Lance-Corporal Albert Gregory
Unit : 195th Airlanding Field Ambulance, attached to No.14 Platoon, "B" Company, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Army No. : 7380190
Albert Gregory was a member of the 195th Airlanding Field Ambulance, attached to the 2nd Battalion the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry in Normandy. He was aboard the third of the coup-de-main raid gliders to land beside Pegasus Bridge in the early hours of the 6th June. The following has been written by Alan Gregory, describing the wartime experiences of his mother and father, including first-hand accounts from both.
The following memories are typed up from extracts written in an old school exercise book found in my father's flat.
Both Ida and Albert worked at Mark and Moody Printers in Stourbridge, they met when they were both working in the Bindery Dept, Albert was walking through, when his trousers got caught on the edge of a table, and he ripped the backside out of them, Ida, being very thoughtful, painted his backside green with the dye she was using to edge a book to hide his embarrassment, just a few days after this, they started going out together, thus was the start of a wonderful life together.
Albert Gregory and Ida Bowen married on a Sunday, April 28th, 1940, just after World War II started. After just two short weeks Albert was called up for National Service and joined the army.
As a member of the St Johns Ambulance Service during his civilian days, he applied to be a medical orderly. While playing football one day during his training, he was called to the offices and asked if he would like to join a new section of the army being formed (this would later be called the Airborne Division, consisting of paratroopers), because he knew his new wife was short of money, he applied to join this force because it paid an extra 1-shilling a week (probably now worth in the year 2002 as one quarter of a penny).
He recalled his training, how his first parachute jumps were from a basket, hung beneath a barrage balloon and how the sergeant used to help the nervous with a large boot up the backside to help them on their way. Later he did several parachute jumps from the side door of a DC3 Dakota. He always stated in later life that the worst parachute jumps he had done were from the basket because you would fall for what seemed like an age before the parachute would open.
Soon after once again he volunteered for a new force …… glider borne troops ….. this was a complete new way of taking troops to war, but Albert was always a bit of a dare devil and rose to the challenge. In later life he joked that the first few times he flew, he had never landed with the aircraft he had taken off in, but this was all to change with the gliders.
Ida recalled the times he came home on leave during this training. No one in their home town of Stourbridge had seen the red beret before, and with all the badges and insignia on his arms, people used to walk by the side of him and try to read what regiment this strange soldier with the red beret belonged too. She said she couldn't stand the people walking by her side, so used to follow him about six feet behind. The opposite view was taken by Albert's father, when on leave, if they went out together, Albert had to wear his uniform, and his father, being so proud, would say to anyone that would listen, "You see this soldier, well that's my son!"
During one of these weekend furloughs, Albert brought home a fellow Para from Wales who could not get home and back in the time they had for their leave. He wrote to Ida to inform her that they had a guest for the weekend. She then spent all her rations to give them a real good meal for when they arrived. Unfortunately, when they got off the train, Chris Williams and Albert stopped for a pint in the local pub, it was only supposed to be one pint, but once again the people of Stourbridge were fascinated by the two soldiers in their red berets, and one after another bought them drinks, just so they could talk to them. Eventually, two hours late for their meal, they arrived home so drunk that they could not eat the food, Albert, I believe was chasing the peas round the table with his fork, and they were both having a fit of the giggles. Ida was not amused and I believe Chris was not invited back again.
He describes the gliders as having a metal spine and then covered in cloth, this material was then soaked in dope to make the material stretch and become tight to fit over the skeleton of the aircraft.
During this training, his platoon had a very bad glider crash. During take off, the Whitley bomber, which was towing the glider Albert was travelling in, had engine failure and released the glider only a few hundred feet from the ground. The glider pilot was forced to turn, unfortunately towards the local village and finally crashed into the front door of the church. Five people were killed, including the two pilots, and Albert had severe leg injuries. He was taken to hospital for a few weeks, and on his release from hospital, was surprised to find a jeep and driver waiting for him. He thought at first that he was some kind of celebrity, but soon realised that the jeep was taking him back to the airfield, where he was put into the back of a glider on his own and taken up to face his fears.
Little did he know at that time what all the training was for, he realised that he was part of a group of men that were expected to be part of something rather special. In fact, these troops were to spearhead the invasion, some 12 hours before other Allied troops would land on the beaches of Normandy.
On his last visit home, Albert had told Ida that his was going to be involved in something special, but even he didn't know what it was, just that it was big. He knew that soon he would be shipped out to fight in some far off place, so that his wife would know that he was on his way, he planned to send her a birthday card to inform her that she would not see him for a while. This he did just three days before D Day.
R.A.M.C attached to Company D, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division
"We took off and sat in silence for a while, just listening to the roar of the wind and the tow aircraft's engines."
"We were soon over the French coast and all hell started up, the anti aircraft fire exploded in the night sky, we called the shells "Flaming Onions" because of the way they looked and came towards us in a string. I looked around me, and for once, no one was being airsick. I remember being scared stiff and yet excited in anticipation of what lay ahead of us."
"Suddenly, the towrope was released by the glider pilot, and we were away on our own, just the rush of the wind and the downward spiral to France and our fate."
"In what seemed only a few minutes the words "Brace, Brace, Brace" were shouted and we all linked arms, awaiting the impact of the landing. I can remember the sparks, which seemed to stream down the fuselage and we touched down, screeching and crashing, till suddenly we came to a stop."
"We didn't bother to open the door of the Horsa, we just all seemed to pile out through the gashes in the fuselage, I grabbed a trolley full of mortar bombs and pulled for all my worth, only for one to fall out and smash my toe. Someone else came over to give me a hand and we ran towards the bridge."
"It is very hard to explain to anyone the feelings of war, exhilaration, fear, excitement and comradeship towards your fellow troops who you have been with for the past months."
"I ran to the edge of the road leading to the bridge filled with a feeling of apprehension of what was going to happen, but I know I must have had a guardian angel watching over me because I was still there with so much death around me. Perhaps one day I will know what that angel was but I thank god I survived to live a happy life. Bullets were flying everywhere, I heard the cry "Medic" and I ran towards a guy lying at the side of the road, as I ran towards him, I looked to my left and found a German solider running the same way, both trying to survive and not knowing why we were doing what we were doing."
"In just a couple of minutes I had injured men who had been hurt in the crash landing, I had three men who I herded into a hedgerow to treat their wounds. I was in that ditch for hours because they would not let me cross the bridge until the snipers had been found. It was about 7 or 8 a.m. before I eventually transferred them to the café and relative safety."
"I remember a small French girl, ashen faced and scared to hell, I reached into my tunic and gave her my bar of chocolate, but still she did not smile."
"I then joined up with about half a dozen other men who were making their way to Ranville to join up with their own companies when the rest of regiment came in on the dropping zones, it had been hours since I saw a familiar face of my own company."
"The guys had taken several prisoners at the bridge; one was a young boy of 16, he now keeps a hotel in Hamburg and lets any Airborne stay there for free, I understand he goes back to all the reunions on D Day each year."
"I crossed the Orne bridge and passed a Para with six prisoners and later rejoined B Company as we all regrouped at Ranville for the attack on Escoville. I can't remember our exact approach but I remember the orchard where our mortars were set up and also the farmhouse and the long driveway, I recall digging a trench here and feeling uneasy, I moved to another spot and soon after we were heavily mortar bombed, suffering many casualties. I remember three men from our own mortar squad being severely wounded and I also recall seeing my original trench and found a bomb had landing in it, so what made me move from that position at the time I do not know."
"Later we moved to the woods at Chateau St Come, the dead horses and cows were everywhere, bloating up and the awful smell when someone put a bullet in one of them and they burst. It was a smell of death that none of us can describe but will never forget. I recall going on a patrol and running into a bunch of Germans in an armoured truck, and how we ran to get away, I jumped over a low wall, but there was a steep embankment on the other side, I rolled down the bank and finished up in a stagnant pond and stank to high heaven for days afterwards, but thank God we all got away safely."
"Now in the twilight of my years, I sometimes sit alone and recall the little things like the time I dug a trench only to find water seeping in, I went out and dragged two parachutes from the trees to line the trench but gave up and chose another spot."
"We were shelled, mortared and machine gunned during the day and sometimes bombed at night but the worst were the air burst mortar bombs, which showered shrapnel down on top of us and caused many casualties. I remember the Tiger Tank we had knocked out and how I rolled two bogey wheels and placed them over half my trench for protection, only to find we were moving on that night, so some other soldier moved in as the 51st Highlanders came to relieve us."
"I remember the turmoil when D company were cut off and B Company put in an attack to get them out. We had orders to withdraw and as we pulled out up that gulley I remember a German throwing a stick grenade over the hedge, which severely wounded Sgt Stan Bridges in his upper arm. I bandaged and splinted his arm and eventually got him to safety when I joined the other lads in the woods at the Chateau St Come. I remember how we all stepped over a German soldier lying dead across the path leading into the wood. Like many others I will never forget the awful carnage caused when the battleship Warspite opened fire on these woods not knowing the Black Watch of the 51st Highland Division had already cleared it of Germans, also the smell of death that hung over the place because there were bodies everywhere. It was terrible and made one feel sick with the stench. I remember the dug out we used as our command post, the "Moaning Minnie" mortar bombs the constant shelling with air burst shells, which exploded in the air and showered shrapnel on top of us. I remember going on several patrols with Capt Priday and some close encounters when Cpl Pontin took us out on recce and ambush patrols."
"I remember how they sent us back about three fields behind the front line for a rest but it was a nightmare because we were bombed, shelled and mortared. I remember one bomb landed a few yards from my trench and the concussion caused the side of my trench to collapse on me. I was half buried and really scared stiff because we couldn't do anything about it, so we all moved back into the words but as far as I was concerned it was chaos."
"During these actions I came across some horrible injuries. The worst in my opinion was the one where a piece of shrapnel had hit this man in the corner of his mouth and tore a gash to his ear. The side of his face fell down to his neck and looked an awful mess. I gave him a shot of morphine, then put a roll of lint along his gums, then I pinned his face up with four safety pins, applied a dressing held on with elastoplasts and got him evacuated to the casualty clearing station. Many years later I learned he had survived and was soon on one of the reunions but I never knew his name."
"I remember the two tanks in the drive that had been knocked out and were on fire for days. It was here I was wounded in the head by an air burst shell as I ran to help Sgt Bobby Hill who had also been wounded. As I ran toward him, suddenly there was a blinding flash and I fell on top of him, it was he who bandaged me up and got me evacuated back to Bayeaux. A piece of shrapnel had pierced the top of my helmet and blown a big hole in the top of my head."
"How I survived all this hell, only God knows."
"I regained consciousness in a Dakota DC3 while crossing the channel back to England, I recall a young nurse saying to me that "The wars over for you my lad"! I lost consciousness again, and the next thing I remember is waking up in a military hospital in Oxford, with my wife looking down on me, it was only then that I realised I would be alright."
"Being a wife of someone in the armed forces was a terrible ordeal, you did not know where they were, you did not know if they were safe, in fact you did not know if they were alive or dead."
"One of the worse things to happen during the war years was the arrival of a Post Office telegram boy on his red bicycle in the road or street, for then you knew someone who lived close to you was going to receive some bad news."
"I remember the day I heard the news about my husband Albert, I saw the telegram boy turn into King Street, and everyone closed their doors and looked through their net curtains to see which house he would stop at. On this particular day, he knocked on my door."
"The telegram read that he had been wounded and was in a military hospital in Oxford, my heart was heavy, but at least he was alive."
"The local people gathered to help me, and the next day I caught a train to Oxford in the search for my husband. On arriving in the city, I asked where the hospitals were, only to be informed that there were 17 military hospitals, and so my search began."
"Each hospital seemed to be designated a particular injury, so after walking miles I approached the one I didn't want to go to, Head Injuries."
"I asked at the reception if they had a Lance Corporal Albert Gregory, and to my dismay, they said they had."
"I approached the ward, not knowing what to find, and was led to a bed surrounded by curtains. There he lay, his head shaved and with wires attached to a machine, his arms strapped to the side of the bed and a 6 inch safety pin from a kilt pushed through his tongue to stop him swallowing it."
"For several weeks his was in hospital, then he was transferred to a convalescent home, and at last he came home for a few weeks."
"When he joined the army, he was designated as A1, but now he was C3 and would not fight abroad again."
"He made a full recovery, but had a six-inch star on the back of his head where the shrapnel had penetrated his helmet."
Le Marchant German POW Camp
After recovering from his injuries, Albert, was transferred to a German POW Camp near Devises. Because of his medical experience, his job was to liase with the German doctors and English and Polish guards at the camp, thus during the day his was locked behind the wire with the POWs.
He found it quite strange, that the camp was separated into two parts, the outer ring of the camp was for the normal German soldier, but in the centre of the camp, there was a special protected part for members of the SS party.
"The guards on the look out posts and machine gun towers were Polish, they really hated the Germans for the things they had done after invading Poland, so God forbid anyone who tried to escape."
"I had my own office, which I shared with three German doctors and their trustee medical staff; the POWs had large white squares sewn onto their tunics. I could do no wrong in their eyes, as I was the one who said who could travel in the ambulance to take the sick to the local hospital."
"I had my own German trustee, his name was Willy Welk, no matter when you asked him for a cup of tea, he would always come back with a brew, even if we had no tea, to this day I do not know where he found the tea, but he did every time."
"I recall the day when there was a new influx of German prisoners, only these were coming from the Channel Islands, we found out that they were carrying British Pound notes, so I gave Willy 5 Woodbine cigarettes and sent him outside the perimeter wire, where he sold the cigarettes for one pound, I noticed which German had bought them, and after he had come through the gate, I informed him that the English cigarettes were banned, took them off him and passed them back through the wire to Willy, I made quite a packet in the hour it took to get them all through the gate."
"After the new prisoners were in the camp, they were asked to strip and then we sprayed them with DDT power to kill any germs they had on their skin, more interesting to me was that they also carried German night field glasses, German wrist watches and the like, I never took personal items, but what was supplied by the German government was fair game."
"These items, including butter and blankets, plus anything else I could scrounge with put into suitcases and posted home to either Ida or my mother and father. The suitcases in wartime were wooden boxes with material stretched over the carcase. These were wonderful, because you filled them up with contraband and nailed them shut, then posted them home from the local railway station. I had to post them home from different stations because the railway staff were getting wise to the tricks going on, and stealing the suitcases."
"I recall one day being called with the German doctors to the SS part of the camp where a chap had hung himself from a toilet chain. He had been there for three days and was starting to smell a little, so the SS had asked for him to be cut down, we later found out that he had been murdered (see below)"
"If we had to go into the SS part of the camp, we had armed guards to protect us. This particular day, as we passed through to the toilet block, an SS officer spat at me, and it hit me on the shoulder, in a flash, one of the German doctors body guards stepped forward and hit him with one punch, he just went down and did not move. After cutting down the dead POW, we were coming back out, and I went forward to see to the POW who had been punched, but was pulled back by the German doctors, and told to "leave him". Three days later he was brought to the medical centre and we found out he had a broken jaw. I later found out that the doctor's bodyguard was the heavyweight boxing champion of Germany."
"I met some wonderful people at the camp, not all German soldiers were bad people, in fact they wanted to fight a war and be away from their families as much as the rest of us."
A Birthday Surprise
Below is a clipping from The Stourbridge News on May 29, 1997. I was approached by the local newspaper regarding my father after I had asked about the certificate I had found in his belongings, after his death, and it all snowballed from there.
Below is a photograph which was also in the local paper three years earlier, after an old lady at Stourbridge Age Concern had painted a picture of my father from a black and white photo she had asked him for.
I believe that if we do not record for history, the stories of these people they will be lost forever, because now their sons and daughters are getting older, and if we don't put them down on paper, who will.
I feel I am one of the lucky people in this world who did something for their father before his death.
After the loss of my mother, he was very, very down, and eventually had to go into a nursing home because he could not walk very far. To try to buck him up, I telephoned the Airborne Regiment to ask if they would send him a birthday card for his 80th birthday (April 5, 1995), at first the lady who answered the telephone, was quite abrupt, but did ask for his details, rank, number, etc, and then told me that they did not normally do this kind of thing, but she would ask.
Two hours later, I received a telephone call from a Warrant Officer Kelly, asking me more details, i.e. about D Day etc. From then on all hell broke loose, I had telephone calls from national papers, local press, and even local TV. It seemed that the Airborne Regiment, had decided to do something special for my father's birthday, because his was one of the few surviving members of those brave troops.
At first, because the nursing home was situated out in the country, they wanted to parachute a birthday cake to him via The Red Devils parachute team, but in the end, because the national press, etc., could not help with the fuel bill for the Hercules transport, so they decided to send two chopped down Land Rovers and a troop of eight Pathfinder Paras from Aldershot to attack the home in his honour.
On the morning of his 80th birthday, myself and my family went to the nursing home, I felt that I had to tell him he was getting a surprise, but not to tell him what it was (he thought he was getting a kissogram), just in case the shock would kill him.
Picture this: We sat him in a chair outside the home on the drive, TV cameras, his old pals from Age Concern, the local British Legion and the Normandy Veterans Society, plus some of his old Para chums, and he asks: "You're going to a lot of trouble for a kissogram!"
At that point, two jeeps swept up both sides of the drive, armed to the teeth with rifles and machine guns, stopped abruptly and the troops jumped from the vehicles, lined up, saluted my father and presented him with a cake and a regimental plaque.
To see the tears of joy in his old eyes made me the proudest person in the world.
That night, we all sat around the TV with his friends in the nursing home and watched it all again on Central TV.
That is a day I will take to my grave with me.
So concludes Albert, Ida and his fellow combatants recollections of a time their children and grandchildren now only see in films immortalising war and showing how brave the actors of today are, when in fact we should all praise God that there has been no world wars in our lifetime.
We go to the cinema to watch films like the Longest Day, but as we sit there, do we realise what these people really went through, I think not.
When Albert was taken ill, and had to go into a nursing home, I was sorting out some drawers in a dressing table, when I came across an envelope with the words War Department printed on the top. I opened it to read that Albert had been recommended for the Military Medal, when I asked him what he had done; his answer was the following "Oh, just doing something stupid!"
Later I found out the truth, Albert had been recommended for the Military Medal because he had ran out to rescue six men who had been wounded, the last man he carried to safety was an officer who had told him to leave him where he was, as he carried him to back to him own lines, the officer was shot again while over Albert's shoulder, but unfortunately died several weeks later. Thus he did not receive the medal because the officer could not substantiate the evidence.
When Remembrance Day comes around each year, Albert would remind me of one thing: "Yes son, remember the soldiers that have died, but also remember that the old people of today gave up six years of their life, so that you may sleep safely in your beds at night, I may have fought on a foreign land, but your mother and thousands of other mothers fought harder at home so that we could come back to a land we loved and had to leave."
God bless them all.
A proud son of a brave father and mother.
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