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No.7 Platoon, "C" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Private N. McKernon

 

Unit : No.7 Platoon, "C" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 7013583

 

Private McKernon volunteered for the Airborne Force, from the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1943, and was put on parachute course 61B/62 at R.A.F. Ringway, from the 26th April - 4th May 1943. This supposed to be a Long Course, but for operational reasons it was shortened to two balloon and three aircraft descents. He completed the course and his instructors comments were: "Good worker. Showed keenness". He was posted as a reinforcement to the 2nd Parachute Battalion in North Africa, from where he took part in operations in Sicily and Italy, before returning to Britain in December 1943. By September 1944, McKernon was serving in No.1 Section of No.7 Platoon, as the Number 1 on the Bren Gun. The following is his account of Arnhem:

 

First Day Sunday 17th September, 1944

Take off from Saltby Airfield at 1045hrs arriving DZ 1345hrs. Very little Anti-Aircraft fire was encountered and the jump was good. PTE [6205595 F. W. T.] Goozie had broken his leg and was left on the DZ. Few Germans about, local population state they left the previous day. On way from FUP [Forming Up Place] to Arnhem area slight opposition encountered from snipers but no organised resistance.

 

Move into Oosterbeek at about 1600hrs and prepare to attack the railway bridge over the Rhine. Owing to the good line of approach we were able to get within 100 yards of the bridge without being seen. The Germans ran across the bridge to the south side and we fire on them. 9 Platoon charges across the bridge and after getting half way across they are fired on by machine guns from the Block House on the south side. The bridge then blew up in a cloud of smoke.

 

The Platoon retired to the North side and PTE [2065869 N. W.] Shipley who was in the lead in the charge was found to be missing and was seen to have been blown up with the bridge.

 

LT P H Barry had been wounded rather badly about the chest. PTE Jones had slight burns about the head and decided to carry on to the town with the Company. We moved off at dusk towards Arnhem, reaching the town as darkness fell.

 

Opposition was encountered from a group of Germans who were awaiting our approach. Three machine guns open up apparently from positions dug in the garden of a house. Fortunately a steep bank on our side affords excellent cover and we are able to return the Germans fire. We threw two Gammon bombs which seemed to shake the Germans and then a PIAT was fired into the hall of the house through the open door. There was a terrific blast and many of the Germans were wounded. We called on them to surrender which they did. There were eleven men all told, being Luftwaffe ground staff, and we took them along with us as prisoners. We moved along the main road towards the centre of the town.

 

While passing a Hotel we were fired on from all sides, mostly by MG's. Major Dover decided to get into the Hotel, which we did, going upstairs and barricading the windows. Sniping went on all night but we held our fire in order to conserve ammunition for the following morning. PTE [6469501 C.] Anthony [Signals Platoon, "C" Company detachment] was wounded in the lower leg and the last time I saw him was in the Hotel.

 

Second Day Monday 18th September, 1944

At day break we were still in the hotel when Tiger Tanks approached from three sides. They open fire and Major Dover decides to evacuate the premises. No. 7 Platoon went out first getting into the garden and into the next garden towards an open square. There was a State bank on the other side of the road and it appeared that if we could make this we should stand a chance. We started running before we reached the road in order to cross it with all possible speed. As I had the Bren Gun I was in the lead. We reached the other side and about seven snipers opened up as we were crossing the road. A two pounder Anti Tank gun which had been firing at the Hotel which we had vacated was switched to cover the Square, and the machine guns began to spray the road covering the Square from three sides.

 

LT D Russell was still on the original side of the road but despite the MG spray dashed across the road just as the section moved off. Another PTE and myself were sent ahead one hundred yards in front of the section as scouts. The Germans allowed us to pass and then fired on the rest thereby cutting us off. I therefore decided to try to get through to our troops on my own, but the Germans were at the other side of the street blocking the way of escape.

 

I realised that it would be impossible to get through during the hours of daylight and I therefore lay up in a house until it was dark. I left there about 2300hrs and ran into a German Patrol. I moved into a house and laid up for a short while and observed the scene from the top window.

 

The Germans placed a sentry on each corner of the Square and going down into the street I kept in the shadows and approached the nearest one. As he turned I shot him in the chest, I had hoped to get him with my knife as I did not wish to disturb the others but I think he saw me. I ran across the road into a doorway and a couple more Germans came along about two minutes later apparently on patrol. They spotted the Sentry lying on the pavement, ran over to him and rolled him over. I gave them a burst and both fell over. I then moved off since I knew that a patrol would be along shortly. I kept well to the shadows and proceeded two more streets when I saw three Germans approaching with their guns at the ready, and they were looking in every doorway. I got a '36' out of my pocket and waited two doors away and then threw the grenade along the road letting the lever go before I threw it. It exploded after about two seconds killing two outright. A third was crawling along the road so I took a shot at him and he stopped crawling.

 

I found that the door in which I was standing was open and I went through the house into the garden and by this means into another house further along. By this time it was getting quite light and so, hearing some firing about a quarter of a mile away, I set off towards it. I had almost reached my objective when an Armoured Car came along. I dodged round the corner and into the first house, going upstairs to the window. When the car drew level I threw my only Gammon Bomb into the back of it and got down below the window. When I looked again the car was blazing furiously. I do not know if anyone managed to get out of it as I did not wait to see.

 

I then ran in the direction of the firing and met elements of the 4th Brigade. I was told to go back to the railway bridge towards Oosterbeek. This I did and stayed there for that day until the 4th brigade were pushed back to that position. I was then detailed to go to the artillery as some of the 1st brigade were there. On arrival I was told to dig in with some members of the 3rd Para Bn. We dug in not far from the guns, as the positions were under heavy mortar fire this was done very quickly.

 

We stayed there for the next four days, doing patrols at night under the command of a Major from the Glider Pilot Regiment. Our positions were subjected during the whole of this time to intense shell and mortar fire. We beat off the German attack until the last day when we were not able to hold them owing to the fact that Tiger Tanks were brought up. We therefore fell back on the guns which fired at a very low angle and thus held up the tanks. A Captain informed me that we would be evacuating that night and so when it was dark they commenced to move off. We stayed where we were as patrols were expected to come through. No patrols arrived however, and the Germans had no wind of the withdrawal. We then moved down to the river crossing it in a boat at about 1230. I made my way together with the remaining personnel to the Reception Camp at Nijmegen where I met other men from the 2nd Bn.

 

N. McKernon

 

 

My thanks to Helen Smyth for this account.

 

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