Sergeant Larry Goldthorpe
Unit : "E" Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Having been through an RAF medical and aptitude test I was given a severe run around at the GPR depot on Salisbury Plain, then learned to fly a Tiger Moth (the only time I had a parachute!) at Booker near High Wycombe, a Hotspur eight-seater glider at Shobdon near Leominster and finally, the big one, the Horsa glider at North Luffenham. The RAF did the training. At North Luffenham I was teamed up with my first pilot, Len King, who had more flying hours. We were posted to RAF Down Ampney and soon the D-Day operation came along, when we took a platoon of Royal Ulster Rifles over to Ranville near Ouistreham. This was uneventful and I was back on the 8th (D-Day plus 2).
Thereafter numerous airborne operations were planned and cancelled. On one of those, Len and I were sent to Brize Norton and briefed to take Polish SAS troops with two jeeps to land in the forest of Rambouillet. We were told that there were open patches in the forest which we could drop on and ominously we loaded heavy ropes too. Fortunately, at the last minute this was scrubbed because of advances by our ground troops.
Then came Arnhem. We were told at the briefing a) that due to a shortage of planes the operation would be spread over three days and b) we were to land some 6 miles from our objective, the bridge. We were given rations for two days because we would be relieved by then, the opposition would not be much.
We were in the second lift on the 18th and after some delay due to weather we linked up with aircraft from other fields and had a good crossing, with little flak. On landing we helped the two RE's with us to remove the tail unit by unscrewing 4 large bolts (after cutting the control cables) and to drag this aside. We then attached the two metal channels to the end of the fuselage and the RE's drove their two jeeps off. Gliders were rushing in throughout and some mortaring didn't help, but we soon linked up with the rest of our lot and moved off towards Arnhem.
It soon got dark and we spent hours in a wood, then in the morning we were out on the road when a Gerry fighter strafed us and our Captain caught a bullet in his arm. He went off and we carried on, but things got 'sticky' and this 'weak opposition' became strong and well equipped.
We spent that night in a Dutch house, welcomed by the family and a German SP gun came down the street. It was gone next morning and we hadn't gone far before we were told to turn round and make our way to the Hartenstein Hotel, then our Divisional HQ. Eventually we were digging trenches there in preparation for an attack. Fortunately this never came and next day we were put into woods where we dug deep trenches because Gerry was mortaring us. This was the perimeter described in the Arnhem books, though we hadn't a clue about such a perimeter. Apart from odd skirmishes we spent the rest of the days in that position.
Re-supply planes dropped their loads on to prearranged positions not knowing these were now in German hands. Len and I managed to get hold of a pannier basket only to find it full of red berets, not the ammo or food we desperately needed. We also had a brief ceasefire so that both sides could recover their dead and wounded.
One day Gerry played 'In the Mood' on a loudspeaker inviting us to surrender as our situation was hopeless. I felt it was, but we wouldn't surrender.
Then one day we heard a noise of shells going over our heads onto the Germans. At last I thought, 30 Corps have arrived and we shall soon be rescued. But no, we were told that afternoon that we were pulling out. We left most of our kit, pulled socks over our boots to keep quiet on metalled roads and set off that evening in pitch blackness and pouring rain. Guides were stationed to help us find our way for we hadn't any idea of direction. I lost Len in the melee and eventually found myself lying soaked to the skin among many others in a field near the river. I could hear the engines of boats but with my place in the queue I wondered if I would get to the river before light, and no doubt the Germans, came. Somehow I found a place in a boat and groped my way up the steep bank on the other side.
We shuffled on to Driel where we were given a tot of rum to help us walk the next few miles to Nijmegen. Sleep! Breakfast! I scraped my beard with soap and cold water and set off to find Len who was doing the same for me. A lovely meal and then on a lorry to Louvain in Belgium for the night and on to Brussels airfield next day where a Dakota from Down Ampney was waiting for us. Our reduced contingent was given a welcome by the RAF and after a de-briefing we went on leave.
Later on I spent 6 months in Italy on USAAF fields but only one operation was planned, to cross the River Po, and this was cancelled late on.
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