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Sergeant's Mess, 1st Airborne Divisional Workshops, 1944

Staff-Sergeant John Morrison

 

Unit : Advanced Workshop Detachment, 1st (Airborne) Divisional Workshops

Army No. : 3194195

Awards : Mentioned in Despatches

 

John Morrison initially joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers and served with them during the pre-war period. By September 1944, he was a Staff-Sergeant and the Armament Artificer Telemechanics of the Advance Workshop Detachment, R.E.M.E. of the 1st Airborne Division.

 

On Monday, 18th September 1944, he flew in the first Horsa glider allocated to the unit (chalk number 849) with 13 other men of the Advanced Workshops Detachment (which included the Acting Commander, Lieutenant. G. Manning), three motor-cycles, ten folding bicycles and two hand-carts. They were flown by glider pilots from No.25 Flight, "E" Squadron, from R.A.F. Down Ampney to LZ-Z near Wolfheze in Holland. This was the second day of Operation Market-Garden.

 

After the battle he gave an account of Arnhem which appeared in the booklet WAR, issued by the Army Bureau of Current Affairs;

 

On the whole we had plenty of work. On the wireless side we used to do a great deal of improvisation. One thing which we were called on to do pretty frequently was the repair of battery leads. Perhaps the most unusual job we did was to improvise a choke for a Number 76 set by scraping down a piece of wire until we got the resistance right. Altogether the wireless artificers did thirty-seven jobs while we were there.

 

The Armourers were even busier. Their QMS [Ron Turner] went out with a jeep round the units in their various positions, collecting damaged equipment and taking out the repaired stuff. This repair work was very important for there were no replacements and there was a lot of damage done to small arms and automatics by the kind of fighting that was going on.

 

Div HQ was in a large hotel and we were in the grounds or in the cellars. It had been an attractive place, a holiday resort I should think, with tennis courts and a running track in the grounds at the back, and plenty of trees. There was an orchard too and an ornamental garden beside it and in front plenty of flower beds. The building itself was of two storeys with a lot of veranda's and big windows. It was gradually blown to pieces by shell fire and mortaring.

 

We had not much food. The Sgt. Major at Div HQ got some potatoes from just outside the grounds and kept things going and there was a well from which we could draw water. The mortaring became more intense as the week progressed. There was a morning 'barrage', which at first lasted half an hour. On the last morning it started at 7 a.m. and went on until 11 a.m., but you could tell they were coming closer. Some of the men were a little nervous as it was the first time they had been in action, but I found that if you kept them busy, they were quite cheerful. One man went to a blazing jeep loaded with ammunition and jacked it up to take the front wheel off before it burned as he knew we wanted a spare wheel for another job. Snipers were a nuisance in the end. I had to go out for them myself. I got one too, when he broke away, to try and get back to his own lines.

 

At the end of the battle, Morrison managed to withdraw back across the river on the night of 25th/26th September 1944. He was recommended for the Military Medal by Major General Roy Urquhart, but the powers that be decided he should be Mentioned in Despatches instead. The GOC's citation reads:

 

Staff Sergeant Morrison, R.E.M.E., was commanding a section on the southern perimeter of Div HQ from September 21st to September 26th. His section was under increasingly heavy mortar fire and sniping during this period. This NCO displayed great coolness under fire and his reports of enemy activity in the vicinity were accurate, concise and of great value. He was at all times alert and took part in several patrols outside the perimeter defence, killing at least one of the enemy. He volunteered to reconnoitre the initial stages of the route to the river on September 25th and was posted as one of the piquets on this route, where he remained till the party from Div HQ had passed, at approximately 23.15 hours on September 25th. This NCO's coolness and initiative acted as a steadying influence on his section under difficult circumstances.

 

 

My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account.

 

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