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Captain Myles Henry

Captain John Myles Henry

 

Unit : Headquarters, 10th Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 174343

 

The following biography has been researched and written by Leslie Nicoll and I am grateful for his permission to include a complete copy of it on the website.

 

Captain John Myles Henry

10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps

 

1939-45 Star

Italy Star

France and Germany Star

War Medal 1939-45

Card Box of issue (Army Air Corps H.Q.) with condolence enclosure addressed to his wife

Original W/O telegram informing of his death in action addressed to his wife

Original letters, map-case and ephemera

 

Wounded in action 15th September 1943 - Gioia del Colle, Taranto, Italy

Killed in action 19th September 1944 - Battle of Arnhem, Netherlands

 

John Myles Henry, more generally known as Myles, was born in 1921, the son of a wealthy businessman, Arthur Henry (Solomon) Esq., of 'Bridgeland', Sussex and his wife Margaret. Myles had a privileged upbringing, his parents, of Jewish denomination, employed a butler, a cook and various other domestic servants to run 'Bridgelands', their fine Tudor country house.

 

He was educated at Stowe Public School, where his Head Master, Mr John Fergusson held him in high regard, personally electing him Prefect, then later Head of House. From Stowe, Myles was accepted into Queen's College, Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1939. On hearing Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain's declaration of war against Hitler's Nazi Germany, young Myles was one of the first to volunteer for service with his County Regiment. He was straightway selected for officer training and was granted an emergency commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment, on the 22nd January 1941.

 

2nd Royal Sussex in North Africa and PAI Force

With his single, burnished pip on his shoulder, 2nd Lieutenant Myles Henry was placed in command of a Bren-Gun Carrier Platoon. The 2nd Royal Sussex, a lorried, Infantry Battalion, formed part of a Brigade in the 44th (Home Counties) Division, which after strenuous training, embarked, in May 1942 for service with General Montgomery's 8th Army in North Africa.

 

Myles was soon to see plenty of action, being engaged in the battles of Alam Haifa and Ruwesat Ridge at the end of August and in October, the eleven-day long battle for El Alemein, which finished in Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's overstretched advance being ground to a staggering halt and victory for the 8th Army.

 

But Myles's victory celebrations were short-lived. A few weeks later, he was laid low with a rare virus, resulting in him being hospitalised for several months. On recovery, he rejoined his battalion in March 1943; in time to join them in their move through Iraq, and Jordan to take up their new station in Palestine with 'PAI Force'

 

Formation of 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment

As early as January 1943, the 2nd Royal Sussex, which had already distinguished itself, in North Africa was scheduled for conversion into a parachute battalion. This was initially to be known as "S" Battalion (presumably 'S' standing for Sussex) but later that same month, the War Office changed its mind and ruled that 2nd Royal Sussex was not to be transferred 'en bloc' to the Army Air Corps as previously directed. As a consequence of the new ruling, the battalion was to remain and be strengthened by personnel from the previously disbanded 4th and 5th Battalions of the same regiment.

 

But the two-hundred officers and men, including Myles Henry, his friend Lionel Queripel and three other officers of the 2nd Royal Sussex, who had volunteered and had already participated in parachute training, were accepted into the Army Air Corps. As such, they formed the nucleus of the newly formed 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, then undergoing training at Kabrit. This new battalion was to be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel K.B.I. Smyth (South Wales Borderers) and was to form part of the equally newly formed, 4th Parachute Brigade.

 

For some time, correspondence was carried out with the War Office in an effort to retain the "S" for Sussex and to make the title, 10th (S) Battalion, but without success.

 

September 1943 -Taranto, Italy

In July 1943, Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy resigned but the Germans however had no intention of surrendering Italy. So in September 1943, after intensive training at Kabrit and Ramat David near Nazareth, the 10th Parachute Regiment were mobilised for their first taste of action as an airborne fighting unit - destination Taranto, Italy.

 

Much to its chagrin however, the fledgling 10th Para, after many months of arduous airborne training, found that in the absence of sufficient transport aircraft, it was, as part of 4th Parachute Brigade, 1st Airborne Division, to be utilised instead as a sea-borne element and as such, embarked aboard various Royal Naval cruisers at the port of Bizerta. (The first instance in fact of Parachute troops acting as Marine Commandos)

 

'B' Company under the command of Captain Peter Warr, travelled separately from the main body aboard a converted English Cross-Channel Packet the 'Prince Albert'. At that time Peter Lawson was 'B' Company Second-in-Command and Myles Henry, Mike Bellow and Nick Hammer were the Platoon Commanders.

 

Meanwhile, Major-General Hopkinson commanding 1st Airborne Division was ordered to occupy the port of Taranto and hold it against all attacks. The 4th Parachute Brigade's immediate task was to form a bridgehead against any possible German attack whilst the remainder of the Division was put ashore. After a defensive perimeter had been established around Taranto by the 1st Parachute Brigade, the 2nd and 4th Parachute Brigades were despatched in a relentless pursuit of the retreating Germans.

 

The immediate enemy was the elite German 1st Parachute Division, which had previously fought so grimly against the British 1st Parachute Brigade in North Africa. The German Division had suffered a large number of casualties in the battle for Sicily and as yet had not been brought up to full strength. Nevertheless it was capable, as always, of putting up a dogged rearguard defence even though they lacked artillery support. The Germans fought with great determination in the ensuing battle for Castellaneta, which finally fell to the British Airborne forces on the 12th September.

 

Gioia del Colle - Italy

The next objective for the 4th Parachute Brigade, was the capture of Gioia del Colle and its airfield - the importance of which was fast increasing as it was urgently required as a fighter base to cover the Salerno landings.

 

The Brigadier ordered a fighting patrol to push forward and determine if possible, the strength of the German defensive positions at Gioia del Colle. 'B' Company, 10th Para, which included Myles Henry, was selected and at 1930 hours on 15th September, 'B' Company left the Battalion area to drive to Gioia, a point three miles to the east.

 

After a compass march in pitch darkness, the patrol moved into position on the outskirts of Gioia del Colle at dawn, taking the German sentries completely by surprise. But the surprise was short-lived and there then ensued a fierce five-hour pitched battle with the now alerted German Paratroopers. Heavily outnumbered and taking heavy casualties, Myles Henry and his men were eventually forced into a fighting withdrawal. Having successfully extricated themselves from a very hot situation the patrol made its way back to Battalion H.Q. by midday on the 16th September, having inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy and gained much useful information. But the cost had been high; the total casualties sustained by the patrol were five other ranks killed and Myles Henry and five other ranks wounded. Two officers and seven other ranks were reported missing.

 

Dismayed by the aggressive nature of the patrol, the Germans, despite superior numbers, withdrew on the night of 16/17th September. On the 18th September the front line offensive was taken over by the 1st Air-landing Brigade and 4th Parachute Brigade withdrew to Taranto for a brief respite.

 

On the 29th October 1943, it was decided that the 1st Airborne Division should be withdrawn from Italy and on 24th November, the 10th Battalion embarked aboard H.M.S. Staffordshire bound for the U.K.

 

Operation 'Market Garden' Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's 'first and only defeat in the war'

Following much training and large scale exercises, the 10th Battalion were held in readiness to support the planned landings in Normandy scheduled for 6th June but were not called upon to participate. In the hectic days following the successful Normandy landings, no less than sixteen operations were planned for the 1st Airborne Division, all of which were subsequently cancelled for one reason or another.

 

At the beginning of September, an audacious operation code-name 'Market' was devised involving three Airborne Divisions, the object of which was to secure the Rhine bridges from Wesel to Arnhem ahead of the fast advancing XXX Corps of the Allied forces.

 

In simple outline the plan of the 21st Army Group Commander, Field Marshal Montgomery, was to unroll an airborne carpet from Eindhoven to Arnhem. With this one bold stroke he expected the three airborne divisions of the 1st Allied Airborne Army to capture and hold the bridges over the five major water obstacles spanning the 100-mile route from the Dutch frontier to the Rhine. The first four lesser crossings, were the responsibility of the two American divisions whilst the most distant and difficult task - the capture of the bridge at Arnhem - was given to the British 1st Airborne Division. As soon as all the crossings and connecting roads were in allied hands, the British 2nd Army, led by XXX Corps were to push forward to the Zuider Zee and effectively seal off the German forces in Western Holland.

 

But the plan was flawed from the start. Unfortunately there were just not enough aircraft to transport the three divisions in one air-lift. In the event, four days' flying were required which resulted in three lifts for the 1st Airborne Division. This meant that that fifty percent of the troops dropped in the first lift were required to hold the dropping zones secure for troops in the next drop - thereby halving the number of assault troops able to push on to their objective - the bridge at Arnhem. A further serious disadvantage was the necessity of selecting dropping and landing zones some seven miles away from the bridge due to the supposed presence of heavy flak batteries in the vicinity of Arnhem and Deelen. This above all was to prove a severe loss of time, of effort and of lives, in the subsequent struggle to reach the bridge.

 

17th September 1944 - Arnhem

The 1st Airborne Division were also unfortunate in the unforeseen fact that the eminent German Field Marshal, Walter Model was at the time of the initial landings, taking lunch at the Tafelberg Hotel, in Oosterbeek, right in the middle of the battle area. By his personal vigorous intervention, he immediately mobilised the defence of Arnhem and its bridge-head and within two hours of the landings, a battle group of the 9th S.S. Panzer Division was on its way to attack the British troops then moving eastwards from the Dropping Zone.

 

On Sunday the 17th September 1944, the 1st Parachute and most of the 1st Air-landing Brigade Groups, some 5,700 men in all, were landed in the allotted Dropping Zones. The Parachute Brigade's task was to quickly advance to the Arnhem bridgehead and the glider-borne troops of the Air-landing Brigade were to hold the dropping zones for the later landings.

 

On Monday the 18th, after a five-hour delay because of bad weather, 10th Para as part of the 4th Parachute Brigade, successfully landed, albeit in scattered groups, in the battle zone west of Oosterbeek and were immediately engaged in a fierce battle.

 

Captain Henry, now acting as the Battalion Intelligence Officer had flown in aircraft 'Chalk One' with Lieutenant-Colonel Smyth and Battalion H.Q. and despite coming under heavy fire as they parachuted to the ground, all landed safely. After fighting their way off the Dropping Zone, they made their way to the Battalion R.V. where at 19.30 hours, those that had managed to reach the R.V. moved off towards Arnhem under a heavy fire from the now reinforced German SS Panzer Grenadier Unit, leaving the woods behind them ablaze.

 

When the 10th Battalion had continued their advance at 0300 hours on the 19th, they had been at Arnhem for twelve hours. Already the battalion was down to 70% strength with two officers having been killed and four others missing. As the troops of 4th Parachute Brigade moved forward along the main Arnhem - Ede road, they ran into heavy fire, which abruptly brought their advance to a halt. The various companies of the battalion deployed into the woods on either side of the road, with the 156th Para. manning the front between the road and the railway line and glider-borne 7th King's Own Scottish Borderers holding the rear.

 

German offensive fire from artillery, mortars and Spandau machine guns, together with air attacks by Dornier aircraft, increased during the morning. In the Battalion Headquarters area, with Captain Henry noticeably to the fore, an involved battle ensued where the paratroopers, armed only with light weapons, engaged several German self-propelled guns, a Mk III tank and three German troop carriers. The German self-propelled guns, whose shells were bursting at tree-top level inflicted severe casualties.

 

By midday, the remnants of the 10th Battalion and 'A' Company, 7th K.O.S.B. were near the pumping station at La Cabine. To the south, 156th Para and the other companies of 7th K.O.S.B. were in the wooded area surrounding Johanna Hoeve. The plan was for 156th Para to capture the high ground at Koeple, which dominated the western approaches to Arnhem, while the 10th Battalion established a firm base on the Arnhem - Ede road 1,000 yards to the north-east of Johanne Hoeve. Despite utmost difficulties, the Brigade strived to fulfil its task of forming a perimeter defence north of Arnhem.

 

After five hours of desperate fighting in the woods around the pumping station, it was realised that it was impossible to continue on their original axis. So later in the afternoon, the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Hackett, ordered the disengagement and withdrawal of the 10th and 156th Parachute Battalions to the south of the railway and to attempt to renew the advance along the Heelsum - Arnhem road. It was during this withdrawal on Tuesday afternoon that the 10th Battalion suffered a great number of casualties.

 

Withdrawal of 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and the Death of Captain Henry

When the orders to withdraw were received by wireless, Captain Hammer, the Adjutant of 10th Para., shouted across to his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Smyth .... "We can't withdraw from here - the Jerries are all around us." It was a recognised basic principle taught to infantrymen that you never disengaged while under attack.

 

Barely able to make himself heard with the din of battle raging around them, Colonel Smyth's response was short and terse, "We will do as we are bloody well told - we've got our orders - let's get going!"

 

Despite his misgivings, Captain Hammer immediately sent off runners to the various Company Commanders with orders to withdraw; the Adjutant's worst fears were soon to be realised.

 

As the Companies withdrew over open ground towards the railway, they came under a heavy cross fire from German troops dug into strong, commanding positions on the edge of the woods. The 'withdrawal', which had coincided with the landing of the third glider lift of the Polish Air Landing element, was at first under control but when more German infantry supported by tanks appeared on the edge of the wood behind them, the Paratroopers, mostly on foot with only a few jeeps - began to rush. What followed next can best be described from two first-hand accounts.

 

Captain Hammer's Account

Captain Hammer, Adjutant of 10th Battalion, Parachute Regiment recalls the scene, ...."It was not far off panic stations when the Germans came in behind us. I was in the Battalion H.Q. jeep, in the middle of an extended line of men; they were not running but going at a fast walk. There was much fire from the northern edge and it caused many casualties. The gliders were coming in from the south but it was a large piece of ground and there was no need to get out of their way. I saw a German wheeled vehicle come out of the trees, right up to one of the gliders and it fired straight into the glider; it all looked pretty horrific.

 

Captain Myles Henry, the Intelligence Officer, was walking next to me when he was hit in the back by such a heavy burst that bits of his haversack were coming out of his front. I wanted to put his body in the jeep but the C.O. said we had to leave him."

 

Company Sergeant Major Grainger's Account

C.S.M. Grainger who was with D Company, covering the battalion's withdrawal to the south-west, also describes the scene, ...."At this moment L/Cpl. Horton (my clerk) was wounded in the kneecap and as I was applying the first field dressing he was wounded again, this time in the thigh. He was in great pain. The general position then became untenable and we had to clear. It was decided to leave Horton but not liking to leave him to the mercy of the Germans, Captain Henry and I carried him over to the Glider L.Z. We had proceeded very slowly and we had only travelled approximately fifty yards when we were all three shot. Captain Henry was knocked about fifteen yards. Horton fell where he was and I went about seven yards - and when I found I was not killed - I went to Captain Henry. I saw that he was in a very bad state. Horton had been wounded for the third time and was in a very bad way too. So I went to find the Battalion and get some help."

 

Miraculously, despite the seriousness of his wounds, L/Cpl. Horton later recovered under the care of the German doctors in a P.O.W. Camp.

 

Tragically, young Myles Henry died where he lay - he was just twenty-three years of age.

 

Captain Queripel awarded the Victoria Cross

Captain L.E. Queripel, commanding 'A' Company, a close friend of Myles Henry's from their days in the 2nd Sussex Regiment, witnessed his friend's fate but was powerless too intervene. Seeing his comrades falling fast under the murderous German cross-fire, Captain Queripel took up a position in a ditch under the cover of a finger of woodland where his small force dug in. He was ordered to hold his position at all costs in order to give covering fire to the retreating men of the Battalion. This he and his party did with great gallantry all evening until overwhelmed next morning. Captain Queripel, wounded in both arms, decided that it was impossible to hold the position longer and ordered his men to withdraw.

 

In the final moments he ordered the protesting survivors away to join the rest of the battalion and was last seen with an automatic pistol in one hand and some grenades in the other, covering their escape. This was the last occasion on which he was seen. The gallantry of the brave Captain Queripel was later recognised with award of a posthumous Victoria Cross

 

Final Defeat and Withdrawal

The futile battle raged on for another five days, the perimeter becoming smaller and smaller and the casualties mounting daily. On Sunday the 24th September, Field Marshal Montgomery gave the order for the withdrawal of the 1st Airborne Division which was partially accomplished over the next few days by amphibious craft crossing and re-crossing the Rhine at night and bringing a substantial number of the airborne troops across to safety.

 

Statistically, it is probable that the 4th Parachute Brigade's casualties in killed and wounded were even higher than those of the 1st Parachute Brigade. As a consequence, the 4th Parachute Brigade was disbanded and never reformed.

 

Battle of Arnhem Casualties - 10th Parachute Battalion, 18th/25th September 1944

 

Went in - 582 officers and men

Killed 92 - Missing Prisoner of War 404 - Evacuated 96

 

Officers Killed

(Fifteen of the thirty-one officers present were killed.)

 

Lt. Colonel K.B. Smyth Commanding Officer

Major C.F. Ashworth H.Q. Company

Captain J.M. Henry Intelligence Officer, H.Q. Company

Lieut. H.C. Roderick Brigade Liaison Office, H.Q. Company

Captain G.F. Drayson Medical Officer

Major P.A. Anson A Company

Captain L.E. Queripel A Company (Awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously)

Lieut P.W. Mackey A Company

Lieut. L.H. Kiaer A Company

Lieut. W.D. Burgess A Company

Captain C.M. Horsfall D Company

Lieut. J. Howard D. Company

Lieut. P.A. Saunders D Company

Lieut. H.C. Radcliff Support Company, M.M.G. Officer

Lieut. R.G. Dodd Support Company, 3inch Mortar Platoon Officer

 

Captain John Myles Henry was originally buried on the battlefield close by Johanna Hoeve Farm but now lies with his comrades in the Oosterbeek Military Cemetery, Holland.

 

Post Script

Myles Henry married his fiancée, Miss Pamela Morris on the 27th December 1943. They were in fact married twice, in view of their different religious denominations. On the 29th September 1944, Mrs Pamela Henry received a telegram informing her of her husband's death. The shock of the news brought about the premature birth of their child that she was carrying. The child, a daughter, although very poorly happily survived.

 

Mrs Henry remarried and later moved to New Zealand where in her eighties, she published her autobiography, which essentially centres on the poignant love story of two young people during wartime.

 

A further irony was that Myles Henry, a passionate advocate for a Jewish homeland in Palestine had, with some forethought and in anticipation of a rush for jobs after the war, made application to the Colonial Office in the summer of 1944, to be considered for a position in that area. To the delight of both himself and his wife, he was informed that his application had been accepted and that his release might be requested from the army, in order for him to join the administration in Palestine. Regretfully, fate, as we have seen, was to intervene.

 

Reference

The biographical details and portrait photograph of Captain Henry were extracted from the book 'I've Had My Dance', a poignant autobiography written by his widow (nee) Pamela Morris whilst in her eighties. The book was published in 1996 by Erica Press, New Zealand - ISBN0-908990-41-3

The Tenth record of the 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment by R. Brammell 1965

Public Records Office - War Diaries.

 

Copyright: Leslie Nicholl.

 

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