National Archives catalogue reference WO 171/592
2nd September, 0745 hrs
Adjutant and Quartermaster Branch
Commander Royal Army Service Corps
Division / Divisional
Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (French Resistance)
Forward Observation Unit
Field Post Office
Light Aid Detachment
Ordnance Field Park
Petrol, Oil and Lubricants
Royal Army Service Corps
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
Month and year: September 1944
Friday, 1st September 1944
There is even more secrecy about this operation than [about?] TRANSFIGURATION. The tps and officers are told nothing. I certainly have been given no background at all to work on. However a last minute search for extra camouflage nets, unpacking of crated Brens, Vickers and Piats and a general teeing up goes ahead. 1800 hrs. I go to usual conference at Div. Orders for a move to preliminary staging area near GISORS - Sheet 1/100,000 9F (France) Map Ref 6792 - a distance of 224 Kilometres - received. H Hour 0600; VTN 60; MI H 20. Order of March arranged to be convenient for getting out of the LA MINE area. 1 Para Bde Gp is last with one of the 3 Medical Officers in an Ambulance at our tail. 1 Para Bde's time across S.P. is 020745B.
Saturday, 2nd September 1944
Bde Tpt is marshalled in a field next the main rd by 0720. Eventually cross the S.P. at 0840 - 50 mins odd late. Route - BAYEUX - CAEN - LISIEUX - EVREUX - PACY-SUR-EURE - VERNON - Check Point at LES THILLIERS-EN-VEKIN. Capt Street, batman and driver in a Jeep with 1 DR had set off 011615 and we were to expect a guide from him at LES THILLIERS-EN-VEKIN.
Progress absolutely shocking. Everybody is moving up. It took 6 hrs to get to CAEN (38 Kilometres), such was the road congestion. Thousands of our own a/c above, so that one does not even bother to look up, despite the fact vehs are nose to tail for miles in one huge almost inextricable mess. CAEN, of course, is 70% flattened. Inhabitants are now coming back in increasing numbers and pitifully searching the wreckage of their shops and homes for such belongings that have survived and can be unearthed. Some 1000 bodies, French and German still remain to be dug out.
Cross the Seine at 2030 hrs on a very good pontoon bridge which is full of 8th Army [type or FBE - Folding Boat Equipment?]. Notices worded as follows "Get a move on, there is no speed limit over the bridge", "Get cracking, there are others behind you." The Seine at this point - VERNON - is 150 yds wide. The main rd bridge had been thoroughly demolished by the Bosche, though it had been repaired by our sappers sufficiently to make a footpath.
The whole route in towns, villages and hamlets was lined with people cheering, waving and making the V signs to each vehicle. The whole thing is most moving and one gets the impression that the people are stunned by the "Liberation". Almost every town is a wreck though, bombed by our Air Forces to slow up the German retreat and the job finished off by the German as he pulls out, to delay us.
The route is fairly well signed by Pro. Maps have been issued on a scale of 2 per block. 1 Para Bde is in two blocks O and P. A lot of our MT went twice round the CAEN by pass, simply because they were following the truck in front and not watching the Div signs. Each driver has a Route Card.
Arrive LES THILLIERS-EN-VEXIN at 2230, meet a guide from the Adv Party and are led to the village of MONTAGNY-EX-VIXEN Sheet 1/100,000 9F (France) Map Ref 6883. A wet night but all tps are accommodated under cover. Bde HQ is put in a house - partly furnished - where a few months ago General Von RUNDSTEDT held an investiture to issue Iron Crosses. The gravel put down for the occasion, still remains. The village gives us an enthusiastic welcome though it is dark and beds are immediately made available for the officers.
Attend Conference at 2330 to get details of next days move which are - SP GISORS H Hour 0900. Route GISORS - ST GERMER (1/100,000 9E Map Ref 6810) - LES LANDRONS 7510 - Check point at MARSEILLE EN BEAUVAISIS - Destination South of CONTY (1/100,000 Sheet 14 (France) Map Ref 9841 Distance 70 Kilometres (by the most direct route). Officers get very little sleep. About 2 hrs each.
Sunday, 3rd September 1944
The locals are out early celebrating their release from the German heel, celebrating the 3 Sep, celebrating everything. Unfortunately there's no wine or cyder to give us to celebrate with.
Veh casualties amount to 1 3-ton of 2 Para Bn (smashed radiator) and 2 15 cwt (Bde HQ) also with smashed radiators (Due, I think, to lighting failure of the red lights on the vehs in front). 1 Bde 15 cwt is repaired by LAD, the other 2 are towable and will be towed. One Don R (Bde Sigs) is missing with his machine.
There is great difficulty over PET. Had RASC brought 10 empty vehs instead of having them loaded with amn, they could easily have drawn POL and Rations en route and saved all the bother. As it is they have to go back over the Seine to collect POL (having off loaded the necessary vehs first) come back, issue the POL and reload their vehs before leaving.
PET arrives in 1 Para Bde Gp eventually at 1615 and orders to move by blocks to destination are received. There is said to be great congestion on the 30 Corps route through GISORS. The Bde moves off at 1710 in 2 Blocks as before.
Progress fairly good and meet Capt Street (who went off on Adv party as before at 0800 hrs from MONTAGNY) at MARSEILLE EN BEAUVAISIS and are guided into good covered accn at CATHEUX (1/100,000 Sheet 14 (France) Map ref 9532) before last light.
The missing Don R turns up having gone to BEAUVAISIS the day before in error.
I go to Div at 2400 hrs for insts for tomorrow. The Operation LINNET, East of LILLE, that the 1 Airborne Div were to do, is cancelled. LO and FOU RA have returned from 30 Corps HQ. From top priority for Rd movement, we have gone to bottom.
On return find that 1 Bn have had a shot fired at them. This puts everyone in a state of anticipation as I have been drumming in that the flanks of the rapid advance have not been searched at all and in any case the FFI are bringing in small Groups of starving Germans from the woods everyday. It has a rousing effect on everybody in the Gp. Veh and Personnel Casualties NIL for this move.
Monday, 4th September 1944
The officers are comfortably accommodated in a fully furnished house. The tps all have comfortable billets. Maintenance and the saving of PET is the order of the day. The PET scarcity, at the FRONT is extremely tricky. Also they are all on Fresh Rations - there is no Compo. Great efforts made to get the 2 Bn 3-tonner and the Bde 15 cwt (which have been towed from MONTAGNY EN VEXIN) on the rd again.
Conference at Div 1800 hrs. Div are providing 100 3 tonners for ferrying duties (stores) up to ANTWERP. This Gp loses its attached RASC vehs and 5 other Unit vehs as follows:-
16 Para Fd Amb
2 Unit 3-tonners
1 Unit 3-tonners
2 Unit 3-tonners
1 RASC att
4 RASC att
The stores of these vehs are off loaded under cover. So low also are we on the priority list, that it is possible we also lose temporarily in the near future ALL OTHER UNIT 3 ton LORRIES for similar duties.
The mail is coming up to us, we are told and is now 70 miles behind at some FPO. 15 copies of PEGASUS (No.14) arrived late p.m. at Bde HQ.
Tuesday, 5th September 1944
The Mail arrives. The latest letters are dated 31 August. 1 Bn (Lieut Dunsford) takes out a 6 mile round-route patrol to examine the woods for Bosche. It returns 1 hour overdue without any Bosche but with definite information (FFI source) that there are Germans in uniform and Germans in civilian clothes coming into the villages by night to get food.
1630. Conference at Div of the 3 Bde Gp Comds, CRASC, Major Sellon and Capt Coventry, to discuss lessons learnt during the move of the Seaborne Tail of 1 Airborne Div and to make recommendations in the light of these lessons for any future moves of other Seaborne tails in other countries.
2000. FFI Rep arrives to say there are 150 Germans in a wood 1½ miles away. This is not altogether believed by Gp Comd, 1 Para Bde, who refers the matter to the Polish Para Bde in the next village thinking this matter will be just up their street.
2200. Written orders received for move 061300 to a new staging area N.E. AMIENS. Gp reps to proceed to BRUSSELS area to arrive 061645. Conference for Gp Comds 060930. Normal Recce Parties (Duplicated) will be found to recce the AMIENS Staging area, under Major Jessop. Route to a new staging area:- CATHEUX - SP X rds EAST of CONTY (Sheet 14 1/100,000 (France) Map Ref 0041) - X rds 0541 - AMIENS 1058 - SP at X rds 1159. Distance 45 Kilometres. H.1330. Order of March. RASC, 4 Para Bde, 1 Para Bde, Div Tps, 1 AL Bde, RA Gp, Polish Para Bde, Corps tps. VTM 60. Speed - as possible according to rd congestion. An Information Post to be set up at DP to give Gp Comds, as they pass, Gp Areas, details of conferences and POL and SUPS collection.
Wednesday, 6th September 1944
0800. Capt Street and Recce Party set off for BRUSSELS area.
0930. Conference at Div for further move orders. Major Jessop and Lieut Parker attend.
1030. 1 Para Bde Gp arrives and settles in at CONTAY (Site of a British Cemetery of the last war) (Sheet 5 1/250.000 France, map ref 2369). Div HQ is at FRAVILLERS map ref 2565. 3 Vehs despatched for POL immediately. The local estamenet is delighted to receive the Bde Gp and runs dry very quickly though nobody is disappointed. Rumour by FFI of huge bodies of Germans in the vicinity. Unit comds are told to be specially alert and specially checked up on. No incidents during the night.
During move today 1 Bn lose 1 3-tonner with a damaged radiator and engine after collision with the veh in front and also a 15 cwt with a damaged radiator after a similar collision. These are being brought along on suspended tow by W/shops and No.2 LAD respectively. The major portion of the 1 Bn 3-tonners load is transferred to a German veh in possession of the Border Regt, 1 AL Bde, together with a man to look after the stuff.
AMIENS is undamaged almost. A smoky old fashioned industrial town.
Thursday, 7th September 1944
Lieut Bennett (3 Bn) who went to get POL yesterday at 1900 hrs, returns after covering 100 miles at 1100 hrs, with two out of three vehs. The third as is afterwards discovered had a breakdown en route back. Other units in the Div have had exactly the same trouble. Reason is found to be that inf given by A/Q channels - 30 Corps - is quite out of date when the time comes to collect and the PET DEPOTS are closed or not yet open or have run out of stocks. The veh that is missing has loaded 180 Jerricans. Orders are received by Div to move by blocks as and when PET arrives. Accordingly a BLOCK consisting of Bde HQ less staff car and Major Jessop, 3 Bn, RE Sqn and Fd Amb, is made up and despatched with full tanks under Lt & QM Burnard 3 Bn to BRUSSELS area at 1145 by the following route:- CONTAY (Sheet 5 1/250,000 France map ref 2369) - ALBERT 3668 - BAPAUME 5178 - ARRAS 4600 - DOUAI 6907 - ORCHIES 8218 - across into BELGIUM - TOURNAI (sheet 2 1/250,000 France map ref 9332) - LEUZE 0831 - ATH 2033 - ENGHIEN 3939 (DP).
Missing POL veh does not arrive, so leaving Tech Sgt, 1 Bn, with its off loaded 1 Bn stores (less what has been transferred to Fd Amb and LAD 3 tonners) remainder The Gp consisting of Bde HQ Staff Car, 1 Bn, 2 Bn and LAD set off by same route with what PET left in tanks at 1320 hrs.
The DP has been extended to HAL (Sheet 2 1/250,000 France map ref 5343 and the above block arrives (no Ref [Rep?] to meet it at the DP) at an old Monastery occupied by Free Belgium of the Interior officers and men at 5752, at 2230 hrs. The 2 Bn leading veh (Lt and QM Parker was ordered to travel in rear of 2 Bn to check on Broken down vehs) turned left in HAL and with other vehs behind was eventually stopped halfway to NINOVE 3856 and all vehs under Lt & QM Parker eventually arrive at the Monastery at 2400.
There was no guide or Rep at the DP because Capt Street was told all Div vehs were in, before the last Block of 1 Para Bde arrived, and also told if the Block had not arrived, it would probably not until the next day.
The Belgians gave everyone a tremendous welcome - even greater than was seen in France in the past 4 days - showering apples, pears, tomatoes and even grapes on the occupants of all the vehs and uproariously cheering everything that passed. The whole route from AMIENS was crowded a.m. with Tank Transporters carrying Shermans. "I love you, darling", was scrawled all over the Brigadier's car in TOURNAI.
2330. Conference at Div HQ giving orders for move on 8 Sep as follows:- SP Bridge over River SENNE at 5647. H Hour 0800. Order of March to 1st Bound LOUVAIN 1 Para Bde, 1 AL Bde, 4 Para Bde, Div HQ, Sigs, RA, REME, OFP, RE, RASC, Polish Para Bde, Corps Tps.
Friday, 8th September 1944
1 Para Bde Gp marshall on the main BRUSSELS - HAL rd and crossed S.P. at 0800. Order of March - Bde HQ 1 and 2 Bn in constituting Block 0 under Major Jessop, 3 Bn, 1 Para Sqn RE, 16 Para Fd Amb, No.3 LAD constituting Block P under Lt and QM Burnard (3 Bn).
1000. Arrives with head at LOUVAIN 8657 and awaits orders for a further move East.
1430. m/c of 1 Para Sqn is damaged. Bde Gp ordered in common with remainder Div Tpt to Bivvy area S.W. of LOUVAIN and moves off to comfortable accn (recced by Capt Street) at BERTHEM 8256.
1800. Conf at Div for an early move east tomorrow.
2100. Orders received - "No move before 0900 Sunday 10 Sep. Saturday 9 will be an afternoon off."
Vehicles off the Road State in Para Bde Gp now reads as follows:-
1 Para Bn
2 Para Bn
16 Para Fd Amb
1 Para Sqn RE
1 Amb (carrying stores)
Smashed Rad. and Engine being towed by W/shops.
Smashed Rad. Being towed by No.2 LAD.
Smashed Rad and Engine. Being towed by No.3 LAD.
Bent forks and buckled wheel. Being carried by LAD.
Tec Sgt, 1 Bn, arrives with missing PET lorry of 1 Bn and picked up some Jeep Spare parts en route.