bullet because I certainly didn't hear anything. I got hold of Joe Malley, whom I had put in charge of this particular area, and we laid him out on the floor, and made sure that his identity tag was around his neck, I then continued around the other areas, but they were well engaged and our defence of this vital bridge had begun.

 

Among the A Troop contingent, who came in during the night, was a signaller from 3rd Battalion. He was trying to get information locally and further a field from 30 Corps, who were pushing through to take over from 1st Airborne Division, but he wasn't having a great deal of success.

 

Three German lorries approached the bridge from the South, we waited until they were well inside the net of troops around the bridge and opened fire. Grenade and Piat guns opened up from other areas and those who got out of the vehicles were mown down. Later that day a convoy of tanks and half-tracks came from the same direction and met the same fate. There must have been a dozen or more, three went over the embankment, others were burnt out and four came towards the school all guns blazing. They were all successfully put out of action and laid to rest at the side of the building.

 

We had a lull of almost an hour except for the odd sniper and Tommy Gray was our next to be killed. The Germans then opened up with mortar and artillery, and life was getting difficult. Twiggy Hazelwood was badly wounded and Ginger Partridge had the sights shot off his Bren gun, but miraculously he wasn't touched. Houses round about were being set on fire by the constant barrage of shells, and we just waited. You could here battles going on all around, but at this particular time shelling was our main worry.

 

Nighttime came and with it an attack from grenades and spasmodic raids from outside, which were always successfully beaten off, but this meant that you couldn't have a well-earned doze. At midnight I decided it was time to take one of my Benzedrine tablets, as I hadn't had any sleep since Saturday, and we were now entering the early hours of Tuesday. We had a watchful period from midnight to dawn, when all of a sudden a grenade came through a window; Sapper Butterworth immediately picked it up and threw it back out. I don't know what damage it caused outside, but he certainly saved us from disaster inside. In one of the rooms off the landing, were about a dozen mattresses that we had stacked up to give us a decent protection from splintered glass. During the afternoon there was an explosion and one of the mattresses was on fire. I went in to pull it off the pile and put it out and was hurled back to the doorway by another explosion. "What the hell was that?" I asked, and someone thought it might have been a rifle grenade from a sniper across the road. I crawled back and there was another explosion with the same result. The third time was lucky and the fire was extinguished. I got a couple of Sappers, Charlie Grier and Billy Marr with their Bren gun, and we watched for any movement in the houses opposite. After a nerve wracking 30 minutes the Bren gunner said, "got him Sarge", and let go a burst, followed by two more, which silenced our menace from that quarter.

 

The shelling was continuing and our own ammunition was getting dangerously low. In fact my own was spent except for a few rounds in my 9mm Browning pistol. During the afternoon the signaller had got through to 30 Corps, they were held up with fierce fighting 30 odd miles away and the prospects of our being relieved in the foreseeable future were fading fast. Two RAF supply planes came over and were met with a hail of fire from the German tanks commanding the bridge. One managed to drop its containers and get away, the other dropped his but was a mass of flames and crashed into the church spire. The containers were too far away to be of any use to us, it was also a sickener for morale. Someone gave the old war cry "Whoa Mohammet" and it was echoed all around the perimeter, which had an amazing effect in restoring confidence.

 

Wednesday 20th September. Two German tanks were brought up onto the bridge and started to blast away with their 88mm guns. They had a direct hit on the front of the school and the roof was set alight. Joe Simpson and Paddy Neville were killed, the rest of us were ok and we went into the basement. It was becoming obvious that we should move out. Twiggy Hazelwood was getting worse by the hour, and sure enough another direct hit, and the school was well alight. We got the wounded downstairs and I went round all the rooms to be sure everyone was out. Joe and Paddy were limbless bodies, otherwise everyone was out. We tore down doors to put the wounded on, and went out the way we had come in. As we made across to a wall we came under fire. John Bretherton was killed as he was getting over it. Twiggy got a machine gun burst up the side of his body as we were lifting him over the wall, but he was still clinging on to life. We were all eventually over and the bank gave a little protection. One of the wounded was a Major Lewis; he must have come into the school with the signaller on the first night. I don't know when he got wounded but he was the company commander of 'C' Company 3 Battalion.

 

The next 20 minutes were phenomenal! We were caught in an enfilade of fire and airbursts. A stray bullet hit Charlie Grier; it made a hole in his helmet but didn't mark his head. Billy Marr had his pack severed from his back but with no injury.

 

Major Lewis told us that we should surrender, and that we should all take pride in our performance. We took the bolts out of our weapons and threw them away; we left the weapons where we were. Sapper Butterworth put a white handkerchief on the end of his rifle and went forward waving it. As he was walking forward a machine gunner opened up and hit him in the legs, his German officer drew his pistol and shot the machine gunner. He then told us to come forward, saying, "You are very brave, but very foolish". We considered we were unfortunate.

 

We were then led off, with our hands up, through the streets of Arnhem and held in the basement of some house. We were prisoners of war. Our wounded had been taken away from us when we were captured. That night we had a few snatches of sleep. I say snatches because just as you were nicely off, they wanted you to move to another room or another house, just to be bloody-minded.

 

The next morning all prisoners were formed up, I was surprised and pleased to see Norman Swift, a friend of mine from A Troop so we fell in together. We marched off singing all the old songs, Tipperary, Pack up you troubles etc., until about a mile up the road we came to a halt at a memorial. To our amazement it had 17th September 1944, emblazoned in beautiful flowers, it was really something. The reason for the halt wasn't to admire the memorial, but to be loaded onto lorries and transported to Appledoor. Here we were herded into a big railway shed, told to take our boots off, tie them together and mark them. We were then given a black loaf of bread between five of us, the date indentation on it was 16th September. I got my knife out of my haversack and tried to cut it into equal portions, but the blade snapped. Anyway we did eventually get it cut and that was all we were getting. As time went on more and more were arriving, including familiar faces from the Squadron who had their own stories to tell. It appeared that it had been gruesome everywhere.

 

As dusk fell we were marched for about a mile up the railway line in our stockinged feet. The first cattle truck we came to we had to throw in our boots. We were then herded fifty to a cattle truck, the door closed to within three inches and the gap was intertwined with barbed wire. Fifty to a truck meant that you were sat shoulder to shoulder, it was most uncomfortable.

 

We moved off during the night and were shunted about all over the Ruhr, for about 5 days. Relieving oneself was degrading because you had to use one half of your mess tin for bowel movements, and nothing to clean yourself or the tin with. On the third day a loaf was handed in to be cut into fifty slices. Poor old Les Ellis was the unfortunate who had to do it, as he was the most senior rank in the party. The only luck we had during this miserable period was that it rained continuously for the whole journey. We took advantage of this by taking it in turns to hold the other half of our mess tins outside the gap to catch the rain drops from the roof of the train, so eventually we all had a drink of water.

 

When we were at last ordered to "Get out", we had to find our boots. It would have been hilarious if we had been watching on film, but we weren't in that frame of mind. I suppose it took about an hour before we were all ready for our next episode. They formed us up in ranks of five and we marched off, we found the place was Limburg. We marched and marched and with no real food inside us for over a week, it felt as though we had gone about twenty miles, later it was discovered that it was only four.

 

The camp we arrived at was Stalag 12 A. We were taken to shower rooms, where we had to strip off and hand over our clothing, go under a shower, come out the other side, pick up our clothing and get dressed. We were then put into a compound with thousands of other troops. Drinking water was from a standpipe that was on for one hour three times a day, so you queued for evermore. The new arrivals had to report to a hut where we were given a postcard to send home. What you had to put on the card was written on a blackboard, ending 'yours faithfully'. I put 'lots of love' and my card was torn up, but I was given another with a ticking off to write what was on the blackboard.

 

Next day we were marched back to Limburg, and put to work clearing up bomb damage in the town. At midday we were marched out of the town and a skilly (soup) wagon came up. We were given something that at home we wouldn't have given to the pigs, but when you are ravenous you will eat anything. I found some apples in someone's back garden and stuffed some in my shirt. I had a couple of days like this and then had to go for interrogation. They fire questions at you, - what is your job in your unit? Where have you been? Anything to get a picture of your unit I suppose and always with the threat of a pistol on the table. The stock answer was always '1873564 Lance Sergeant Harold Padfield" it gets boring after an hour, but they let me go. The next day I was in the queue for water when I suddenly went down with dysentery, I was ill for 4 days. The trouble with getting ill in these circumstances is that you don't get fully fit again.

 

It was during this period at Stalag 12A that members of my stick got together, and with the poetic rhythm of Billy Marr, made up the poem "Arnheim Bridge", which on his return to England, Billy had printed but not published.

 

After 10 days at this camp we were all on the move again. As L/Sgt. I was given the option of going to a non-working camp, which I took, so I was sent to Stalag 18C. We were marched to the station and I was put in a cattle truck with 25 others. This time barbed wire was stretched across the carriage, we had one third and the German guards had two thirds. The journey was of four days duration and once again all we had was one fifth of a loaf for the whole journey. To get ourselves sorted out thirteen a side we lined up one behind the other, you then laid down on your side. If you wanted to turn over you stood up and lay down on the other side. If your hips were too sore you just stood up.

 

One of the party was a L/Cpl from my own Troop, Wally Hirst, he was badly wounded in his left arm and was finding things very difficult. I asked if it would be possible to give him extra room so that his arm would be out of the perimeter of the barbed wire. This they reluctantly accepted, but only if we sang "Lillie Marlene" no problem we would sing "Lillie Marlene". What I hadn't bargained for was that we had to sing it any time they wanted it sung, and I got quite resentful about it. Today I cannot stay in the same room if it comes on the radio or the TV, the whole episode wells up inside me, and it takes a little while for me to calm down.

 

We arrived at Stalag 18C, which was near Markt Pongau, between Innsbruck and Salzburg. The nearest railway station was Bishopshofen. The camp itself was large, but it was split up into nationalities, British, Poles, Indians, and Russians. Our enclave was quite small. The perimeter fence was electrified and there were two searchlight towers that covered our exercise yard. The hut was about 75yds by 10yds and contained two tier beds to house 200 prisoners. Water, for drinking and washing was drawn from a well. The outside exercise yard had an area for the toilets, which was a deep trench about 15yds long with a horizontal pole, supported at intervals, to sit on and another pole slightly higher to support your back and stop you falling in. the whole structure was covered with a corrugated roof and sides, the remainder of the yard provided a walking area with a circumference of about 100yds. We used to walk round in twos or threes for probably an hour at a time some three or four times a day.

 

Tuesdays we were given a quarter loaf of bread, a handful of mint tea and a dessertspoon of sugar. Thursday we had a quarter of a loaf, a dessertspoon of coffee and a dessertspoon of jam.

 

Skilly was at 1130 daily.

 

We had a rota for collecting the skilly. This entailed taking the container up to the cookhouse, which was in a different compound, at 7.30 in the morning. By then all the boilers were boiling potatoes. During the morning either Sauerkraut, or some other veg was put in and sometimes you detected a piece of meat.

 

Whenever I ate a slice of bread, I always scraped the crumbs into a tin. When the tin was full I used to make a bread pudding, but not the type mother made!

 

Friday afternoons we all paraded for a march to the showers, after a month I could see myself getting thinner and thinner.

 

Every night at 8 o'clock when the lights went down, one of the prisoners who had a crystal set (radio) hidden away, would come out with news of the battle fronts and draw diagrams on a blackboard to explain what was going on. This event was very much looked forward to, and whilst it was going on some of the prisoners would position themselves around the doors, at any sign of the guards approaching a cry of "Bandits" would go up, everything would disappear and we would go back to what we were doing previously. It became a habit.

 

Saturday nights were entertainment nights, and it was always amazing at what talents there were among the prisoners. Cornet players, comedians and some would get together and perform a short play, all very much appreciated. One chap was a Police Sergeant in London before the war, and he would sometimes give us a talk on his experiences. He knew London like the back of his hand.

 

With the lack of food and the absence of Red Cross food parcels, about 20 of us volunteered to go out on a commando, in other words to work. It was obvious that we were never going to be fit enough to escape, unless we got more food. Working camps got more food than we did and also got regular food parcels. No sooner had we done this than a Red Cross delegation arrived, I thought they were Gestapo.

 

It was during January 1945 when the parcels arrived, our first and last, and with them a real visit from the Gestapo. They searched our belongings, even our food. I still had my army issue watch, so I dug a hole in my piece of bread, put the watch in, pushed the rest of the bread down on it and then cut a very thin slice so that it looked normal. We all new they were looking for bigger things and they literally pulled the place to pieces, but they didn't find the wireless. In a fit of pique they had all the tins in the parcels pierced.

 

We eventually went out as a working commando and were around Linz. At first we were put to unloading rubble from railway carriages. One night the RAF had a raid and bombed the area. Next morning we found that the station and sidings had taken a pasting. In the area were a lot of political prisoners, doing various work and we, and them were detailed to get this railway line working again. This was very much against our principles and we started chiding the political prisoners about doing the Germans' dirty work. As this was going on, some of our chaps distracted the guards while we filled in a crater. We put the buffers and points at the bottom of this crater and hastily filled it in. when it came to re laying the rails, of course some were missing. The political prisoners were getting the blame, but after a few days it apparently came to light that we were responsible. No one would own up, so we were eventually returned to Stalag to charged by the commandant. We all got seven days solitary confinement with just bread and water.

 

In March we had to dig a new trench for our toilet and fill in the other. No sooner was it finished than I went down with another bout of dysentery.

 

At the beginning of April, we had an influx of prisoners from another Stalag because the British were advancing towards their area, so Jerry moved them out. Among these prisoners was Ted Oliver, our Squadron Chief Clerk. As the days passed we knew the Germans were on the run by the relaxed attitudes of the guards.

 

On 28th April and Ted and myself decided to take our kit, go to the gate and ask if we could go for a shower and to our amazement we were allowed out. We walked and walked in the direction of Salzburg, to get distance from the Stalag. There was still a lot of snow on the hills and much too deep to try getting to Switzerland. We had some rough nights, but it was lovely to be free, even for a few hours.

 

One afternoon we came across a building and on investigation we found it to be empty. We decided to move on a bit and come back later for a really good rest. At the top of this building there were three double bunks, so we decided to lie on the top bunks. Around midnight the warmth of our bodies started up the bugs in the bed and we were in trouble. Then about 2 o'clock footsteps on the stairs and talking in German. It was obviously German soldiers, we held our breath and daren't move to scratch, they seemed convinced no one was in, so we were safe once again. That was to be our last night "under cover".

 

Next morning we moved towards Salzburg, we eventually found ourselves at a place called Wem Wem. About a mile further on we seemed to come to the end of the road. Ahead of us we saw a road block, with the road and hills going up on the left and no room on the right, so we moved back and in amongst some houses. We were moving fast now, and then we heard some shouts and some shooting. There was obviously no follow up because we got to Wem Wem station with no further trouble. We mingled with passengers and at this time decided we should try the other way and go down through the Brenner Pass into Italy.

 

We found a train going to Innsbruck at 4.30pm, so we duly boarded. All was well until the train stopped at Bishopshofen, which was next to the Stalag we had left a week or so before! Guards boarded so we got under the seats, they soon disappeared and the train moved on. The next stop was Zell-am-Zee, and we noticed that everyone was getting off. We lingered for a while before getting off the train ourselves and then noticed a Frenchman driving a train up and down. Ted could speak French so we went over to him and asked him if he knew when a train was going to Innsbruck. Apparently one was due about midnight and as the time was now only 7.30pm we decided to chance going through the town to the hills beyond. As we were making our way through the town I had a tap on my shoulder and I went cold. The interceptor was not who I expected it to be and he was explaining that Americans were in the hotel at the bottom of the hill, to which we replied, "Danke shun".

 

We went down to the hotel and told the Americans who we were and what we had been doing to get there. We were introduced to the General who was waiting to take the German surrender from Kesselring. It was arranged for us to be escorted in three jeeps through German lines to Salzburg, where we arrived at about 6am on 8th May 1945. After breakfast in the American camp, it was announced that the war in Europe was over.

 

 

Harold Padfield was posted to 20 Bomb Disposal Squadron towards the end of 1945, but returned to the 1st Parachute Squadron in February 1946 and served with them in Palestine. Promoted to Sergeant, Padfield became Troop Sergeant with C Troop, but temporarily left the Squadron to become a Drill Instructor. Having been Mentioned in Despatches for his work in Palestine, Padfield, upon returning to the UK in mid 1948, was posted to the newly formed 9 Independent Parachute Squadron RE, with whom he served in Germany as Platoon Sergeant of 3 Troop. In September 1950, he married Beryl Joy Edwards. In 1952, Padfield was promoted to Staff-Sergeant and, in June 1953, was posted to 25 Engineer Regiment, stationed in Egypt. This move saw the end of his days as a parachutist.

 

Thanks to Harold and Dave Padfield, his son, for this story.

 

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