Sergeant Albert Joseph Shortland
Unit : No.9 Platoon, "C" Company, 11th Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 407944
Albert Joseph, known to all as "Joe", Shortland was born on the 17th April 1915. He enlisted into the Territorial Army in 1934, joining The Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons, a cavalry regiment. He was mobilised with the regiment in August 1939 and sent to an equine school to train others in horsemanship. Before being posted abroad he married Elsie on the 7th December 1939 at Holmesfield, Derbyshire.
He was sent to Palestine in January 1940 as part of the 5th Cavalry Brigade. They travelled across to France on the 18th January and moved by train down to the port of Marseilles in the South. After embarkation on the 23rd January they spent a week at sea. Their ship was not very "stable" and they encountered a very bad storm. The horses suffered very badly and "Joe" was injured in his lower spine by a fall. Between June and July of 1941 the regiment was under command of the 1st Australian Corps "for actions" against the Vichy French forces in Syria, where they took the surrender of the French Foreign Legion cavalry regiment. They stayed in Syria until December 1941. Some of the Officers in the regiment left Joe a little bewildered. While in the desert, an Officer from the Dragoons ordered the men to train for a bit of jungle warfare. They were expected to run around in circles pretending to push through dense foliage. After some time, Joe asked him "what now, Sir?" "Oh," was the response, "well, just keep running around in circles".
At the end of this campaign, upon the return to Palestine, the regiment was told they were converting to become a mechanised unit that would be part of the 2nd Armoured Brigade. This was very quickly followed by an order to say they would become the 9th Battalion The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and part of the 7th Motor Brigade. "Joe" did not think much to this idea and volunteered for Airborne Forces. He was posted to the 11th Parachute Battalion and was on parachute course 69, 28th September - 5th October 1943, at Ramat David in the Middle East and jumped No 3 in his stick.
At the end of 1943 the battalion returned to the United Kingdom and he was stationed at Glen Parva House, Leicestershire and took up his role as the Platoon Sergeant of No.9 Platoon, "C" Company. Between February and late May of 1944 the battalion, along with the whole of the 1st Airborne Division trained for the invasion of Europe. On one such exercise, in April, the American aircrew dispatched them wide of the properly designated drop zone and dozens of men ended up being hospitalised all over Leicestershire. Joe was lucky and he just "sailed along" until he touched down. One of Joe's friends, Private A.W. "Curly" Wheadon, ended up crashing through a window and landing in a woman's bed! Another man was not so lucky, he landed on a horse, which dragged him along its field - parachute streaming out behind him!
The news that the 6th Airborne Division had been used in the assault on Hitler's Fortress Europe on the 6th June 1944, was a blow to the 1st Airborne Division, who had expected to spearhead the assault. For the next 3 ½ months they would be stood to for over a dozen operations, all of which came to nothing. Finally in the second week of September they were warned of a forthcoming mission, Operation Market-Garden, an airborne assault in Holland to capture and secure a crossing over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem.
Joe and his platoon jumped onto D.Z. "Y" on the 18th September 1944 as part of the 4th Parachute Brigade. Whilst they were waiting in the R.V. area he remembers hearing that the battalion had lost 11 men killed during the jump (this would later be amended to 17). Late in the afternoon, with new orders, they began the approach march into Arnhem.
The early hours of Tuesday 19th September found "C" Company in the area of the Arnhem Town Prison to the West of St Elizabeth's Hospital. They waited most of the day in reserve, before finally being given the order to attack north in support of "B" Company in the afternoon. The hardly even got going before they were driven back by heavy German fire and armoured vehicles.
Having survived the battalion's disastrous action in Western Arnhem on the 19th September he withdrew with the remnants to the Eastern side of Oosterbeek. During the withdrawal he slid down an embankment, near the lower road and caught himself with his legs either side of a small tree (sapling). Whilst extricating himself from this embarrassing position he was being shot at from above and when he searched the trees across the road he saw the sun glinting off something metal. Assessing this as the likely position of the culprit he fired at it and he did not get fired at from that area again. At one point Joe and others were crawling behind a Tobacco plant hedge in Oosterbeek and the Germans were on the other side of the hedge. A Major asked, in a loud voice, "Where's the Hun?" Joe replied with a pointing gesture. The Major was shot in the head and killed.
"C" Company were the main rifle company element of the battalion now left in strength and were ordered to dig-in around the area north of the Benedendorpsweg, 1 km west of the railway line. Joe was in a position close to the junction of Van Toulon Van Der Koogweg and the Batosweg when he was wounded on the 22nd September with shrapnel to the left buttock and right knee from the blast of an 88 mm German anti-aircraft gun.
Years later Joe met a Canadian who had been present, and learned that he was transported from the field on the back of a bren gun carrier. He was paralysed and couldn't remember how he had been transported. He was taken to the Vicarage - the home of Kate ter Horst. He lay on a wooden floor, near a door in the corner. Years later Kate ter Horst told him that there was only one section of wooden floor in the house and showed him the spot - and at that time there was a piano there. While injured he survived by drinking his own urine.
Sergeant Charlie Thompson "Tommo", the Platoon Sergeant of No.8 Platoon, "C" Company, heard that Joe was wounded but couldn't find out what had happened to him. He went to the vicarage and pulled down all the piles of dead bodies to check whether Joe was among them.
After being captured in the house of Kate ter Horst at the end of the battle, 26th September, he was sent to the temporary airborne hospital at Apeldoorn. At Apeldoorn Hospital, Joe saw his friend Ashley Stewart, 10th Parachute Battalion, a dog was running around with an arm in its mouth. "That's my arm!" Ashley shouted to Joe. He left there for Germany by ambulance train on the 6th October 1944 and was taken to Fallingbostel prisoner of war camp (Stalag XIB). His daughter, Ann, was a week old when Elsie heard news from the camp that he was still alive. The prison camp guards were either very old or very young - many of them only 12-14 years old and fully armed. Joe said that the latter were extremely frightening.
He was asked by RSM J.C. Lord, 3rd Parachute Battalion, if he would act as one of his Provost Sergeants to help keep order and discipline in the camp. He was also expected to keep order for rations, etc, part of their diet included grass soup. At another stage of his imprisonment he was also sent to Stalag XIA and given the POW number 118815. Joe was allowed to send a postcard from the POW camp, via the Red Cross, in November 1944. It was not received at home until the 5th January 1945. Joe's proper paybook was taken from him at the camp, so he had to get a replacement after the war. On one occasion Polish prisoners were taken out of the camp and marched past them. A woman pushed some paper money into Joe's hand as she went by.
A highlight moment occurred when the camp commandant made a fool of himself. The wounded were assembled, holding each other up, for inspection by the Commandant. The Commandant had to be lifted onto his bicycle by his Batman, but the prisoners did not dare to laugh. They had to stay composed even when the Commandant got his leg tangled in the back wheel and fell onto the ground in front of them. He threw a Teutonic rage and was frothing at the mouth. Elsie's uncle, Edward Boddy, was in the Royal Northumbrian Fusiliers. He fought at Abysinnia and was captured at Tobruk. During the war he developed a religious calling. He managed to get into Joe's POW camp with his bible - Joe had no idea how he managed this!
Towards the end of March 1945 he was admitted to the camp hospital suffering from a severe stomach complaint, which was later diagnosed as Typhoid Fever. He was recovering from his condition when the camp was liberated by Allied forces on the 16th April 1945. On return to the U.K. by air he was immediately admitted to hospital, 21st April 1945. He was eventually released and allowed home on survivors leave in May 1945. He travelled home by train, arriving at Sheffield Station at midnight. The taxi driver would not take him on the journey to Holmesfield so he had to stay on the bench until morning.
Elsie was at that point living with her mother, Margaret Boddy. When Joe arrived he was 4 stone underweight but Margaret built up his strength with milk and eggs. They had no fruit at all at that time. There is a photograph of Joe and Elsie after his return from the POW camp. They are holding Ann, who was born when Joe was a prisoner. Ann was 6 months old when he first saw her. Joe was too weak to be able to hold her and so in the photograph they are holding her up between the two of them.
Joe's release certificate is dated 29th November 1945. It reads: Military Conduct: Exemplary. Testimonial: An honest, hardworking and trustworthy man. He is efficient and thorough. He has occupied a responsible position with credit for a long time.
In 1949, 2 months after starting to receive a military pension, Joe went to Birmingham for a medical. The man who was seen before him had lost a leg and came out of the medical interview in tears. He told Joe that his pension was to be docked as he wasn't any worse. Joe was enraged and refused to take a pension at all. As a result Elsie ended up not getting any money! Joe's war wounds included that his legs would sometimes go dead and he had pieces of shrapnel all over his body (including around his ribs) - periodically pieces would work their way out.
Joe and Elsie lived in a bungalow named 'Spinners Way', Clanfield, Oxfordshire, which he completed on New Years Day 1966. "Joe" Shortland died on the 10th June 1992 after suffering a massive stroke.
This profile was put together by Bob Hilton, with the assistance of Joe's widow, Elsie and his grand-daughters, Dawn and Susie Phillips. 2009-2010.
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