Gunner Reg Butterwick
Unit : "E" Troop, No.3 Battery, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment
Army No. : 7022510
The following account was written by Reg Butterwick to Bob Hilton on the 27th March 1996.
It was always my wish to be an Infanteer, being brought up by 3 Uncles who had been in W.W.I. So at 17 I joined the 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion, The London Irish Rifles, at Inglis Barracks, Mill Hill. After a year in England they broke up those battalions and I was told I was Officer material (the fools) and I was sent, of all places, to a Field Gunner Regiment, at Napier Barracks, Shorncliffe, near Folkestone!
After a month of this I saw they were recruiting for Airborne Troops, so was put I/C of 12 other Gunners, which I took down to Canterbury. I was first in, and an officer was seated at a table (Captain 'Tiny' Madden) on which laid a beret with the badge turned away from me. The inevitable question, "why do you want to join the Airborne?" and my reply, "because I'm fed up with the artillery, Sir". He turned his beret round exposing the grenade of a Gunner Officer. However, he must have liked my style as I was the only one of that draft accepted for the Airborne.
So, off to the Nissen huts of Bulford, with the chalk slit trenches all around; plus the Beacon Cinema, which was so small they had to back project. Then embarkation leave and lots of strutting around in my red beret, but still not entirely happy about the cap-badge.
Off to Oran on the troop-ship 'Staffordshire', below the waterline, as was considered fit enough for Other Rank's in those days. (Nowadays, subjected to this, the troops would probably need counselling). Landed at Oran, then down to Mascara, near the Foreign Legion H.Q. at Sidi-bel-Abbes. I think we were stationed in the olive groves, and hung our mosquito nets over and into the famous airborne sleeping bag., the finest bit of kit issued in any Army. Trouble was that when we needed them most they were taken away, as you'll see.
After a while we crossed the Atlas mountains, in convoy, to Sousse. More olive groves, plus a pest who kept chucking a hand grenade down the open 'bogs' every pay day! Oh, how I envied the 1st Parachute Brigade boys, who had already been in fighting action and had literally covered themselves in glory! (I think they still hold the honour of being the most decorated Brigade for its first 6 months in action). Earned the title "Red Devils" from the Germans, plus our 1st Airborne Division's battle cry, "Whoa Mohamed", taken from the 'Wog' (Arab) Donkey Drivers!
Our Battery Sergeant Major "Pooch" Garnett (recently deceased) put on a concert for us, having missed the Sicily landings, and we were quite brassed off. (I recall 2 members of, I think No 1 Battery, smuggled themselves into gliders of the Airborne Anti-Tank Battery. I also think they got put in the 'glasshouse' for doing it!) I quite remember the words to his song to the tune of, "Stand Navy down the field", which went as follows:
We are the Airborne Troops,
Steady and True,
Tiny Madden's Red Devils,
Trained on blanco, hash and bergoo,
We were denied our chance,
But we'll get there,
Fighting our way through Italy,
Then back home again to Angleterre.
Corny, but accurate. Our Colonel, the redoubtable, 'Sherriff' Thompson, had decided he wanted his men 'blooded' and had pulled strings to make sure we wouldn't miss Italy, and we didn't, with a vengeance.
I also recall one of the Para's songs ref Sicily, sung to the tune of "Wearing O' the green",
The old C. 47,
The Aircrew spinning free,
And 50 silly bastards,
On the way to Sicily.
We sailed from Tunis to Taranto, where the fast Minelayer H.M.S. Abdiel had hit a mine in the harbour. We were pitched into what was the coldest, rainiest, snowiest winter in living memory. We were at places like Foggia and Gioia, and at rivers like the Biferno, Volturno, and Sangro. Other towns I remember were Campobasso, San Severo and finally Rocasallegno.
They had decided to send our lovely sleeping bags [on a ship] to Bari Harbour, which of course was sunk by a German bomber there, so we in the O.P. (Observation Post) Party were left in our B.D. (Battle Dress), Dennison Smocks and the odd Gas Cape for protection for the next few months. And, as we all know the Rum issue never gets beyond 'B' Echelon, let alone up to the O.P. Parties at the 'front'.
We seemed to be mixing it with the Herman Goring Division, and the first time I heard the crack of an 88 mm Gun I knew that Reg Butterwick had caught up with his war at last. All volunteers ask for it, and at last I'd got it. We were supporting the 2nd Parachute Brigade, comprising, I think, of the Cameronians [5th Scottish Parachute Battalion], the Welch [6th Welch Parachute Battalion], as they still wore the black, back neck bands, and one other outfit [4th Parachute Battalion], who were kept in Italy when all the others went home. They also did the Champagne Campaign in the South of France, and ended up fighting E.L.A.S. in Greece.
Anyway, thanks to a combination getting louse bound trying to get warm in Itie straw, a continuous diet of bully beef and biscuits, and the icy weather, I got Yellow Jaundice, and got whipped off in a plane to Constantine in North Africa. Now, the trouble was, having stayed with it "in the line", not wanting under any circumstances to be R.T.U. (Returned To Unit), I was fit by then, that in that French Hospital, in Constantine, I pinched a red blanket off the bed (much beloved by the Wogs), and my mosquito net, and discharged myself at a great rate of knots into the local Souk, where I flogged both for a goodly sum, remembering then Francs were 200 to the Pound (Lira were 400). I hitched a train to Maison Blanch airfield, Oran, and bribed a flight to Catania, with my loot, then bribed another to Foggia. Then back "up the line" to Rocascallegna. I got back at Xmas Eve and celebrated Xmas Day with a meal of, guess what - bully beef - but I'd taken out insurance in the form of a haversack of goodies, including booze, which ensured, in the area's that count, that I'd never been away. What do Echelon troops know of O.P's?
Well, in January, I think, we went down to Taranto and boarded the P.O. ship "Ranchi" of about 35,000 ton. Having been deloused and thoroughly cleansed, we had to take over the bedding of an Indian Division (who shall remain nameless), and within 24 hours we were all lousy again. However, facilities were at hand this time with loads of salt water soap. Messing was always good with the Navy as there was always a supply of beautiful fresh baked rolls. We landed at Gourock in Scotland, and went straight off on disembarkation leave.
The next few months were spent on exercises and firing practice, culminating in the great Exercise 'RAGS', which I think both 1st (The Cream) and the Division we called the Home Guard Division, the 6th (we were soon to rue this), were on. Anyway, I recall the shouted remarks to the 'BRASS', whenever they came past, "NO LEAVE, NO JUMP, NO SECOND FRONT".
We were stationed Boston at Dockland Park, in Nissen Huts, and 'Pooch' Garnett came into his own, again, bellowing like a bull to "Get on Parade". [Places of recreation] There was the old Gliderdrome in Boston (funny name come to think of it), the Cross Keys, the Peacock Tap, the Falcon and many others, generally full of 'Yankee' 8th Air Force guys, or our own Bomber lads, including Guy Gibson, who used to drink there.
Then we went down to an airfield in the South, maybe Broadwell. I'd had my 'Farmer Giles' (piles) supposedly operated on by an R.A.M.C. Lance Corporal, in lieu of the Medical Officer, Randall Martin, who had gone ahead to the 'drome. This budding doctor butchered me up the 'Kyber Pass' without an anaesthetic, which had also gone ahead. However, I managed to get a Jeep to the join the Regiment, but it meant no O.P. work, which proved to be fortunate in the end.
The 6th Airborne Division went over to France, and our first briefing was to land on Caen, to support them, but since there were two Panzer Division's on the D.Z. it would have been a bigger cock-up than Arnhem. Another Christ knows how many more operational briefings, on one of which seemed 'tasty', Rambouillette, outside Paris, but events were moving to fast, and our boys had to stop and let that Poltroon De Gaulle's troops take Paris, which they'd surrendered so abjectly in 1940.
Prior to the final, at long last, take-off, we were stationed near the Down Ampney airfield in a farmers field adjacent to the Swindon to Cirencester Road. Somehow on that last night, Saturday, 16th September, we managed to get out of the 'Camp', kiss the girls goodbye, and scrounge ale that publicans always reserved for their non-combatant regulars (in retrospect I cannot blame them).
We took off in Horsa's towed by Stirling's, which was all they were fit for by now. Some corny Gunners insisted on writing on the side of their gliders, which took me in mind of the vainglorious boasts on the side of troop trains in 1940 - "Berlin next stop", "Home by Xmas", etc. Anyway, we took off about 1 P.M. and circled for a long time, to join the air fleet. Some Horsa's came down in the Channel, but the next thing we knew we were over Holland and observing what seemed to be continuous bomb craters in the fields. Our Horsa made a 'reasonable' landing, but I saw a Hamilcar turn over and make 'Tomato Soup' of the two glider pilot crew, as the contents below them squashed them.
We landed near 'Sherriff' Thompson's glider, but were detailed to guard the D.Z's, where the para's were due to drop. Small arms fire was already making itself felt and one had that nasty inkling that this wasn't going to be 'Boy' Browning's 'Tea Party' as promised. We then went on up the road to Oosterbeek, then finally a guard mounting of our positions, and bedding down for the night, only to be introduced to the "Moaning Minnies", which I'd not come across before in Italy. A great piece of gear, providing it was on your side!
The next day we moved into the actual field where the Gunners were going to fight the battle. I've heard gunners belittled by infantry, forgetting that when a gunner "Takes Post" he stands to his guns. No diving into slit trenches, no hiding behind trees, no retreat! I admired those guys never having been a gun-number myself.
Mortars were making a bloody nuisance of themselves by now, in all senses of the word, so I began digging a slit trench into the slope of a sandy bank, facing, as was then, the enemies position. Well MacAlpine would have been proud of me by the time I had finished, and rumour had it you could hear the trains on the Northern Morden Edgware Line, if only the Hohenstauffen's and the Frundsbergs would stop making their incessant racket all day and night!
A mortar finally wrecked my work of art, but I was away at the time - scrounging, as usual! By scrounging I mean general dogsbody, runner of messages to the Hartenstein Hotel, where H.Q. was situated, trying to find food and water, and finally any sort of ammo. There were plenty of occasions on these trips to use a rifle as I had long ago discarded my Sten, which the British Army should have done in the first place, but cheapest is best for our boys! Sten's were only good for cracking walnuts in the breech in Italy, and must have caused more casualties having been dropped on the 'deck' than all our casualties in the 9 days war in the Gulf. However, I did manage to get water from a well, that was eventually well covered by a series of German snipers.
It must be remembered we only had our 48 hour food packs to live on, and even some of these contained bibles instead of the bars of chocolate they should have contained, probably some conscientious objecting Quaker at Cadbury's Bournville! Sadder to say that some boxes had been broken into. Had the relief troops arrived on time, as they were supposed to, all this would have sufficed.
I recall a string of Messerchmidt 109's circling overhead, strafing whatever they liked - this was on about the third day, and I can honestly say I never saw an R.A.F. Fighter in that whole 9 days, maybe I was keeping my head down to deep. I saw the magnificent efforts of the R.A.F. Supply Planes - magnificent, but mostly useless, as we all know. Surely to God some low flying Mosquito could have sussed out the real position and made sure the containers got to us in greater numbers, but its too easy to be wise after the event. Well, ignoring Napoleon's well known dictum, "Never re-enforce defeat", the Poles were dropped the other side of the Rhine, and some of their gliders on our side. You must remember we still believed we would be relieved, but as day followed day, and the 'ring' around Oosterbeek tightened we realised, like the General at Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, "We are in a chamber pot and are being shat on from all sides". However the occasion showed British troops at their best (in most cases) and gave as good as they got with their backs to the wall.
Our Colonel, 'Sherriff' Thompson, came round and gave us a 'pep' talk and laid out the situation as it was, and would be. The officer, "Mousy" Farrands, checked me for not shaving, which when you had got to the point where men wouldn't share their water bottles with you seemed a bit "Boys Own Paper" stuff to me. I could give you the name of a prime example of this water hoarding sort of thing - an ex copper from Yorkshire refused a wounded man a drink from his full water bottle - but I won't.
In my latter days of running around I got too near a blast from a tank I never even saw, and got myself laid out and given pause for thought that I wasn't bullet proof! But, those mortars were non stop devils, which anyone there will confirm. I got myself bandaged up, and realised what was going on with our Doctor, Randall Martin, who was using Kate ter Horst's house as a Regimental Aid Post, and when I tell you he was up to his elbow's in it, I mean just that. I have the greatest respect for him and all the other Arnhem Doctors who stayed behind with the wounded. I helped around there for a while, literally sweeping corpses out of the door to make room for the new intake of wounded. I wonder if he was decorated, he certainly should have been. The Padre's did a fine job also, for a change. I remember seeing V2's being fired off at England, aimed at London, and thinking of my then girl-friend (now my wife of 51 years standing), in Clapham, South London, and hoped that she would be okay. I also thought then, and now, that as Churchill stated, "Four out of five men in uniform will never see a hot fired in anger". In later years those who 'rabbit' [talk] the loudest did the least. How true. (London civilians saw much more).
Well I saw the gathering of some of the remaining defenders forming around Oosterbeek Church, and watched the German A.A. guns taking the slates off the church roof, and the steeple apart, and the rest. It is befitting that the new pulpit in that Church is a replica of the same at the Boston "Stump" in Lincolnshire, where as has been told, we were stationed. Incidentally our Colours are also laid up in the "Stump".
We cursed the dilatoriness of the so called relieving forces, for it was now 8 days instead of the allotted 2. Ammo was very low, food non-existent, water at a premium, but surprisingly enough morale was holding. Then, of course, on the 9th day orders for the withdrawal, or retreat over the Rhine, if you prefer it. God help all those poor Hollanders who had helped us, they also paid a heavy price in those forthcoming months for the failure that was no fault of our own (as a Division, I mean). We were the best Division that the British Army had ever put together, and to my mind still are. Where else would you find 70 year olds plus, jumping onto Ginkel Heath on the 50th Anniversary of a blood bath? And, paying good pensioners money for the privilege. Anyway the rest is history.
The holding on for the last day, the pouring down of rain (it was just the same 50 years later). We being at the top [bottom] of the perimeter were some of the last to withdraw, following white tapes, laid down by the R.E's. It was pitch black, thank God, but you could hear the MG42's begin stitching the banks as we finally neared the River. Seeing the queue's for the Canadian small boats, two of us wandered down the bank some way and found what must have been the last one afloat. We gathered some other strays and crossed. I think the gunners had taken the 75mm breech blocks out of the howitzers and thrown them in the Rhine by then. I reached the further shore about 04.30 hours, I know that the dawn was breaking and the Panzer troops were zeroing in on what was left of our blokes on the other side, and by the racket what was left would have no chance at all, but surrender or be killed.
I clambered up the slippery bank and started a long walk back to somewhere south. I ended up in a Hospital in Nijmegen, and once my head wound was dressed properly, I dismissed myself, not wishing to miss the journey home for any reason.
[General] Urquhart [Browning] addressed what was left of the entire 1st British Airborne Division (less Sea Party), about maybe 1,700 men, the rest coming back in dribs and drabs, some with miraculous escapes.
Back to Boston, Lincolnshire, and a hearty welcome from the locals, including the farmers sending such a supply of eggs, we thought we'd been transferred to the R.A.F. Church Service at the Boston "Stump", a Pathe Newsreel and all, which my girl-friend, soon to be my wife, saw and realised I was back. I must love her, as I gave up my Xmas leave to get married on January 1st.
On D-Day plus one-ish [May 1945] we flew to Stavanger, Norway in "Commando's", which seemed to be a bigger version of the Dakota. During this operation about 3 planes flew into mountains on the way. We landed at Sola airfield, the object being to make sure the 345,000 German Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht and Kreigsmarine boys didn't do a "Custer's Last Stand". We marched into Stavanger, all the locals cheering us, as they had done in Italy, Holland (for a while), but being the drunken and licentious soldiery we were, things cooled a little as time wore on, the friendliest being the Norwegian girls who had 'consorted' with Luftwaffe aircrew. At least I stopped them shaving one girls hair off and assaulting her.
We had charge of both Spirit and Small Arms Stores, and we made the most of the loot. I realised then we had merely fought a war to exchange a far more malignant Dictator than the one called Adolph. We gave a party to a group of Russian POW's, who'd been forced to work for the Germans in Norway. We weren't even allowed to talk to them by their political 'Minders', good old 'Uncle Joe' [Stalin].
We were billeted with our 6th Airborne Division equivalents, the 53rd Airlanding Light Regiment, R.A, and the late night fights were inevitable. We had a German E-Boat at our disposal, the 'Baranue' out of Hamburg, and many a happy day was spent fishing in the Fjords (coarse fishing with hand grenades). I believe one of our officers sailed this E-Boat back to England in the end. These were very happy days.
However, some of us were sent home on Embarkation Leave, as we were due to be put on a boat to the Far East, where some Battalion's of Para's were plying their trade already (5th Parachute Brigade). But, due to the dropping of THE bomb, we ended up landing from the troop-ship "The Duchess of Bedford" at Haifa in Palestine.
NOTE: The O.P. Teams were always trained para's. I was trained at R.A.F. Ringway, 3 balloon jumps, and 4 from a Dakota, and a night jump, all at Tatten Park.
I was demobbed in 1946, but as soon as the Territorial Para's started, 10th Battalion at Rochester Row, Victoria, London, I joined on the first day. We were all para's or para trained, and I did many jumps with them (all with just one parachute), Hyde Park, Bushey, Woolwich, mostly Wansted Flats. I then transferred to the 21st S.A.S., again many para's in it - lot of Arnhem men. I did 8 - 10 years with them, and finished as a Sergeant, and did the course at Brecon. I scrounged my way onto two more parachute courses, one with the 10th Battalion, where I got to talk to General Urquhart, and another with the S.A.S. Jumping was plentiful and the extra money was useful.
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