Signalman Joseph Edward Moncrieff

Signalman Joseph Edward Moncrieff


Unit : "K" Section (No.2 Company-Brigade and Artillery Signals), Headquarters, 4th Parachute Brigade


Joseph Edward "Ebie" Moncrieff was born in Lerwick in 1921. His Mother, née Hutchison, came from Whalsay, and his Father from Skeld. He went to school at the Lerwick Institute in 1932, and worked for the Post Office as a Telegram Messenger Boy in 1937, later learning how to send and receive messages in Morse from the Lerwick Office. When he was old enough to do so, Ebie joined the Territorial Army at Fort Charlotte, and in 1942 was called up for War Service. Because of his background in telecommunications he was enlisted into the Royal Corps of Signals, and was trained as an Operator Wireless & Line (OWL) at Catterick and Osset in Yorkshire and at Aston in Birmingham.


On completion of his training, Ebie was sent to London to join Air Formation Signals. He was later posted to North Africa, sailing on the Troopship SS Strathallan from Greenock to Oran, Algeria. Having served in Tunisia, he volunteered for the Airborne Forces but was not selected before he was recalled to the UK. He applied again in 1943, and completed training at Hardwick Hall and qualified as a parachutist at Ringway. He was subsequently posted to "K" Section, No.2 Company, 1st Airborne Divisional Signals, who provided communications throughout the 4th Parachute Brigade.


He flew to Arnhem with the Second Lift on Monday 18th September 1944, heavily laden with weapons and equipment, including a box containing a carrier pigeon. He was in the same aircraft as Brigadier Hackett, the commander of the 4th Parachute Brigade, and sat opposite him as No.5 in the stick. Ebie wrote of the jump, "The Brigadier went first, followed by his batman, then two colleagues called Titch Taylor and Max Sennett, then me. Titch Taylor was most godless nervy, and he used to close his eyes as he jumped. The batman was momentarily stuck in the door. Titch launched himself and hit the batman. The batman went out and Titch fell backwards into the plane and somebody had to push him out."


As he descended, Ebie noticed that he was about to collide with a party of four Germans below. He did not have enough time to ready his Sten gun, so he took hold of a grenade but it fell from his hand with the force of the landing. His parachute fell across the legs of one of the Germans, who hastily put his hands up to surrender when Ebie jumped on top of him. The other three, seeing paratroopers landing all around them, also laid down their arms. Ebie subsequently found the grenade and noticed that the pin had remained in place only by the merest fraction.


Later in the battle, Ebie fought alongside the remnants on the 10th and 156th Battalions to the East of the Hartenstein Hotel in the Oosterbeek Perimeter. Three days later, having run out of rations for himself and the pigeon, he set the bird free. Ebie safely crossed the Rhine when the Division withdrew on the 25/26th September. For his actions at Arnhem, he was cited for the Military Medal by Major Geoffrey Powell, who commanded the 156th Parachute Battalion during the latter stages of the battle. Powell wrote:


Signalman Moncrieff was attached to 156 Parachute Battalion from 22nd-25th September 1944. During this period he displayed qualities of extreme gallantry under fire, on uncounted occasions volunteered to carrying messages under fire to Brigade Headquarters, guiding officers, and carrying up stores. When not carrying out his duties as signaller he volunteered to undertake any work on hand including sniping enemy positions 100 yards from an exposed position. His courage and coolness were an example to all.


The award was refused, yet the citation serves as an example of Ebie's conduct, and also perhaps of the many other individual actions which have passed into history, unrecognised and unrecorded. Ebie himself remained quite oblivious of this recommendation until 2012, when he was shown a copy which had been found on the ParaData website.


Ebie was later transferred to the 5th Parachute Brigade, and in late 1945 accompanied them to the Far East, where they became involved in a series of policing roles, first in Singapore and then in Batavia, where the native Indonesians had ambitions to free themselves from Dutch colonial rule. Ebie served with the 13th Parachute Battalion and the 22nd Independent Parachute Company during this time. Whilst based in Semarang, Ebie met Geertje "Gerry" Blink, (née Smit), who had been born in Loppersum, Holland on the 10th September 1920. Her husband, Popko Blink, had been a sergeant in Dutch Army and was killed fighting the Japanese, leaving his wife and a now two year old son, also called Popko, who had been born whilst she was held in an internment camp. Ebie and Gerry married in Semarang.


He was demobbed soon after and lived in Holland for a few months with Gerry and Popko, before returning to Lerwick where they settled at 10 South Lochside, which was to be their home for the next sixty years. They had four children; Ina, Jim, Neske and Callum. Ina sadly died of Diphtheria at the age of two.


Ebie continued to work for the Post Office, eventually becoming Assistant to the Head Postmaster, receiving the Imperial Service Medal for Distinguished Service to the Post Office in Shetland in 1985, before retiring in 1986 after 41 years. In 1955, he joined the Territorial Army again, being posted to "D" (Perth) Company of the 15th (Scottish) Parachute Battalion, with whom he trained in the UK and Germany. He retired from the Army in 1964, proud that he was still considered fit enough to jump at the age of 43.


In his spare time, Ebie learned Dutch from Gerry, who also taught him how to cook a number of Javanese dishes, which were regarded as "exotic but most tasty" by friends and neighbours. He maintained their home at South Lochside and established a flower and vegetable garden at the front and back. An avid reader with an excellent memory, Ebie also wrote poems, in English and in the Shetland dialect, many of which were published locally.


In 1994, a small branch of the Royal Signals Association was established in Shetland, and Ebie was proud to be a founder member, and attended all subsequent meetings. After the death of Major David Collins in 2001, Ebie was elected President and continues to hold the post to this day.


As a consequence of failing health, Gerry became housebound from the 1990's onwards, and Ebie remained by his side to provide 24 hour care. Having been confined to her bed in late 2009, she passed away peacefully on the 17th March 2010, with Ebie and Callum by her side. This was only the beginning of a most tragic year for Ebie; Popko died from cancer in an Aberdeen hospital eight days later, and little more than a week after his funeral news was received that Jim had terminal oesophageal cancer, and he too passed away on the 22nd July. Only Ebie's indomitable spirit, gutsy determination and the support of Neske, Callum, and family and friends, saw him through this most dreadful year. Today, in 2013, Ebie lives at the same house in Lerwick, where he has been for the last 68 years.


My thanks to Richard Hamilton for this account.


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