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William Lewis after returning home in 1945

Private William Lewis

 

Unit : No.8 Platoon, "A" Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment

Army No. : 14431937

 

William Lewis was born on the 14th June 1925. He was posted to No.8 Platoon of the 1st Border's A Company, and at the age of only 19 was one of the 1st Airlanding Brigade's many young soldiers. 

 

Like the majority of the 1st Border, William fought in the Oosterbeek Perimeter. Little is known about his experiences at Arnhem, but for one incident that he later described in Alan T. Green's book, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, Arnhem 17th September - 26th September, 1944. A house on the fringes of A Company's line had proved to be most troublesome throughout the battle with German troops being quite persistent in their efforts to occupy it, though each time they were driven out by No.8 Platoon's scout section, of which Lewis was a member. During one such instance, Lewis recalled that the section commander, Corporal Edgar, led them to the rear door of the house, where he ordered everyone to stand clear while he opened it. As he did so a single shot was fired and the section immediately fell to the ground, all except the bren gunner, Private Beardsall, who discharged an entire magazine into the house. The section then rushed the house to find only a solitary young German, now dead. Corporal Edgar was badly wounded and slumped on the floor. His men quickly took him to a nearby Regimental Aid Post, but he later died.

 

Later moved into the defence around the Hartenstein Hotel, William Lewis continued to guard the Perimeter until the Division was given the order to withdraw on the 25th September. He did like all others and followed the lengths of white tape to guide them in the darkness, but was captured whilst tending to two wounded comrades. Given the prison number 92111, he was taken to Stalag XIIA at Limburg, where he remained for a few days before being transported to IVC-50, at Brux in the Sudetenland, now the Czech Republic. Sent to work down a local coal mine, known as Betty Shaft, he and two fellow POW's were far from being model Reich slaves; having got themselves into trouble for deliberately removing a water pump and flooding the shaft. They were taken from here to work on the railways, repairing tracks that had been damaged by Allied bombing. The camp was liberated by Russian soldiers towards the end of the war, and all its occupants were transported in a goods train to Rheims, in France, before being returned to Britain.

 

Back in England, he and his fellow airborne men were taken to a camp where they received fresh uniforms, however there were no red berets available and the men refused to wear the black ones offered to them. An officer very unwisely put the men on parade and ordered them to put on the black berets. A mini mutiny ensued whereby the fiercely proud men refused to leave the parade ground until maroon berets were produced. Needless to say, they got them.

 

In 1945, William Lewis married Nell, with whom he fathered four children, Barry (b. 1946), Merilyn (b. 1947), Paul (b. 1953), and adopted Cheryl in 1961. After the war he spent 15 years in the Territorial Army before seeking employment as a driver. After retiring he became a care worker for the elderly, and continued to act in this capacity until his death on the 11th October 2000, aged 75. He had a full Military funeral, complete with Regimental standard bearers and a bugler sounding the "Last Post". At William's request, his son, Barry, will visit Arnhem in 2002 and scatter his ashes across the Oosterbeek battlefield.

 

Many thanks to Barry Lewis for compiling this story. The following is a poem penned by Barry after the death of his father.

 

Another hero is home

 

None of history's hero's turned up late,
To line up at St Peters gate,
Parading soldiers of all ranks,
Military precision - fronts and Flanks,
All with unlined faces, weariness gone,
remaining forever twenty one,
They stood in greeting, silent, mute,
To give a welcoming salute,
Another hero has come home,
His job complete, his race is run,
They look with pride upon their mate,
As he boldly marches to the gate,
He wears his red beret so bold,
And his pegasus wings all trimmed with gold,
He meets his maker face to face,
And says "I'm here Lord, do I have a place"?
God knows this man and the work he's done,
and says "Your welcome here my son,
You fought your fight, you fought it well,
You have already spent your time in hell,
Come sit by me forever by my side,
And wear your red beret with pride,
You are a warrior with a warrior's creed,
Gods special Soldier - The Airborne breed".

 

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