Private Ronald Graydon
Unit : Signals Platoon, HQ Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment
Army No. : 3605381
I was born in Carlisle on 8/10/21 at 17 Lime Street. My father was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, so I had rather desultory schooling in Carlisle, Pompey, and Devon port. I started work at 13½ in the Post Office as a telegraph messenger. This was so that I could take up a full job at 14 years old. Right at the start of my working career I was interested in Trade Unionism, being the messengers rep in the Union of Post Office workers. At the outbreak of war I tried to join the Navy but failed with my eyesight. Then the Army allowed boys of 18 to join the Army. So I took the Kings shilling, and joined the 70th Battalion of the Border Regiment. The 70th's were formed in many regiments. The trouble was that many of the recruits came from Borstals, Remand Homes and the like. I joined in July 1940 and until the battalion began to be disbanded we guarded aerodromes in Scotland and England. There is probably a story to be written about all of the 70th's, but this is not the time. I applied to go to the 1st Battalion Border Regiment. I travelled to Llanelli only to find that this was the rear party. We moved off to Barton Stacey and arrived at the gates to learn that the first training Glider had crashed at Ringway and 8 men had been killed. This was the intro to the 1st Air Borne Division.
We then had the North African and the Sicily operations. I didn't go to Italy. The trouble was that this was such a rush job. Italy had packed in and the idea was that British troops had to stop the Germans taking over them, and I was left at a communication section on the rear party. The Battalion left Italy in November, the rear party left Algiers on Boxing Day 1943. I had arranged to get married in July but finding that after leaving in January my next leave was February 44. My girl friend had to get a special license. Fortunately we were allowed (until just before the 6th June) to have our wives at Wood Hall Spa. We moved from Wood Hall Spa to Harewell after 'D' Day. Here we were briefed for 16 operations, but all these were overrun by the advance of the Normandy forces. It has to be realized that everytime an action was cancelled the Glider had to be unloaded because of the pressure on the very flimsy Gliders. Then we were flooded out at Harewell and Browning got us taken to the lovely village of Burford. From here we went to Arnhem. We took off from Broadfield.
A word about the Signal Platoon. The Platoon is part of HQ's Coy. Then when going into action one is sent to a Company, generally a Corporal and three or four signallers. I had been with all the Companies (except in Sicily when I was a reserve) so I only joined up with Ernie Hamlet while training for Arnhem.
We landed at Arnhem without any problems and moved to the positions at Borsselweg, a farmhouse also with a gate keepers cottage. Our Signals unit was Cpl Larry Cowan, Ernie Hamlet, Joe Maguire, and Reg Mawdsley. The first event that took place that Ernie and I were sent, with Lt Bainbridge and Sgt Northgate and 19 Platoon, to probe as to the German positions, we moved to the cross roads. We heard a motor coming down the road. The van was fired on. I remember clearly that the wounded driver refused my field dressing. Then because we had fired all hell was let loose. The officer Lt Bainbridge said we should make our way back through the woods. I thought that this was dangerous and I had a discussion with Ernie and he agreed that we had come up the main road we should go down it. I approached Bainbridge and he agreed that splitting the platoon was a good idea. So we set off running down the road, I now recall that I was carrying the set and Ernie still had the headphones on. Incidentally we had never made contact with the other set back a 'D' Coy. We ran through 'C' Coy when they were in the middle of a ferocious attack fire attack from one of their flame guns. We got back in about 30 minutes. We tried again to make contact with HQ's but failed. Ernie suggested it might be the batteries. He got Cpl Cowan to agree that he should try to make it to HQ's, Cpl Cowan took over the 18 set and was struck with a barrage of mortar fire and killed instantly. Ernie was inconsolable. We tried to assure him that he wasn't to blame but from talking to Anne and his daughter Jean he never got over it. Shortly after a mortar bomb fell on Ernie's foot, or ankle, I recalled him shouting "It hasn't gone off". He was in considerable pain but refused to be taken to a first aid centre. Then Captain Hodgson sent for me. There was an RA Officer with a Jeep. I was told to go with him with my 18 set. He had the idea that we should climb the top of the lunatic asylum at Wolfheze, we could make contact with an RA unit on the other side of the river. The map references would pinpoint German positions to be fired on from the guns over the river. I climbed to the top. The officer actually climbed on to the roof. I hung out the window (there is a scene in the film 'A Bridge Too Far' where the lunatics are running out after the asylum had been hit. I think this is another of the poetic licenses in this film). For the first time I got through, probably because I was about 300 feet above the ground. We drove back to the Coy. It was hell going on, we dodged a self-propelled gun, both of us practically lying face down in the Jeep. I didn't realize it but we passed Major Costelloe on the way to his MC for saving two of his unit.
When I got back to 'D' Coy it was a hell of a mess. The platoon in the gamekeepers cottage had been decimated by mortar attacks on the building. Across from the farm we had trenches and we had lost two officers dead and one wounded. I think this would be about the 24th (but I really don't know). I think there would only be about seven fit men and two officers left. When I got back Hodgson asked if I had got through. I said yes but he never allowed me time to say I had been about 300 feet. You must try again, he said. We were stood in an out house. They went out, Hodgson and Bainbridge, and a load of mortar shells fell. It killed Hodgson, although I think it took him five days to die. Bainbridge was badly injured. If I hadn't had to stoop to pick up my 18 set I wouldn't be here today.
I decided then that the role of signaller was dead. I went across the road and went into a slit trench facing the wood. We had some success. I was in the trench with a lad called Charlie Nixon who had been one of the survivors from 19 platoon. One morning I woke up (this must have been the 27th). There was a deadly silence. No self propelled guns no mortars. Just the sound of spasmodic machine gun fire, this must have been down by the river. The thing was we didn't in 'D' Coy know anything about the withdrawal. Then through the woods came a Feltwebel and about 10 soldiers and told us we were "Kaput". End of Market Garden. We were POW's. Before going on to the POW aspect I should make a point as to why 'D' Coy didn't know about the retreat. A Cpl Fisher was sent by Major Hodgson to pass on the troubles of 'D' Coy, we were unable to get the wounded to the dressing station and they were all in a cellar below the farm. When he got there he received instructions about the retreat, map references etc. However he couldn't get back. We were surrounded, so we never got the instructions. Incidentally the piece of paper was handed to Sergeant Northgate by Cpl Fisher at the 50th celebration. It was given without comment except that I believe Fisher did say "Sorry I've been a bit late with it." It is now in the Regimental Museum at the Castle Carlisle.
As a POW about 40 of us went into IVb and then in cattle trucks through the Ruhr, while the bombs were falling into Sudetenland. Here we worked in the Betty Shaft pit. We were housed in the mines old offices. The mine was about 890 feet deep but there was no gas and we had acetylene lamps. There were very high seams. I worked on the haulage. We didn't realize it but we were better off than most POW's. We had heavy workers rations and the guards were very good with us. We got beer from the village. Then the electrical sub station was bombed, thus the cage was Kaput so we had to climb out along the sides of the cages narrow hole. At first we were sent to Dresden to help the bomb damage. Then we went to the Brux Benzine works The Hermann Goering works run by IG Faben. 99 by products of Benzine from sugar to boots. In other words at Erzatz Factory. There were thousands of slave workers there, POW's, forced labourers of all nations, political prisoners. This was at Chemnitz. The factory was bombed eventually near the end. The Russians relieved us so we didn't have the march. We had a hell of a job getting transport but eventually got on one together. We got to, I think the name of the place was Falkeblue. Here the women were waiting on the platform to plead with us to sleep with them so that the Russians wouldn't rape them.
When I got back I found that I had a daughter called Sheila. We were sent to several camps and given quite a bit of leave. Then I was at Bowerham Barracks in Lancaster. I was woken up one morning by CSM Peddlar. He said "Hear you're an intellectual bastard. They need a clerk in the War Office." So I finished my service at Hobart House dealing with Officers pensions. My pay book tells me I was Acting Unpaid Corporal. My wife complained of having to sew my stripes on even though I wasn't getting paid for it. I was demobbed in July 1946.
I returned to the Post Office. I threw myself into Union and Labour Party work, I took correspondence courses, and I was active in the UPW at local and national level. I was also playing in a dance band, mostly on a Saturday night at Dumfries playing a guitar and piano. I did it from 48-53. Then in 1954 I went to Ruskin College. Unfortunately I only got a year at Ruskin as my wife was wrongly diagnosed with TB. Then I got promoted and finished up on the Executive of the Managers Union. I ran the Educational Programme of the Union from 1966 to 1981 when I retired. I then did an Open University course and got a BA in 1986. At this time my wife and I were involved in the Scout Movement from Cubs to Ventures for 29 years. It was through the Scout movement that I got into long distance running for charity, first of all to raise money for a handicapped Scout camp at Giwell. I did this from when I was 60 until I was 72. This was Marathons and Half Marathons. Then I was coerced to go onto the executive council of the PO and BT Veterans Assoc. I still walk on the fells and cycle. My hobbies are music and poetry. I have read my poetry at folk clubs and Ramblers Evenings.
About 14 years ago about seven of us formed the 1st Battalion Border Reunion. The Border Regiment had been absorbed in the KORBR in 1959. This reunion is still very strong, we still have 200 to 300 attending the reunion on the May weekend, about 12th to 14th. Regarding my family I lost my wife on December 7th 2001 after 57 wonderful years of marriage. We had a son who died in 1993 from a heart attack at 45. My daughter is still alive and I have two grand children and two great grand children. At nearly 81 I have had a very full life but this was my philosophy after Arnhem; to make something of every minute of my life because I was lucky, but there were many lovely mates who didn't come back and I owe it to them not to waste time because they didn't get that time.
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